FORMER Mines Minister Lebohang Thotanyana in June this year dumped the Lesotho Congress Democracy (LCD) citing the leadership’s deviation from the party’s democratic and constitutional path. Mr Thotanyana has also been critical of the LCD’s call for a government of national unity which he says will best serve the party’s leadership by affording a chance back into power without testing their numerical supremacy through polls. He accused the LCD of failing to hold the party’s elective conference. The Lesotho Times (LT) recently spoke to Mt Thotanyana (LB) and below are excerpts of the interview.
LT: What really happened for you to depart from the LCD?
LB: First let me paint a picture of my stay in the LCD. After the 2015 elections, which I lost in my constituency, LCD secured five ministerial positions and I was asked to become one of the ministers. This came with a lot of pressure because there were a lot more people who were more qualified that I was, people with way better capability than myself.
So, since then, I did a lot of things within the party; I led the campaign, I led the writing of their manifesto twice, I have led the teams that actually did the work and when we did the negotiations with the Democratic Congress (DC), I was the only one who was not in the National Executive Committee (NEC).
When these reforms started, I was asked to develop the position paper for the LCD. Then we met with other members of the opposition and I ultimately led the entire opposition.
There was always this mention that I should consider being the secretary general (SG) of the party, because I was never really the NEC except that I was part of the district committees and in there are conveners of the committees and I was in charge of two committees and I think the leader was very comfortable with me.
I was one of the people who were regarded as the inner circle. I was one of the people who could frankly have an engagement with the leader to say, you know, I think you need to take this direction, so the future was bright for me.
But there were also other problems that I was seeing within the party. There is a serious problem with the reputation of the party, the leadership creates a serious problem with the electorate. The challenge that was there was with all this propaganda about the leader and of late, his deputy. So, when the election time came, that’s when tensions began to emerge between us, because people wanted me to go and challenge the deputy leader but the leader wanted me to be the secretary general from the discussions that we had a few times.
People started running with this notion because I was also the chair of the reforms committee and the organising committee for the centenary celebrations of the founder of the party Dr Ntsu Mokhele.
So, I think more and more people began to realise my potential and perhaps what I could add to the party, and then they started this narrative that I should consider being the deputy leader. This did not sit very well with the leader; that is part of the problem.
So, they kept on saying that I should consider the SG position because it was powerful; which is true. In the congress parties, after the leader, the SG is the most powerful position.
However, I was also beginning to have disagreements on how some things are being done among them the fact that the committee’s tenure came office had lapsed and there was no real effort to call for elections to renew the committee.
The strategy that one could see was that these people can see the prospects of a national election and what they want to remain in office until after the polls so that they can include their names on the proportional representation (PR) list.
That is the whole strategy that they have because after I left, they made noise and said in October, they would hold election. But now they have raised another technicality. They’ve issued a secular saying that only 42 of the constituency committees have been confirmed. As a result, they are not able to hold elections because that’s just about 50 percent of the constituencies and because of that, they have not set a date. They still say we want to go in October 2019. But look, if there’s anybody who has failed, it is the leadership, because they are the custodians of the party between conferences. And they are responsible to ensure that their structures that are active in all constituencies. If they have not done so, they cannot then come back now and blame the constituencies for having not done that because the minute they realise that the constituencies are not complying with the constitution, they should have gone out and made an effort to ensure that the constituencies prepare for the elective conference.
That started giving me signs of dictatorship then I thought maybe these people want to preserve themselves. There was also this big debate about some people having a sense of entitlement because they feel that the helped the leader when he was in exile by contributing to their monies towards some of the expenses of the party, especially those who are in Parliament and therefore, there is this rhetoric that they keep on saying that they should be put on the PR list if there is an election.
For me, this means that we’ve got a type of leadership that is not confident with what it’s doing because these people should not want to occupy the PR positions, they should rather go and fight in the constituencies and win constituencies. But if you have a leadership that believes that they have lost even before they start, and they want the safest positions maybe they are not the right people. Because it means one’s politics will die.
They were also avoiding having statutory conferences at all costs citing that such conferences usually caused tensions and divisions in the party, another time they would cite financial problems. Another time they would cite lack of readiness in the constituencies among others.
You could see that they are giving all sorts of excuses not to do what is right and it’s not the type of party that I want to be in because I’m still young. I want to progress politically, and I didn’t feel that would be the right home despite all the offers and all the opportunities. And indeed, if there was one place where I think my future was bright, it was within the LCD, but I felt that it’s not worth it. I would rather go struggle to start my life elsewhere. It was not by coincidence that I was recognised this way.
So, even if I go elsewhere, start from scratch; I know that it can make it even better than what I did at LCD. Those are some of the things that started building disgruntlement. Of late, it was even more because of the positions that party was beginning to take just for the self-preservation of certain individuals. I felt that that would also not help me, we were beginning to politic not with what the people want on the ground but what suits the leadership. So, I didn’t see that as something that I should entertain.
Lately they talked about the formation of a GNU. I was there at Khali where we spent the whole night being convinced that the leader must be allowed to go and negotiate with the government about a coalition government; that was just days before I left the party.
LT: Was that at Khali Hotel?
LB: Yes, it was at Khali Hotel. We had a consultative meeting there. They avoid calling for conferences. They will never call constituencies for conferences, but they call for consultative meetings with district committees which are not even in the constitution of the party. They sit us there and convince us that they have tension.
And, the tension between the party LCD and DC is not healthy. Especially for the LCD. This is because that is the last ally that the party had and if it loses the DC the it is doomed politically.
Then I said the environment is virtually too toxic and I do not think it is going to serve me.
LT: Are you saying Ntate Metsing wanted a mandate from those he called at the consultative meeting to go and negotiate for a GNU?
LB: Yes. But our argument was that if you want a GNU, it’s not a problem. However, you don’t go to the Prime Minister’s home and sit in his dining room and beg to be included into the government. Instead, you go to Parliament and change this government and have another form of government which could be a GNU. If you go to his house and beg to be in government, it will just be a continuation of the same administration because that’s not how governments are changed. Governments are changed via elections and via parliament. Those are the two credible forms but this man (Prime Minister Thomas Thabane), in all honesty, has soiled himself so much and to go and rescue him in that way, would not serve the interests of the party. The relationship that the LCD and All Basotho Convention (ABC) have, it’s very bad, and it’s very tense. And if we go in that fashion (alliance with the ABC), the voters are going to punish us.
So, the best way would be to support the motion of no confidence against Ntate Thabane because it doesn’t support it. You support the motion, let the old man fall from the high office then we have a new government. If he emerges the one with most MPs after the motion, no problem. Then let’s form a GNU but only in that context, so the party was reluctant.
Truth be told, the argument also is that they (LCD) are not ready for election but we can’t hold the entire nation to ransom simply because some party is not ready for elections because it has not been doing the right things.
LT: To the best of your knowledge, did Ntate Metsing still go to negotiate?
LB: I do not know but some say he did and rumors say that while the government may want to work with the LCD, they are scared that they will have a serious backlash from the public if the LCD and the ABC are found in one bed. What I hear is that they offered to sort out his pension and consider the issue of soldiers who are still in custody and they would also look at the issue of the exiles but what the LCD leadership wants is state power.
My argument even at the time was that there are other ways in which we can achieve the reforms without being part of this government because this government is already a mess.
This is an independent authority, independent of government, representative of all the stakeholders, and that is the instrument that runs the reforms project.
So, I said, we don’t need the government; we need an instrument that will secure the reforms like they were arguing. I know I made a very strong case about the Interim Political Agreement (IPA). We had a mechanism that they used in 1999, after the political instability of 1998 where they used an interim political authority, which is almost the same model as the one that they have adopted now.
A GNU is a form of a coalition government. You are saying coalition governments of two parties have failed, now you’re bringing a coalition government of 30 people and hope it will work?
Let’s rather go for an election, determine the numbers of each party and have a GNU thereafter. Maybe then, the configuration of the government would be different depending on the mandate that people want to give to the politicians.
LT: You mentioned the tension between the DC and the LCD. Where is the tension stemming from?
LB: What we know and what we’re told, there is just power struggle between the two leaders (between Mr Metsing and DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu). One, I will not say who, feels he is more superior to the other and the other one feels I’ve got the numbers. I’m the leader of opposition, why should I listen to you? You are interfering in my turf. So, it’s a petty squabble that is not necessary frankly. I think it’s costing the opposition a lot. This is one of the reasons from the Khali meeting, one got the feeling that the LCD would not support the motion of no confidence against Ntate Thabane because they thought it would benefit the DC.
LT: Was the leader himself at the Khali meeting?
LB: He is the one who was presenting. He made a two-hour presentation.
LT: You mentioned that people were asking you to consider taking over the deputy leader’s position, did you consider that? And did you agree?
LB: Yes. I indicated to the people who pushed me that I don’t have a problem, and said when nomination time comes, then you can nominate me. However, that time hasn’t come up to now and the rhetoric that they are running now is that I realised that I might not have enough support to secure the position. But we have not gone up to that yet. A group of people simply approached me to consider the move and I can tell you I was going to take it. The problem is that if I were to wait for that, I would still be waiting. Just like the elections are still on the way and we still do not know the date.
LT: You said you left the LCD due to the party leadership’s failure to uphold the constitution but here you are joining a party that is in a bigger constitutional mess.
LB: I got offers from all the big parties. They had their big guns come to talk to me. Some the leaders came to my house and waited for me outside to literally to engage me including the State House.
But I guess what I chose in the end was democracy. As much as it is wanting in the ABC, if you look at the group that I chose, it is one that believes in that value far more than the State House. So, I have not compromised that position.
Secondly, my move was not opportunistic because if I was looking for opportunities. If I was looking for opportunities, I could have joined the State House and probably be something today, but I chose not to.
LT: Was there any concrete offer for a ministerial position and when was this?
LB: The discussions were still in their infancy. It was since the beginning of the year, but it was busier in the last 30 days before I left the LCD because then I was willing to talk to a lot of people.
LT: Ntate Metsing says as a person who knows the channels in the party, you should have followed to them to get recourse on the issues that he is raising. He says neither the NEC nor constituency committee number 24 has received the report of your complaints.
LB: He doesn’t know what he is saying because I left with the committee. However, what he is talking about is privilege and not principle. His argument is that I know his number, I’m closer to the committee. and all the fields that give me privilege and access to all the powers in the party. But what about a small man who is paying his M1 subscription and is seated there in the village.
This should not be about those who are privileged and those who are not. It should be about principle; he should call conferences that are binding on him through the constitution. He should create formal platforms and channels of engagement. He shouldn’t want me to write a love letter to him and complain about these issues. I think it’s unfair to the party. I will not do that not because I cannot do it. I can pick up your phone and call him, I can go and see him but that’s not how a party is run.
Even if I did not, it doesn’t really matter. He should have called the conference because the constitution binds him to do that. It’s not about myself as an individual. It’s about the life of the party itself. It’s about the membership of the party. We are almost in an environment of a dictatorship where the people don’t have a platform and a forum to talk and only the chosen few and those who have privileged access to authority have access. You cannot run a democratic party that way.
LT: The Prime Minister is facing a motion of no confidence in Parliament. What is what is your view on the situation?
LB: I think is the right move (to launch a motion of no confidence against Dr Thabane). The cries out there show that the people are not happy. Many sectors of the society are very unhappy with the way that things are happening. Be it the levels of corruption; you see these people were elected on a ticket of change and the way certain promises that they made to the people. There is generally a lot of disgruntlement in and outside the ABC.
Now you can see that they are not focused on governing, they are focused on survival because of the internal squabbles that they have. As a result, I think they should be given a chance to test their numerical supremacy within Parliament.
LT: Are you aware that there were talks recently between the Prime Minister and the Mahao faction?
LB: I can predict that they failed. As much as I don’t want to get into their own nitty-gritties and bolts and nuts of their tension because I believe as a newcomer, I don’t want to appear as if I am supporting a certain faction. However, in the ABC, there are three main factions or cabals. You have got one faction that is closely linked to the First Lady and are led by Prince Maliehe. That is where you find the likes of Minister of Small Business Chalane) Phori, (Defence Minister Tefo) Mapesela and all those controversial figures. This is also the group that is in proximity with the Chinese more than any other.
Then you have the (Finance Minister Moeketsi) Majoro faction and the (Professor Nqosa) Mahao faction. The Majoro faction is largely made up of people who are linked to the Minister of Water Affairs Samonyane Ntsekele because he is the confidante of the old man (Dr Thabane). So, when the First Lady group lost the elections, they went to the Majoro faction and agreed that they now have a common enemy. That enemy is (Prof) Mahao. They are united but they are two distinct factions.
They also have conflicting interests because each one wants their own person to be heir to the throne. The other issue that I think is at play is the age of the old man, he is 80 years old and is unlikely to finish his current five-year term that he gets from the party because of his advanced age. So, whoever takes over the NEC now, take over the party.
So, the war will not end. And I think what is happening is that the First Lady group is fairly week. They do not have a lot of strategies; they depend on team Majoro to try and fight this common enemy because they have their own fear as well. However, the problem with (Prof) Mahao is that he is too clean for our politics being an outsider; you can’t blame him for anything, so he is a problem for them. What happened to his brother also make him unpopular even in the opposition. The likes of Metsing will not support him because they still think that he harbours revenge. The Mahaos have always said Mesting must account for their brother’s death.
LT: Are you suggesting that the talks failed because of these factions?
LB: The talks failed because they are not negotiating in good faith. Some of them have calculated and have seen that if there is unity, if this new NEC is allowed into the office, they will not survive in the party. They will do whatever it takes to frustrate the negotiations, which is exactly what they have been doing. We pray every day that they unite but, in all honesty, it’s difficult because they all have their own interests. Their interest is taking over the party.
LT: You spoke about what he was he wanted the prime minister to offer him in terms of joining the government, among other things, the release of the detained soldiers. Why is this so important?
LB: That’s why I’m saying we had becoming party that was not politicking about the lives of the people and how best to improve them and I did not think that was helping the cause of the country. Of course, the soldiers need to be given fair trial. It needs to be speedy, but it can’t be the order of the day. That’s where the challenge is because any platform that he (Mr Metsing) gets he talks about it and I don’t know why.
LT: We have seen some of the most valuable stones in the world being recovered in Lesotho. However, the people on the ground do not see the benefits from the diamonds translating into improving people’s lives. Is there a problem? If there is a problem where is the problem? We have not seen the kind of take-off that we have seen in Botswana.
LB: You must appreciate our plight, firstly, it has to do with the fact that all the revenue that comes from the diamonds, does not go back to the communities to try and develop the communities where this main activity takes place. It goes into the consolidated fund which is the government’s main purse. So, once it gets there, it addresses all the other priorities among them education, health. However, during my stay there, we introduced the first policy on mining, the mines and minerals policy of 2015 which attempted to address some of those issues.
We wanted to see a way in which some of this revenue could be ringfenced and be ploughed back brought back to the affected communities because, the problem that we have is that the affected communities are treated just like everybody. While the mineral belong to the nation in its entirety, we wanted the people whose children could be hit by cars from the mine, people who could be affected by tuberculosis from the dust generated by the mine; those are the people we want to pay attention to.
Unfortunately, now, all revenue goes into the consolidated fund and once it goes there, it’s for everybody’s taking.
Also, Lesotho produces about 310 000 carats of diamonds while Botswana is producing over 30 million carats annually. Our mining industry is not their size at all. We do not even reach US$500 million but they get US$3 to US$4 billion annually.
For Botswana, the diamonds are easy to mine compared to ours. The type of mining that we do in Lesotho is very delicate and very difficult to mine. Letšeng for instance can fill a 20 litre bucket of diamonds per annum but they must move 41 million tonnes of ore and process over 9 million tonnes of that ore to get those diamonds.
So, the risk is very high. Because of the size, you get which is big and high value. In Botswana you will get lots of small students that are not so valuable. So, if you miss one stone here, you can run down a mine but in Botswana if they steal one stone you may not even realise it. Therefore, De Beers walked away from Letšeng in the 1980s and Lucara walked away from Mothae but it is a valuable mine. This is because our kimberlites are low grade, we do not have too many diamonds for instance at Letšeng you get half a carat for every 100 tonnes of ore but you get close to 40 carats in Botswana per 100 tonnes.
We have about 405 known kimberlites in Lesotho but to mine them, to explore them, it’s more difficult because when they use the traditional way of prospecting, they all fail not because they are not viable. The difference is that our dollar per carat is very high. It’s $2 700 in Lesotho but in Botswana you get between US$300 and US$340.
LT: We understand royalties are supposed to be up to 10 percent, but we know that some pay as low as 4 percent. Do you think the mines are being honest? How does the government know when the mines are being dishonest when they say they are not producing as much as they can so can they be allowed to pay less?
LB: It’s about the viability exercise which is very difficult to determine because you are selling something that you do not know, and you do not understand. This is because we would not have done prior studies to determine what the whole body contains. It’s like how the pharmaceutical companies operate, they’ll go do a 20-year research on a disease and find a vaccine or a cure for that disease. And then they will charge whatever price they want. In this regard, you’ll send people out to the go to a diamond bearing ground. The only thing that we are sure of is that this piece of land has got the characteristics of bearing diamonds, but you can never really say whether they have diamonds or not. If you take Mothae for instance, they took 10 years and spent M318 million only to walk away. The risk is too high.
And for you to negotiate with somebody like that, it’s very difficult because then you don’t have the bargaining power. Whereas, if you had done some prior studies, like prospecting and you call in an investor with the information, that way you are able to negotiate. However, in this situation, you are at the mercy of the investor.
And you cannot now say because he found diamonds in abundance let’s change, I now must move from 30 percent to 51 percent, it is very difficult. You must also remember that not all the kimberlite bodies have got the same profiles. Some are more viable than others. So, you will find instances where people go in there initially the mine does not look good. Of course, they will always make the results look not too good. It is part of their bargaining…however, I did not do most of the negotiations. I upped them. Liqhobong was at four percent but I could not do anything because they had just signed the deal. Kao had four percent and I negotiated when their contract ended, and we took it to about eight percent.
So, we were really trying to push them to the limit but it’s not easy. It’s difficult because of lack of knowledge. Sometimes government officials negotiate in good faith and do their best but only to find when the deal gets to the ground that is not exactly as viable as they thought. This is what is happening. Some of the mines are not paying dividends at all because the financing structure is not right. When you get your traditional civil servants to negotiate with these high street individuals who have seen it all and have negotiated all sorts of deals all over the world, it is very difficult.
Therefore, I always argued that for us to make money, we need to spend a bit of money too. The Ministry of Mining is one of the least funded ministries and gets less than M30 million annually in budget. But they are expected to do miracles. They should spend money to capacitate the staff, to get the right equipment like to build a laboratory. It is one of the projects that they are talking about now because one of the challenges is that we depend on foreign laboratories and sometimes we get good results sometimes we don’t and sometimes it’s also deliberate. Our people are not knowledgeable and cannot engage at the same level with the mining companies. If there is somebody who is talented at the ministry, the mines take them, so it is a serious capacity challenge.