Pascalinah Kabi / Mohalenyane Phakela
THE ugly, bruising struggle for the control of both the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) and government has scaled greater heights with embattled Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro firing Agriculture, Food Security and Marketing Minister Nkaku Kabi early this week.
Mr Kabi was last week chosen by the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) to replace Dr Majoro as prime minister. This after the NEC voted on 2 December 2021 to recall Dr Majoro over alleged incompetence among other things.
Mr Kabi’s Sunday dismissal was followed the next day by the arrest of ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa and deputy chairperson, Chalane Phori, on allegations of sedition. This was in connection with their statements on radio to the effect that Dr Majoro had been recalled from the prime minister’s post.
Mr Masoetsa has branded their arrests and the dismissal of Mr Kabi as “a declaration of war against the NEC” by Dr Majoro.
Mr Kabi was fired from his cabinet post just four days after he was chosen by the NEC to replace Dr Majoro.
“The public is hereby informed that pursuant to Section 87, 7 (d) of Lesotho’s constitution, His Majesty the King, has accepted the advice of the Right Honourable the Prime Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, to remove Honourable Nkaku Kabi from the office of the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Marketing,” Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Buta Moseme, said in a statement on Sunday.
Deputy agriculture minister, Letsitsi Mokoma, has replaced Mr Kabi, albeit in an acting capacity.
A day after Mr Kabi’s dismissal, the police swooped on Messrs Masoetsa and Phori for allegedly making seditious statements following Dr Majoro’s recall on Thursday.
The duo was released that same evening. This after ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, petitioned High Court Judge Keketso Moahloli to order their release pending finalisation of the matter.
Mr Hlaele argued there were no reasonable grounds for the duo’s arrest and detention, saying this had only been done due to a “personal vendetta, malice, and revenge” on the part of Dr Majoro.
“I wish to state that their arrest is politically motivated,” Mr Hlaele stated in his court application.
“I make this bold statement because I am informed and I verily believe the same to be true and correct that at all times during their interview, the police officers were at pains to suggest that their utterances on radio were not only seditious but amounted to an overthrow of government. I am of the view that this is motivated and prompted by the deputy leader of the ABC (Majoro) who is using his powers as the prime minister to silence Masoetsa in his duties as the public relations officer of the ABC not to communicate the decisions of the NEC of ABC (sic).
“I reiterate that their utterances on radio were not intended and should never be construed to mean that the detainees were propositioning an overthrow of government. Without asking the court to interrogate the decisions made by politicians, I humbly submit that even Honourable Majoro was part of the decision. He has and had actively participated in that decision by voting on it. Had the decision not been to recall him, Masoetsa and Phori would have in like manner communicated it to the radio if asked in an interview. I was present in the NEC meeting and I am the custodian of the resolutions of the party.
“An arrest must be premised on a reasonable suspicion of a commission or imminent commission of a crime. I reiterate that the utterances on the radio were not seditious but were intended to communicate the resolutions and decisions of the ABC’s NEC. The prime minister, in his capacity as the deputy leader, co-chaired this meeting and actively voted on the motion tabled. The detainees are not responsible for the fact that the outcome was not favourable to the prime minister. This was a political decision, made by a political party in a matter related to a political appointee of the party,” Mr Hlaele argued.
In a subsequent interview with this publication after his release, Mr Masoetsa accused Dr Majoro of victimising him as well as Messrs Kabi and Phori.
“You cannot chair a meeting and later come back to say that the very same meeting was seditious,” Mr Masoetsa said.
“How can you chair a meeting and vote and only claim that the meeting was seditious after you lose the vote?”
He accused Dr Majoro of ordering their arrests. He said they knew of the plans to arrest them in advance. He however, did not say how they got to known of them.
“We received information that he (Majoro) gave orders for our arrest. What I have realised is that he felt that Phori and I were so rigid towards him when he arrived at the (2 December 2021) meeting (which voted to recall him). Other people stood up when he entered the room while we remained seated. After he sat down, Phori asked why some people stood up whenever the deputy leader entered the room, arguing that this needed to be clarified as it may appear as though we are insubordinate for not standing up.
“I then said that Thabane was the leader of the party and he had to be accorded all the respect (by standing up for him) but the deputy leader would only be given respect at government functions in his capacity as the prime minister, not at party meetings. He (Majoro) is an ordinary NEC member just like the rest of us. Some people accepted this explanation but I believe that he (Majoro) concluded that Phori and I wanted to take away his dignity and power,” Mr Masoetsa said.
He charged that Dr Majoro had taken a “dangerous route” by involving the police in what were purely party issues. He said this was in violation of SADC recommendations to depoliticise the security agencies and refrain from using them to fight party and personal battles.
“This is a dangerous thing to do to an organisation. He (Majoro) is destroying our party. You don’t engage law enforcement agencies on party issues because we agreed with SADC that we must depoliticise the security agencies. It is unfortunate that some people are doing the opposite and we cannot agree with them. A person must fight their political battles on a political platform, the same way we fought the Malumara-Likatana war. We expect this current political battle to be fought on a political level and won on political wisdom, not by involving the security agencies.
“The NEC will meet, reflect on the matter and make a decision on why decisions made by 17 people have now resulted in three people being targeted. Some of us are used to these things. He (Majoro) was just reminding us of what it feels like and making sure that we are firmly holding onto our fighting sticks, the part of our fighting sticks which must hit a person really hard. He was just reminding us of that fact,” Mr Masoetsa said.
His Malumara-Likatana comments were in reference to the ABC infighting from January 2019 to earlier this year, pitting rival factions led by Mr Thabane and his erstwhile deputy, Nqosa Mahao. In May 2020, the Mahao faction pressured Mr Thabane into resigning as prime minister. He was then replaced by Dr Majoro.
Messrs Masoetsa, Hlaele and others were initially in the Mahao camp before crossing over to the Thabane faction.
Professor Mahao eventually dumped the ABC in April this year to form his own Basotho Action Party (BAP). He alleged a plot by Messrs Thabane, Hlaele and Dr Majoro to oust him from the ABC. However, the trio denied the allegations and instead accused Prof Mahao of being power hungry and attempting to prematurely unseat Mr Thabane as party leader.
Meanwhile, Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Buta Moseme, has denied Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa’s claims. Mr Moseme said the premier had not ordered the Monday arrests of Messrs Masoetsa and Phori.
“None of the allegations are true because the prime minister has no power to direct the police to perform their duties. Furthermore, it is also disturbing to say that Dr Majoro, who is a member of the ABC’s NEC, has declared war against his own NEC. So, the allegations are baseless. The prime minister is still in office performing his daily assignments,” Mr Moseme said in an interview.