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REFORMED Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo on Sunday returned from exile to a party engulfed in turmoil over a nasty power struggle.
The RCL held a special elective conference in Ladybrand, South Africa last Saturday which effectively booted out National Executive Committee (NEC) members aligned to former secretary-general Mamolula Ntabe.
A storm has been brewing in the RCL since last October when Ms Ntabe announced Ms Rantšo and her deputy Dr Motloheloa Phooko had resigned from their positions.
However, Ms Rantšo and Dr Phooko denied the claim, saying it was a ploy to destabilise the party.
The feud intensified after Ms Rantšo’s faction tried to by-pass Ms Ntabe by calling for a party conference – which was the latter’s prerogative.
Ms Ntabe responded by lodging a High Court application last November seeking to call off the conference. The court ruled in favour of Ms Rantšo’s faction resulting in last Saturday’s special elective conference.
The infighting has seen the RCL’s former spokesperson and party musician, Moshe Kopanye, defecting to the All Basotho Convention amid indications more former NEC members could dump the beleaguered party. Mr Kopanye defected along with backup singer and RCL chair in Motimposo constituency, Makhetha Nthafa and the deputy chair of the NEC, Kolisang Sekoati.
Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with Ms Rantšo in this interview about these developments and the way forward for her party in light of her return.
LT: You have just returned home at a time your party faces serious problems that have led some NEC members to defect to other parties. What is the cause of the discord?
Rantšo: There have been many issues within the party which, as you know, were exposed in the media. In my view, I cannot even say the issues are about a power struggle. I would say there has been some confusion in the party whose cause I am not even able to say. I think the problems started when the media was suddenly informed by our former secretary-general (Ms Ntabe) that I, as the leader, together with deputy leader (Dr Motloheloa Phooko) have resigned from the party. But when proof of that claim was requested from the secretary-general, it was not forthcoming. This, to me, was the first sign that the former secretary-general was irresponsible. How do you go and tell the media that party leaders have resigned without providing the media with such proof? For somebody who held a position as pivotal as that of secretary-general, she should be able to say things she will stand for. For an issue as serious as the resignation of party leader, the first thing the secretary-general ought to have done was to issue a circular to all party constituencies and inform members about this and immediately advise that an elective conference should be convened to elect new leaders. You can’t just say leaders have resigned and do nothing about it. To me, this was a sign that there was confusion and a belief of some people that I would never ever return to Lesotho from exile.
LT: In your view, what was the problem with the former secretary-general?
Rantšo: The former secretary-general is politically immature. As a fresh politician, she was lucky to be offered a position of secretary-general so early in her career. She has not gone through the necessary stages in party structures to gain experience. For instance, I started politics way back and I was able to go through all the structures and managed to garner a lot of experience to be the leader I am today. I have been secretary-general in both youth and women’s leagues. I was also secretary-general of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy NEC. I know so much about being a secretary-general in a party. Most of all, that position requires one to be respectful, because you are handling sensitive issues of the party and dealing directly with the party leader. There is nothing you do without consultation with the leader, and likewise. These two people always strategise together on the way forward for the party. I am so disappointed with Mme ’Mamolula because she is woman. I was expecting a lot of fruitful things from her. I was grooming her and I thought one day she would grow up to be an influential woman in politics. Mme ’Mamolula still needs to learn to be patient in politics. You will always make a mess in politics if you are not patient enough. I was patient and that’s why I did not respond to her announcement about my purported resignation and all the other things she said about me on radio programmes. I thought she would learn from me.
LT: But can’t you at least trace where all the infighting is coming from?
Rantšo: When we last met with Mme ’Mamolula, it was on 18 September 2016 when the NEC had gathered in Ladybrand. That’s where we made a major resolution that we should call for a special conference to elect a new NEC because of emerging issues. We all agreed that the new NEC should be elected. But that was the last time I saw Mme ’Mamolula. She had asked me when she should come back to Ladybrand so that both of us can draft the circular calling for the special elective conference. We agreed she will come the next Monday morning. That was the last time we talked. She didn’t come on the Monday we had agreed and when I called her phones to find out what was going on she was unreachable. I even resorted to calling the deputy leader to trace her for me. The deputy leader made efforts and finally found her. But I was shocked when Mme ’Mamolula sent me a harsh text message Saying; “I hear from the deputy leader that you’re looking for me… what’s there to talk about?” We continued with our conversation but I realised that our relations were really bad.
LT: You have been politically close with Ms Ntabe. Do the latest developments mean the end of your relationship?
Rantšo: I am still going to write to Mme ’Mamolula following the elective conference we held, which she determinately tried to block. She was our secretary-general and so our business with her is not over. Now that she was not elected, as her name still featured in the contestation, she has to meet with the new NEC for handing over materials from her office. The party property is still with Mme ’Mamolula as we speak. And because the treasurer’s post was vacant before we elected the new committee, Mme ’Mamolula also acted as the party treasurer collecting RCL revenues. This means she still has our monies. But other than that, I will still invite Mme ’Mamolula for a private woman-to-woman talk. She has disappointed me, but I haven’t given up on her. I was dedicated to grooming her and this makes me feel like I have failed. I have always taught her to get out of office once and meet people out there so that her presence in politics is felt; so that people can acquaint themselves with her and like her. To prove how much we valued Mme ’Mamolula, we agreed with Dr Phooko that he vacate his parliamentary seat for her. By doing that, we were enabling her to do her work easily as secretary-general. Yet, the same person was not ashamed to disrupt a conference led by the deputy leader. Judging from this, I think her intention was to destroy the RCL completely. I am very disappointed, but I haven’t lost faith in her because I am still committed to my mission to empower women in politics.
LT: How have these developments affected the party, especially in terms of membership?
Rantšo: My observation is that although there was confusion within the NEC, the RCL members refused to be dragged into that. The RCL has grown stronger than when I left the country in 2015. Members were, however, disappointed with the announcement that I had resigned and that there was a case filed in court. I don’t think the former secretary-general was wrong by filing a case in court. I believe she did the right thing because she wanted issues to be resolved by the courts, which is the right medium.
LT: In light of all these issues, how were you able to elect the new NEC?
Rantšo: We held the elective conference in Ladybrand on Saturday, just before I came back to the country the next day. Although some of our members were not able to attend the conference because they didn’t have passports, we were able to have representatives from across the country. Only nine out of the 80 national constituencies were not represented. I was surprised that we had so many constituencies represented in our party because when I left Lesotho we didn’t have so many constituencies represented in the RCL. This is why I am saying the RCL has grown despite what happened. Sometimes when there is infighting, the membership grows.
LT: Now that you have elected the new NEC and you are back in the country, what’s the way forward for the RCL?
Rantšo: The RCL attracts young people and women. What we need to do from here is to embark on nationwide campaign to train our youths by instilling in them knowledge of what exactly the RCL stands for; especially where we say “reformed congress.” Now that we have a new NEC, we will conduct these trainings throughout the constituencies ahead of both local government and general elections. Most of all, we are going to train our youths on how to empower themselves as individuals and to be self-reliant.
LT: What are your concerns for Lesotho?
Rantšo: I fear for the lives of women in our society because women are still exposed to harassment. We have incidences of some men, regardless of whether they are thugs or not, going to the extent of stabbing women with knives. Some of our soldiers have fled for their lives outside the country and they are still out there. They have left their wives and children on their own. Other soldiers are detained. We are creating a generation that will want to revenge in future, that’s a bad example. These soldiers’ children are growing up with so much hatred in their hearts. We all need counselling as a nation. My other concern relates to our international partners who seem to be gradually withholding aid to Lesotho. We have already lost the Millennium Challenge Corporation from the United States of America. Our fate with the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) hangs in the balance. The European Union has also withdrawn some of its aid to Lesotho. These are challenges mostly facing women in this country.