TENSIONS that had been simmering between Democratic Congress leader Mathibeli Mokhothu and his Lesotho Congress for Democracy counterpart, Mothetjoa Metsing exploded into the open this week when the latter attacked Mr Mokhothu for allegedly belittling him and attempting to turn the country’s wool and mohair farmers against him.
All has not been well between the LCD and the DC ever since Mr Mokhothu succeeded former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili as DC leader in January this year.
Sources familiar with the developments in the opposition parties say that Messrs Mokhothu and Mr Metsing are fighting over who is the greatest in the ranks of the opposition and congress movement. The sources say that while Mr Metsing was happy to defer to Dr Mosisili, he now feels the latter’s retirement has opened the door for him to assume that mantle. “As one who served as deputy prime minister and is much older than Ntate Mokhothu, Ntate Metsing is not willing to play second fiddle and he feels the mantle of congress leader has passed to him from Ntate Mosisili,” one source said.
Mr Metsing is 52 years old while Mr Mokhothu is 41.
For several months there has been no open confrontation between the two and the contest has largely been seen through the adoption of different positions in relation to the no confidence motion that was filed against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane by the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led faction of Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC).
The DC supports the motion while the LCD remains open to a deal to save Dr Thabane on condition he accepts proposals for the establishment of a government of national unity (GNU).
But this week, Mr Metsing threw caution to the wind and launched into a blistering attack on Mr Mokhothu accusing the latter of belittling him and attempting to turn the country’s wool and mohair farmers against him.
Mr Metsing let rip at his counterpart while addressing LCD supporters at a rally in Qaqatu in Mohale’s Hoek.
Referring to the youthful DC leader in the third person, Mr Metsing said he was sad that a politician could stoop so low and seek political mileage by disrespecting and badmouthing others. He accused Mr Mokhothu of peddling the falsehood that he (Mr Metsing) was working against wool and mohair farmers’ interests by instigating the withdrawal a parliamentary motion aimed at ensuring the farmers’ grievances are fully addressed by the government. The farmers are up in arms with the government over the 2018 regulations which bar anyone from trading in wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing.
The farmers can only sell their produce at the only licenced local broker, the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) in Thaba Bosiu. The farmers prefer selling their wool and mohair through South African brokers, BKB, as they had done for 44 years until last year when the new laws were passed.
The farmers argue that they are assured of quick payments by BKB higher than those offered by the LWC.
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Mr Metsing was one of the opposition legislators who successfully pushed for the creation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the state of the wool and mohair industry as part of efforts to address the farmers’ grievances.
This week, he accused Mr Mokhothu of seeking political mileage by badmouthing him to the farmers.
“In my entire time as a politician I have never had the guts to disrespect other political leaders and yet it is so easy for some to do that to me.
“I have learnt of how the leader of Democratic Congress has poisoned the wool and mohair farmers against me saying I threw his motion on wool and mohair out of parliament.
“But I could not have done that and I have no powers to do so. I am not the speaker of parliament. It is worth noting that because of my intervention (in support of the farmers) Prime Minister Thabane suspended the wool and mohair regulations for three months (to allow farmers to sell their produce from anywhere and through the brokers of their choice). Victory (getting the wool and mohair regulations repealed) seems near and when that happens everyone stands to gain not just the LCD.”
Mr Metsing also said he was disappointed that Mr Mokhothu denigrated the LCD by calling the party “the bat” instead of the “eagle”.
In Sesotho an eagle is called ntsu, hence the eagle on the LCD flag. The party got the nickname from its founding leader, former Prime Minister Dr Ntsu Mokhehle.
“I have never called any leader disparaging names and yet other party leaders find it easy to call us such disrespectful names. We are not bats but we are eagles as our leader (Ntsu Mokhehle)’s name denotes,” Mr Metsing said.
But in a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times, DC Spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, denied claims that Mr Mokhothu had belittled Mr Metsing.
“My leader has never belittled or disrespected Ntate Metsing as he claims. Instead, we are surprised that he has turned against us and has expressed interest in working with Ntate Thabane.
“If you don’t know where you stand on any issue then you are called a bat (which, according to the folktale, does not know if it is a bird or animal). He (Mr Metsing) has lost the plot and we are very much against his decision to work with Ntate Thabane hence we called him a bat because he doesn’t know what he wants.
“The relations between our parties have soured and they (LCD) started it. Ntate Metsing’s followers showed that they no longer wanted anything to do with our leader.
“His followers sang “Mokhothu jara potoana ea hau u itsamaele” (loosely translated to mean: ‘Mokhothu take your three legged pot on your shoulders and leave’). To date Ntate Metsing has not condemned them. He has never cared to approach our leader to apologise on behalf of his followers,” Mr Qoo said.
The DC spokesperson said Mr Metsing had found it hard to accept Mr Mokhothu’s ascendancy and decided to forge an alliance with Dr Thabane.
“What Ntate Metsing doesn’t want is to accept that although our leader is young, he is not too young to lead. He (Mr Metsing) has got to make peace with it (Mokhothu’s ascendancy). He is always singing Ntate Mosisili’s praises even though the latter has retired. While he (Mr Metsing) was in exile we worked harmoniously with those (LCD members) who were left behind but the minute he came back, all hell broke loose.
“However, it is not too late for Ntate Metsing to come to us and apologise. He once angered us in 2012 and chose other parties (ABC and the Basotho National Party) after the elections and established a coalition with them. But we respected his decision and when he came back, we accepted his apology.
“His decision to work with Ntate Thabane will cost him supporters. He has just lost his main funder (business tycoon Bothata Mahlala who recently defected to the DC) and I reckon this is the reason why the fighting between our two parties has escalated. They (LCD) just can’t stomach their loss,” Mr Qoo said.