THE latest attempt to heal the rift between All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane and his deputy Professor Nqosa collapsed this week in Maseru amid revelations that the mediator, National Assembly speaker Sephiri Motanyane, abandoned the process after losing patience with the two sides who are refusing to compromise.
Cracks emerged in the ABC in the run up to and aftermath of the ruling party’s February 2019 elective conference after party leader and Prime Minister Thabane and other senior ABC officials opposed the candidature of Prof Mahao for the deputy leader’s post. Prof Mahao subsequently beat a strong field of candidates including Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Public Works and Transport Minister Prince Maliehe and former ABC chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe. As deputy leader, Prof Mahao became the frontrunner to succeed Dr Thabane in both party and government when the veteran leader eventually calls it a day.
Dr Thabane and other senior party officials have fiercely resisted Prof arguing that he is a relative newcomer who should not be parachuted to the party’s second most powerful position ahead of seasoned party stalwarts. Previous talks and court litigation have failed to end the impasse that has seen Dr Thabane “expel” Prof Mahao and his fiercest allies, Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and his deputy Matebatso Doti.
The quintet, who were “expelled” in June 2019 for alleged insubordination after they convened and addressed rallies in apparent defiance of Dr Thabane’s orders for them not to do so, hit back by suspending Dr Thabane and other senior officials from the party. They were only stopped by a High Court order from holding a special party conference on 6 July 2019 which would have expelled Dr Thabane from the party.
Despite the pending court cases against each other, the two sides have met on several occasions in a bid to resolve their differences with the latest meeting taking place last Wednesday.
The Thabane camp was represented by Mr Motlohi Maliehe while the Mahao side was represented by Mr Rapapa. Dr Thabane attended the talks that were primarily between Messrs Rapapa and Maliehe.
The two sides had agreed on the mediation of Mr Motanyane who is said to have a close relationship with Dr Thabane. Mr Motanyane is also said to be acceptable to the Mahao camp because of his calm, sober and dignified bearing.
But even these qualities were not enough to rescue the talks and yield an agreement as both sides refused to back down from the hardline positions they have taken ever since start of the dispute that threatens to split the party and collapse the two year-old government.
Like all others before, the latest talks suffered a stillbirth due to the refusal by both sides to yield on the critical issues including the reciprocal withdrawal of pending court cases against each other, the rescission of Dr Thabane’s “expulsion” of Prof Mahao and four his allies as well as allowing them into office as the duly elected national executive committee (NEC).
A source close to the developments this week told the Lesotho Times that the failure to yield on any of the contentious issues exasperated Mr Motanyane to the point where he just got up and left Dr Thabane and the bickering faction representatives to continue on their own.
Mr Motanyane is said to have asked them to call him back when they had reached some understanding but this was not to be and the talks were eventually abandoned.
“Ntate Motanyane could not stand the bickering and got up and left. He asked them to call him back when they were willing to talk,” the source said.
“The two sides did not negotiate in good faith. Just like the previous talks, these collapsed with the two sides nowhere closer to any agreement. If anything, the two sides are diametrically opposed and it is only a matter of time before there is an official split.”
Mr Rapapa lamented Wednesday’s abortive talks in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.
“We had agreed on the secret talks with our leader away from the influence of everyone else, hoping that he would give us an ear without any interference from his advisors.
“We picked the speaker (of the National Assembly, Mr Motanyane) because he is an elderly and dignified person who gets along with our leader (Dr Thabane). He however, left us in the room, talking among ourselves and instructed us to inform him once we were done ironing out issues. Once again, the talks hit a brick wall as we could not agree on anything,” Mr Rapapa said.
He said instead of nudging Mr Maliehe to address the pertinent issues, Dr Thabane chose to berate him (Mr Rapapa) for deserting him.
“Instead of addressing the sticking issues, Ntate Thabane gave me a lengthy lecture and accused me of deserting him. He said I had abandoned him instead of advising him like I used to do before and this (berating) didn’t take us anywhere.
“And when I thought he had finished, he took the talks out of the room into the presence of his bodyguards and asked me not to try to unseat him. He said I should let him finish his term.”
Mr Rapapa is the Mahao camp’s candidate to replace Dr Thabane as caretaker prime minister in the event of a successful no confidence vote against the veteran ABC leader.
The motion was filed in June this year by the ABC’s Koro-Koro constituency legislator, Motebang Koma and it was immediately seconded by the opposition Democratic Congress (DC)’s deputy leader Motlalentoa Letsosa.
Mr Koma proposed that Mr Rapapa, takes over as caretaker prime minister, presumably pending processes that would lead to Prof Mahao assuming the reins of power.
The no confidence motion is the culmination of the protracted war of attrition between the new NEC of the ABC fronted by Prof Mahao and the old NEC which has steadfastly refused to vacate office. Prof Mahao is not a legislator and could therefore not be nominated to replace Dr Thabane despite his election as the latter’s deputy at the party’s contentious February 2019 elective conference.
After the failure of the latest talks, Mr Rapapa this week said he was convinced that the chances of unity had all but evaporated.
ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa echoed Mr Rapapa’s sentiments.
Mr Masoetsa said there was a looming split within the ranks of Dr Thabane’s backers, commonly referred to as the ‘State House’ faction. He said this was because some of them wanted the new NEC to be allowed into office.
“There are two factions in the State House where one side is rooting for us to be allowed into office. The other faction doesn’t want anything to do with us and is prepared to see the party split. But the court’s decision will help settle matters,” Mr Masoetsa said.
The High Court will anytime from this week rule on Prof Mahao, Ms Doti, Messrs Rapapa, Hlaele and Masoetsa’s application challenging their 17 June 2019 “expulsion” from the ABC by Dr Thabane.
The applicants also want Dr Thabane to be held in contempt of court for his failure to recognise them as the legitimate NEC as per the High Court Judgement of 12 June 2019.
“The decision of the first respondent (Dr Thabane) taken on 17 June 2019 expelling the applicants as members of the ABC (must) be set aside as null and void. The first respondent (Dr Thabane) as the leader of the second respondent (the ABC) does not have the power to expel any member of the ABC without ratification by third respondent (ABC’s NEC).
“The first respondent (Dr Thabane) be interdicted from making unilateral decisions and interfering with the affairs of the second respondent (ABC) without involvement of the full contingent of the third respondent (ABC’s NEC).
“The first respondent (should) be found guilty of contempt of an order of court dated 12 June 2019. In the event the court finds the first respondent guilty of contempt, he shall be ordered to purge his contempt, failing which he be committed to jail for a period determined by the court,” the applicants (the Mahao faction) state in their court papers.