First Lady to blame for Thabane’s ouster: analysts

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Staff Reporter

OUTGOING Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has only got himself to blame for his ouster as he allowed his wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, a free hand to meddle in government and party affairs, analysts say.

The government collapsed on Monday after three of the four parties in the governing coalition including Mr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) informed the speaker of parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, of their withdrawal from the coalition.

The outgoing coalition comprises of the ABC, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications, Science and Technology Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

Only the AD had not endorsed the termination of the governing coalition. It later attempted to do so after realising that even Mr Thabane and his loyalists who had tried to resist had also thrown in the towel.

Mr Motanyane subsequently adjourned parliament until 22 May 2020 to allow for the completion of processes to transfer power to a new coalition whose principal partners will be the ABC and the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC).

Mr Motanyane said Mr Thabane will temporarily remain in charge as caretaker prime minister until the transition to a new leader is completed. The ABC and the DC have already agreed on current Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro taking over from Mr Thabane. The two parties also agreed that Dr Majoro will be deputised by DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu.

In the end, Mr Thabane and some of his loyalists who had talked tough about the premier clinging to power possibly until 2022 when his tenure would have expired, meekly endorsed the ABC-DC deal to usher in a new government under Dr Majoro’s leadership.

They had clung on in the hope that Mr Thabane would at least be guaranteed immunity from prosecution for the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo. But on Monday, Mr Thabane was a beaten man in parliament and he had to accept to go without such guarantees.

As his reign from June 2017 to May 2017 draws to a premature end, analysts agree that this is not the kind of departure anyone would have predicted for the erstwhile charismatic leader. He will go down in history as the first leader to be booted out by his own party.

“On the whole Thabane’s reign probably marks the worst period of misrule Lesotho has experienced so far,” National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer, Mahao Mahao said.

Dr Mahao said the outgoing premier has no-one but himself to blame for his inglorious exit. The academic said even though Mr Thabane had other weaknesses including turning a blind eye to corruption within his government and fanning factional fights in the ABC as part of a divide and rule strategy, things could have still turned out differently.  He said the octogenarian could have probably departed a hero had he not allowed his young wife a free rein to meddle in government and party affairs.

“He (Mr Thabane) handled a lot of issues poorly. For example, he impoverished farmers through controls and creating a monopoly in the wool and mohair sector where his ministers openly bided for tenders alongside some Chinese nationals.

“He even allowed infighting within the ABC after the party’s February 2019 elective conference which brought in new faces into the national executive committee (NEC) like Professor Mahao and others. Instead of providing leadership and healing the rifts, he took sides in the power struggles and this damaged his credibility.

“In the end Thabane was the key architect of his own downfall. Probably his biggest undoing was that he allowed his wife to exercise undue influence in government issues and she often took centre stage where she was not supposed to.

“The widespread allegations that ministerial and other key positions in government were bought from her eroded Thabane’s credibility and fuelled perceptions that one only needed cash and not brains to get into his cabinet,” said Dr Mahao.

Fellow NUL political science lecturer Mohlomi Mahlelebe echoed similar sentiments saying Mr Thabane’s failures on the political, economic and social fronts are attributable to his meddlesome wife.

Mr Mahlelebe said under Ms Thabane’s influence, the outgoing premier got estranged from his erstwhile comrades who had been with him in the trenches helping to build the ABC to be the formidable brand it has become today.

Mr Mahlelebe said Mr Thabane failed to learn from the recent example of the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe who was allegedly influenced by his wife Grace Mugabe to fire his long-time assistant, Emmerson Mnangagwa from the vice presidency of the ruling Zanu PF and government. However, Mr Mnangagwa had the last laugh a few weeks later when in November 2017, the military helped him to oust the nonagenarian leader.

Mr Mahlelebe said just like Mr Mugabe, Mr Thabane fell under the spell of his wife and summarily dismissed ministers like Motlohi Maliehe (then Tourism, Culture and Environment), Lehlohonolo Moramotse (then Public Works and Transport) and Nyapane Kaya (then Health). The trio all lost their jobs at various times in 2018 after complaining about the First Lady’s undue influence in government.

Of these, Mr Maliehe was the most brazen in his condemnation of Ms Thabane. He shocked all and sundry when he told an ABC rally at his Butha-Buthe constituency that the First Lady should desist forthwith from meddling in government and party affairs or risk collapsing the government.

“The case of Lesotho can be likened to that of Zimbabwe in that Mr Thabane allowed his wife to meddle in the affairs of the party and the government. The First Lady took over the reins of both the ruling ABC and government and in the end, Mr Thabane lost the support of the majority of ABC members,” said Mr Mahlelebe.

The NUL lecturer said as a result of his wife’s negative influence, Mr Thabane took his eyes off the ball and allowed service delivery to deteriorate. He said healthcare, the provision of education all deteriorated while unemployment grew.

“The real show of Mr Thabane’s lack of leadership acumen came when he rejected the outcome of the February 2019 elective conference that ushered in Professor Nqosa Mahao as deputy leader,” Mr Mahlelebe said. He said from that point onwards Mr Thabane’s energy was spent on fighting Prof Mahao and his colleagues at the expense of re-energising the party and government to implement developmental policies.

He said the infighting would not have occurred and Mr Thabane could have better tackled Lesotho’s political and economic problems had he not involved his wife in party and government affairs.

Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director Tsikoane Peshoane said Mr Thabane’s ouster was the logical outcome of the ABC members’ displeasure with the fact that the premier had allowed his wife and a cabal of corrupt politicians within the ABC to usurp his power.

He said the major changes in the ABC’s NEC in February 2019 which ushered in Prof Mahao and others pointed to the rejection of Mr Thabane and the old cabal of ABC officials who were seen as corrupt and pursuing self-enrichment at the expense of national development.

He said Mr Thabane could have also lost if the leader’s post had it also been contested because the people were “displeased with the leadership”.

“In a nutshell, Lesotho has fallen into the same trap as Zimbabwe with an aged Mugabe whose powers were usurped by a devious and relentless Grace Mugabe. What Grace did to Mugabe and Zimbabwe is exactly what ‘Maesaiah did to Thabane and Basotho,” Mr Peshoane said.

Development for Peace Education (DPE)’s national coordinator, Sefonea Shale, also said Mr Thabane was ousted due to his failure to stamp his authority as a leader of both party and government and allowed his authority to be usurped by the First Lady.

He also blamed Mr Thabane’s fall on the power struggle within the ABC, saying, “incessant infighting in the ABC that deliberately targeted Prof Mahao was the biggest mistake that Mr Thabane committed politically”.

Lesotho Council of Non-governmental organisations (LCN) director Seabata Motsamai shared similar sentiments, saying Mr Thabane paid the price for pushing away party and government officials who could have offered constructive criticism by pointing out his weaknesses and bad policies. He said in the end the premier made bad decisions after surrounding himself with hangers-on who were only after advancing their personal interests at the expense of sound policies to promote national development.

In linking Mr Thabane’s failures and ultimate ouster to the First Lady’s meddlesome role, the analysts were echoing a theme which several ABC officials highlighted at the height of Mr Thabane’s battle with his deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, for control of the party.

At the Mahao faction’s rallies last year, ABC chairperson and Mahao loyalist, Samuel Rapapa, frequently cited a book on Mr Mugabe’s November 2017 fall from power as an example that Mr Thabane should learn from to avoid a similar fate.

In what became his trademark gesture at the rallies, Mr Rapapa would raise Zimbabwean journalist Geoff Nyarota’s book, “Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe” and dramatically throw it to the ground to imply that Mr Thabane — just like Mr Mugabe — was likely to fall because of the destructive role of his wife in government and party affairs. Prof Mahao also issued similar warnings about the destructive role of Ms Thabane.

Mr Rapapa and Prof Mahao were not alone in warning against Ms Thabane’s overly destructive involvement in the party and government affairs.

The premier’s own daughter, Advocate ‘Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, also voiced her displeasure with ‘Maesaiah and even begged her to allow Mr Thabane to retire.

She said Mr Thabane had become a parody of his former vibrant self and was merely being used by selfish people who benefited from having his official signature on government documents.

“Mr Thabane is not fit to be the prime minister and if you love him, I ask that he be allowed to rest,” said Adv Hlaele, adding that matters had “reached a point whereby Ntate Thabane has become an embarrassment internationally”.

“Honestly, there is no reason why Ntate Tom is still the prime minister and he should be given room to rest. I say this with my head held high as Ntate Thabane’s child…

“If ‘Maesaiah loves Ntate Thabane, she must look at him with an honest eye as if he was Ntate Ramoholi (‘Maesaiah father) and ask herself if she would want the same to happen to him. That is how I feel about this matter and if I am wrong, I ask for forgiveness…,” Adv Hlaele said in an emotional radio interview last November.

Months earlier in April 2019, Thaba Bosiu principal chief Khoabane Theko had also implored the ABC to convene a special conference to recall Mr Thabane who he accused of ceding control of the party and the governing coalition to his wife.

At the time, the outspoken Chief Theko, who is also the senate chief whip, told the Lesotho Times that there was an urgent need to recall Dr Thabane after he “allowed his wife to usurp control of the party and government”.

Ntate Thabane worked in the government administration from a young age, as a clerk in the Senate and he ascended the ladder. He knows every aspect of governance but now he could not care less about the real issues affecting the people. It is all about him and his wife…

You can’t play with governance like this. For a person who has been in government for the longest period, he (Dr Thabane) should know better…I predict the collapse of his (Thabane) government.”

True to Chief Theko’s prediction, Mr Thabane’s government has collapsed due to the latter’s failure to heed the warnings not to allow his wife to influence party and government policy.

In the process, Mr Thabane will take his place in the annals of world history alongside other leaders who have suffered similar fates after allowing their wives to take over state affairs.

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