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FORMER All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Tlali Khasu last month parted ways with the opposition party after losing a protracted court battle to revoke his suspension from its National Executive Committee (NEC).
The Peka constituency legislator was suspended for three months by ABC leader Thomas Thabane on 17 September 2016 for allegedly castigating the former premier over a local radio station.
In announcing his departure from the ABC on the eve of the day he was expected to be expelled, Mr Khasu said he would not leave alone, adding there were “many others” within the party who were “tired of the persecution and want to leave the party”.
In a wide ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) Reporter Billy Ntaote, Mr Khasu explains why he decided to leave the ABC and the way forward.
LT: What influenced your decision to leave the ABC?
Khasu: My resignation was influenced by the ill-treatment I was subjected to in the ABC at the hands of the leadership of the party. Oftentimes, when a person is ill-treated within our political parties, they tend to retire from active party politics. However, while I have left the ABC, I am not ready to retire from active politics.
LT: Tell us more about this ill-treatment you say was meted out to you in the ABC?
Khasu: First of all, a political party is run according to its constitution and that implies that such a document is the pinnacle of the party. The constitution is followed by the general conference of the party that makes the resolutions about the affairs of the party. And in its resolutions, the party through the conference instructs the NEC of the party to perform certain duties in line with the constitution of the party.
However, in the ABC many a times there are people who feel like and act like they are the supreme leader and higher than the party’s constitution. In the ABC committee, there have been too many challenges. A good case in point are decisions made by the NEC sometime in April 2015. The decisions of the NEC were made after a duly constituted meeting. However, the decisions were undermined and thrown out the window by the party leader.
In fact, he told us what we had decided in April 2015 would never happen. We ended up calling for a special seating of the committee to understand why he would bluntly go against a decision of the committee. However, it has been the order of the day that he does not participate in meetings whose agendas are about things he does not want to see happening in the party. In fact, he always dodged such meetings. He usually told us that he wanted to consult on certain issues and it’s shocking that he would be consulting his wife. And whenever the issues related to things he didn’t want, he would respond by saying they were not necessary regardless of what our views were on such a matter. One thing that comes to mind was concerning the finances of the party at a time the committee had given instructions that certain things should be purchased by the party but it appeared we had no money. So I inquired about what could have happened to the party funds and asked for the records to be revealed to us. But I was told by the leader to stop being that inquisitive on the issues of the party finances and focus more on the campaign for his return back home.
LT: Who controls the party coffers in the ABC?
Khasu: It is the NEC of the party through the treasurer with consultations with the committee. They are not supposed to do as they please with the party funds without the knowledge of the committee and the committee having decided what those funds should be used for. So we saw party funds being used without consulting the NEC on a number of occasions to the extent that we started inquiring why such things were happening. But I was told to stop demanding to see the books and focus my energy on the campaign of the leader’s return.
LT: In the past, there have been claims of squabbles in the ABC over the use of funds earmarked for party members in exile. Are these the funds you are referring to?
Khasu: Upon the realisation that party members who fled the country had no means of making a living, the committee decided they should receive certain stipends from the party. We actually appointed Ntate Hlaele to be the one who connects with them and disburses the money regularly as a man who travels in the Free State regularly. However, we frequently heard allegations that we were doing nothing to cater for the welfare of these people and that prompted us to even use our personal funds to help. It later came to our attention that the exiles were not being cared for properly. The exiles were also unable to access the leader in Ficksburg because they did not have money contrary to what we had agreed on concerning their welfare.
LT: How did your suspension come about and what were the root causes?
Khasu: It goes back to the decisions made by the NEC in April 2015. ABC spokesperson (Tefo) Mapesela was interviewed on a local radio station where he said the committee decided that Dr Thabane should be the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. So the radio station also consulted me about this issue, and I said that we ended up agreeing to the leader’s demands. I said this agreement to the demand was made while we were in a sitting of the Parliamentary Caucus of the ABC. The committee had decided that when the party leader takes his retirement package, the deputy leader, referring to me, would take the position of official leader of the opposition. Our leader seemed to be in agreement with such an arrangement, but he later reneged on this decision.
He opted for Butha-Buthe constituency MP (Motlohi Maliehe) to take the position of official leader of the opposition. Ntate Thabane said Ntate Maliehe had the experience of how the National Assembly functions. So we ended up calling for a meeting where he was expected to give us an explanation for this decision so that we can understand it. But such a meeting never took place. Ntate Thabane rather decided to call for a meeting of the parliamentary caucus of the party and told us bluntly that he had decided to be the official leader of the opposition and also take his retirement package.
LT: How was this decision received by the party members, including you and other NEC members?
Khasu: We had earlier called for a meeting as the working committee of the party and the Secretary-General (Samonyane Ntsekele) told us the party leader had decided that Ntate Maliehe would be the official leader of the opposition. However, I challenged this decision saying the committee had made a decision on the matter that I should be the one who assumes that position. And I said such a thing would cause chaos and drama in the National Assembly. That is why Ntate Thabane ended up calling us to a caucus meeting to tell us that he had decided to assume the position himself. And this is a decision that denied us access to many of the benefits that come with that office of leader of the opposition. In fact, the position comes with resources we should have had access to that are equivalent to the benefits of a deputy minister. But just because that position was not fitting for Tlali Khasu, Ntate Thabane took that position and his retirement benefits.
LT: Why was the ABC leader reluctant to entrust you with that position?
Khasu: I later learnt that I was not worthy of the position because I am the son of a man who was a known Basutoland Congress Party stalwart. Unfortunately, that’s something I can’t change.
LT: How were you suspended?
Khasu: We were called to a meeting in Ficksburg and then when the meeting started I was chased out. I was later called in and given a letter after the leader had decided that I must be suspended. My suspension was prompted by what I had revealed on radio about this position of official leader of the opposition. The shocking thing was that I was being suspended by the leader for having set the record straight on this issue, especially because Mapesela was misleading the people and mixing the facts about a decision taken in his absence in the sitting of the national executive committee of the party. For that, I ended being suspended. I did challenge this decision in the courts arguing I was not given a hearing, but the court decided in favour of the decision of the party leader.
LT: How did you arrive at the decision to leave the ABC?
Khasu: I was suspended for about 90 days. When my suspension ended, I received a letter calling me to a disciplinary hearing. If you were to read the suspension letter my leader gave me, you would see that he was suspending me while issues were being dealt with in the best interests of the party. So the letter calling me to this disciplinary hearing which I learned was meant to expel me from the party as the hearing was made up of people who have no status in the party to undertake such a task. So this is what caused my decision to leave the party. And also it is worth noting that when the negotiations for a coalition of national unity and reconciliation was negotiated it was done by some technocrats who have no status in the party. I realised that the party has lost its direction.
LT: Now that you have left the ABC, where are you headed? Are you going to form a political party?
Khasu: People who understand my plight and the challenges in the ABC have decided we should form a new political party. This is a decision taken by people who understand the challenges I faced in the ABC and not my sole decision as a person. I have a following within the ABC which has pledged to support this initiative. However, I cannot reveal their names due to concerns about their safety since they have been asked on radio stations whether they are standing by their party leader or jumping ship.