- says he will no longer stand in Machache
- insists Matekane will not have it easy
- proud he never took a bribe despite running huge projects
BUSINESSMAN Sam Matekane is the talk of the nation after he surprised all and sundry by forming the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party more than two weeks ago.
The formation of the party has caused excitement all over the country and many ordinary people have told the Lesotho Times they consider the party a potential gamechanger which could revive the country’s fortunes because of the presence of experienced professionals and technocrats within its ranks.
While the ordinary people are happy with Mr Matekane’s political entrance and many are joining his party, leaders of the more established parties seem to be having nightmares.
Not only will some of them lose the funding they used to receive from the business magnate, they are trembling at the prospect of their own parties’ senior officials defecting and beating the path to the cash-rich RFP.
Already some like the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) have been hit hard by the defections of key officials like secretary general Mahali Phamotse and treasurer Tlohelang Aumane.
Last week, AD leader Monyane Moleleki penned a letter to his party’s supporters wherein he expressed his misgivings about the RFP which he says was formed by his close friend Matekane.
Despite leaving the door open for a possible coalition agreement, Mr Moleleki’s letter showed that he was just as fearful as other leaders of established political parties of Mr Matekane’s entry into mainstream politics.
In his so-called 31 March 2022 “letter of guidance” to AD supporters, he expressed fears that if elected, an RFP government “could connive to divide lucrative tenders and economic opportunities amongst themselves, thus blocking new people from venturing into and consolidating themselves in business”.
This week the Lesotho Times’ (LT) Political Editor, ’Marafaele Mohloboli, and Special Assignments Editor, Bongiwe Zihlangu, sat down with Mr Moleleki at his plush, Qoatsaneng, Maseru residence to discuss his views on the formation of the RFP, the high-profile defections from the AD and other issues.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
LT: You have on several occasions indicated that you won’t be contesting the 2022 elections as part of a process of facilitating a smooth leadership succession in the AD. You then somersaulted, saying you would now contest and this has caused serious divisions in your party. Why the change of mind?
Mr Moleleki: Aaaaah! There has been another change of plan. I am no longer contesting. I’ve gone back to the original plan that I shouldn’t contest. I had said I would not contest but then I was arm-twisted into coming back to contest. It was the national executive committee (NEC)’s decision that I should reconsider my stance not to contest. Very reluctantly, grudgingly and with a very heavy heart, I eventually relented and agreed to contest. But that caused divisions and lots of confusion. It hurt my image because people thought that I had resolved on my own to somersault. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This dented my integrity. But it was the decision of the NEC that I should contest. As a very loyal and disciplined party cadre, I had to comply. Everything must be understood in that context. I never changed my mind. And now because of this controversy, this brouhaha; I have gone back to my initial standpoint not to contest in my (Machache) constituency. I am on my way out gracefully.
LT: There were now perceptions that you are one of those power-hungry leaders who will cling on and not allow others to succeed. What do you have to say to that?
Mr Moleleki: Absolute balderdash. It’s all rubbish! There’s nothing I hate more than a man who is constantly finding excuses to cling to power or leadership. Despite what some may think, I’m readier to handover to younger people. I’m glad for this interview because it will help clear the air and dispel the myth that I want to hang on. It is nothing but a disgusting myth. The fact of the matter is that I am not contesting in the constituency.
LT: You’re no stranger to controversy with so many things being said about you including reports that you even faked a cancer illness to avoid facing corruption charges in the past. How do you handle such allegations whenever they are made against you?
Mr Moleleki: One has to be tough. I’m as tough as a rock. For me to have survived cancer twice and Covid-19 twice, an armed attack and an ambush at my gate, means I’m tough. And I was accused of having faked it all. I was accused of having staged my cancer illness. But I was just skin and bones when I emerged from the cancer. I had to undergo three procedures.
Firstly, I had to undergo chemotherapy which I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Then I had to have parts of my body removed. My tonsil was removed. Finally, I had to undergo radiation therapy. Mine was stage three cancer where the survival rate is a mere 14 percent.
So, I was one of the 14 percent who survived stage three of the disease. So, I am lucky. There must be a purpose for my life because it is not out of my own goodness. It’s all through the grace of God.
I survived an attack. I was then admitted at the military hospital. For all these things I have suffered, I’m tough like a stone.
LT: Business mogul Sam Matekane recently formed his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) and we are witnessing mass defections from established parties to the new political outfit. The AD hasn’t been spared with secretary-general Mahali Phamotse and treasurer Tlohelang Aumane among the high-profile figures who’ve jumped ship. Where does that leave you as a party?
Mr Moleleki: Did you see her (Phamotse)’s car parked in my yard when you came in? She is in another room talking with my wife as we speak. She is a good friend of mine. She is my secretary-general. But she felt pressure that she couldn’t withstand. But I’m withstanding the pressure because I’m tough. She came to formally tender her resignation. She’s doing so respectfully and gracefully. And I gracefully accepted it.
LT: How does it feel to lose a person of her calibre- a founding AD member and former cabinet minister who was one of your biggest supporters?
Mr Moleleki: She is as good as they come, this lady. I can’t think of any political party which has a better secretary-general than this lady. I have only good things to say about her. It was a nice goodbye. I wish her all the best. And I wish RFP all the best. If they’re going to be a breath of fresh air to Lesotho politics, then so be it.
LT: The AD is your brainchild, your baby so to speak. And we are now seeing high-profile defections to the RFP. Some are already speculating that you will be the biggest losers from the formation of the RFP. What are your party’s prospects in the coming elections?
Mr Moleleki: We will win more than the one constituency that we won in 2017. How many, I cannot say because the mood of the electorate can change in two weeks. But I can confidently predict that we are going to win more than one constituency. A couple in fact. If we grow by more than just one, that is 100 percent growth. If we grow by two, it will be a 200 percent growth.
We will definitely grow. We are a growing party. It’s only that some people who worked hard for five years to build our party are now fearful of the incoming giant (RFP) bestriding Lesotho’s political scene. So, they are following the trend of joining the new party. Earlier today (Tuesday), the outgoing secretary general (Phamotse) and I were discussing a lot of things. She was disclosing a lot of useful things. Useful for a political party (chuckling with a mischievous glint in his eye).
LT: In your recent letter to AD members, you described Mr Matekane as your good friend. What is the nature of your friendship?
Mr Moleleki: My relationship with him is the same attitude that I, as a politician, have towards all businesspeople. He is the best example of a successful businessman. I wish him to be even wealthier than what he is today.
LT: What is your attitude towards businesspeople getting into politics? What are your expectations of them in the event that they assume state power?
Mr Moleleki: My view is that government has no business in business. It is best left to the businesspeople. Government should only level the playing field for businesspeople. And I hope that, if he (Matekane) is elected, the laws should be amended so that there is full disclosure and no stigma attached to somebody in government continuing to participate in business. This has to be done in a transparent, accountable way. In my letter to the AD members, I said that I’m more than willing to work with the new party in good, clean governance.
LT: But in that same letter, you also express reservations about the credibility of businesspeople who’ve formed a political party.
Mr Moleleki: I have my misgivings. Their entry into politics could go one way or the other. It is possible that we can have non-partisan, non-patronising people who are true sons and daughters of the land. But it is also possible that they could turn out to be a bunch of self-seeking people looking after their own interests.
It’s very important to have billionaires. You know in the world there are oligarchs. And by definition, oligarchs are well-connected businesspeople who run a government. It’s nice to have billionaires but it’s not necessarily the same as having oligarchs.
So, we must be careful. It would be good to have a bunch of self-made billionaires who have worked very hard delivering services instead of a bunch of self-seeking oligarchs.
LT: In a recent interview with SABC, Mr Matekane said before the advent of coalition governments in 2012, the business environment was tolerable. However, the string of short-lived coalition governments over the past decade had made things unbearable for business and the nation. He accused politicians of focusing on their selfish power struggles while people suffered. What is your response to that?
Mr Moleleki: I have this say: I wish my country and the leadership of the powerful new party well. I say this because young people are flocking to this new party with very high hopes. I don’t envy Ntate Matekane. I don’t envy him at all because 24 months into his premiership, if the younger generation of Lesotho gets disappointed, and if he fails to fulfil his promises, things can go haywire. I fear for my country. I fear what will become of it if their expectations are not met.
And, I have sat down with him and said, ‘my good friend I advise you to go for the low-hanging fruit in terms of what you promise the people. Young people are very impatient. When you are 20 years old, two years looks like an eternity to you. So, they don’t have the patience to wait two years. So, I wish luck to whoever will be elected prime minister, and that could very well be Ntate Matekane.
LT: What would you say about your own track record having served in government from the early 1990s?
Mr Moleleki: I hold Lesotho dear. I worked all my life to the best of my ability, and I’m proud of my work. I can say to you without any hesitation that I never took a cent as a bribe in my almost 30 years in public life where I controlled the biggest projects in the country. I always used to tell people that I can smell a bribe from a mile away.
So, I was never offered a bribe. If it was done surreptitiously, it never worked.
And I’m very glad and proud to say before you today and now, that I never succumbed to the pressures of bribes.
LT: As you said earlier, you are gradually bowing out of politics. What does the future hold for you?
Mr Moleleki: Let me draw your attention to something that is current. It has been barely a week since I returned from an all-Africa conference where I received a lifetime achievement award for the work I did as a minister responsible for natural resources and in particular, water. But no one has said anything about such a monumental success because of the local storm in our teacup (formation of the RFP). That storm has clouded something that we should all be celebrating as a country. A son of this country has been recognised by the African continent.
So, we must have the correct perspective of things.
LT: It has been alleged that there was a time when the AD executive committee considered bringing Ntate Matekane into the party and making him your successor? It has also been alleged that at some point the NEC considered dissolving the AD with a view to joining the RFP? What do you have to say to that?
Mr Moleleki: There was absolutely no such thing. Ntate Matekane is a businessman for whom I have great respect and admiration but not as a politician. You need a hardcore politician to be in politics. Just as government has no business in business, maybe it isn’t the best thing for businesspeople to be in government. There are countries where businesspeople have been in government and have not been successful.
Secondly, you don’t dissolve a party. You form a party like I did in 2016. I formed the AD by myself. But once it becomes a political organisation, you can only dissolve it by resolution of a conference. No other way. You cannot sit in the NEC and purport to have dissolved it. That would have been ridiculous nonsense. We never thought of doing such a thing. It wouldn’t make political, legal and even logical sense to do that. There were never such thoughts to dissolve the AD.
LT: Besides Mr Matekane, have you had relations with other businesspeople who supported your party’s activities?
Mr Moleleki: Yes. Other businesspeople have been well disposed towards me. I would like to think one of the reasons contributing to that is that they saw a man who never came to them looking for a bribe or kickbacks from them. In me they saw somebody wishing them well in their businesses.
Businesspeople are the treasure of any nation. They are the backbone of the economy of any nation. Therefore, they should be treated like the VVIPs not a bunch of crooks. They are not a bunch of crooks. They are generators and providers of jobs. It is to them that youths and society at large should look for jobs and not to government. Government should remain as the regulator and leveller of the playing ground.
LT: If you were to die tomorrow, what would you like to be remembered for?
Mr Moleleki: As a loyal son of this country, nothing more than that.