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THE Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) forayed into the highlands regions usually dominated by congress parties by holding two rallies in Mokhotlong district over the Easter weekend.
The rallies, which were meant to canvass for votes ahead of the 3 June 2017 snap elections, were held in Bobatsi No. 80 constituency on Saturday and Malingoaneng No.77 constituency on Sunday.
However, the gatherings were marred by poor attendance owing to the cold weather conditions and the poor road infrastructure that made Tloha-re-Bue village, in Malingoaneng a difficult to reach place.
In this interview, the Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with RCL Secretary-General ’Machabana Lemphane-Letsie about the challenges facing the people of Mokhotlong and how the party intends to address them if elected into government, among other issues.
LT: Having held two rallies in constituencies within the Mokhotlong district, what is your general opinion about the challenges facing its residents?
Lemphane-Letsie: Mokhotlong is divided into four constituencies, namely Malingoaneng No.77, Senqu No.78, Mokhotlong No.79 and Bobatsi No.80. Interestingly, the current seven-party coalition government has four cabinet ministers from Mokhotlong; namely Communications Minister Serialong Qoo, Foreign Affairs Minister Tlohang Sekhamane, Tourism and Environment Minister Likeleli Tampane and Water Minister Kimetso Mathaba. You would expect a district with so many cabinet ministers to flourish, at least in terms of improved public services and infrastructural development. But most unfortunately, the situation in Mokhotlong, particularly in Malingoaneng which was under Ntate Qoo’s purview, is counted among the worst in the country.
LT: What has been your most notable observation during the two rallies in the Mokhotlong district?
Lemphane-Letsie: The livelihoods of Mokhotlong residents depend almost entirely on farming. The biggest challenge they are facing is stock-theft. Stock thieves are rampant in the district and farmers live in distress because of this. Our promise to them, as stated by our leader (Keketso Rantšo) is to root out stock-theft upon being elected into government. It is the incumbent government’s responsibility to protect farmers from stock-theft. The same farmers produce wool and mohair for export, benefiting not only themselves but the country as well. But because the wool is exported unprocessed and raw, it is undervalued and therefore the benefits are limited. This is where the government should come in by establishing wool scouring plants. This will add value to our wool and mohair exports. At the moment, the farmers are earning peanuts because of two issues – stock theft and lack of wool scouring plants.
The other issue addressed by Mme Rantšo relates to the preservation of grazing pastures. Because we want to empower the farmers by commercialising their farming, it is important to preserve their pastures for the betterment of their stock. This should be a programme prioritised by the government, especially in the highland districts. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food security should be more active in the highlands regions. As Bolekana (the RCL’s moniker) we are appealing to the people of Mokhotlong to vote for us because we intend to prioritise addressing their challenges.
The Mokhotlong communities are also concerned about the challenges facing our traditional initiation schools. In places like Mokhotlong, the issue of traditional initiation is still highly valued. However, the traditional practice is being undermined and compromised. In recent years, we have seen how the medical circumcision campaigns are mistaken for the initiation of our boys and men. This has affected traditional initiation in the sense that people tend to think it’s the same thing as medical circumcision. As Bolekana, we are saying there is huge difference between the two processes. The traditional initiation is more about values. The medical circumcision, on the other hand, is just but a small part of such values. While both processes are important in society, it is worth underscoring that one should not dominate over the other. We have to find ways of differentiating the two processes to get rid of the confusion.
In modern times, the traditional initiation could also be used as a platform of awareness on HIV and AIDS, among other issues, to empower young people. Mme Rantšo has even suggested that instructors at traditional initiation schools should be paid salaries from the government the same way teachers in formal education schools do. Bolekana promises to consider this issue if elected into government.
LT: The Mokhotlong people have also complained about the lack of employment opportunities. They also stated that they were overlooked on the few employment opportunities available due to such irregularities as nepotism. What is the position of the RCL on this issue?
Lemphane-Letsie: Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader Ntate Monyane Moleleki, who is a former minister in the government, recently exposed corruption in the government’s recruitment process with some people being employed through nepotism and granting sexual favours. The government has not strongly refuted the allegations made by Ntate Moleleki as yet. We therefore take the allegations as true. This shows the depth of corruption and politicisation in our systems. We outlined in our manifesto in 2015 that that the public service should be depoliticised. At the moment, we have a public service that is highly politicised. We now know for certain since it came from a person who was part of the government. Since 2015, we have maintained that appointments for such lofty positions as principal secretaries should not be politically-motivated but based on merit.
We also learnt with shock and disappointment about the recent appointment of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s son, Rethabile, as chief delegate of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission. This is nepotism at an unprecedented level. Only his relatives and friends seem to deserve plum jobs. It saddens me that there are so many competent Basotho who are not politically-active who cannot find employment in the government because of the politicised recruitment? What is their fate under these circumstances?
LT: Another massive project – the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II (Polihali) – is on the pipeline in Mokhotlong. As the RCL, what are you telling the people of Mokhotlong about this project?
Lemphane-Letsie: Our expectation is that the people of Mokhotlong will be prioritised on the opportunities that will come with the Polihali project. Sadly, we have already heard about controversial tenders between Lesotho and South Africa even before the project comes into operation. The RCL is deeply concerned about the future of the project in relation to how Basotho, particularly the people of Mokhotlong, will benefit. We can foresee a failed state if the people of Lesotho cannot stand up and vote out the current government on 3 June 2017.
LT: The RCL only managed to get two proportional representation seats in the recently-dissolved Ninth Parliament. The party was also recently plagued by factional fights culminating in the defection of other members including former secretary-general ’Mamolula Ntabe who joined the AD. As the new secretary-general, how do you hope to pick up the pieces and make RCL a competitive party?
Lemphane-Letsie: When the RCL contested in the 28 February 2015 elections, it was only 10 weeks since the formation of the party. The party was then too new to have gained popularity. Over and above that, the RCL is led by a woman, which is not common in the politics of Lesotho. The strategy we have adopted ahead of the 3 June snap elections is to hold our rallies in rural areas outside towns. The main reason is that the people in towns have access to different types of media and receive the information easily. Our intention is to visit the hard-to-reach places like Malingoaneng, Mashai, Thaba-Moea and other similar places. We know that it is easy for people in towns to access information about Bolekana without necessarily holding rallies near them. The other reason for adopting this strategy is that there is limited time in this election, unlike any other. If it wasn’t due to the snap elections, our initial strategy was that when Mme Rantšo came back from exile (on 12 February 2017) she was going to visit all the constituencies and familiarise the people with RCL from the branch levels. Even in Malingoaneng alone, people from some branches were not able to travel to our rally because of the distance and cold weather. Nevertheless, it is easier for them when we hold rallies in their constituencies than if we hold them in towns and invite them there. It works for us. We are even able to see and experience their challenges first hand.
LT: What is your message to the electorate?
Lemphane-Letsie: It has become the norm for voters to usher politicians into parliament without getting anything in return. It is high time that political parties provide value for their supporters beyond just being elected into parliament. If Bolekana cannot make it into parliament after the 3 June elections what do we say to our members? Does that mean the end their hopes? No. There should be other ways we can improve their lives without being in parliament. My office is currently brainstorming ways to improve the livelihoods of our members through self-sufficiency programmes that are independent of whether we become the government or not.
The RCL is also avoiding receiving too much funding from individuals and companies ahead of the elections. We know such funding comes with the expectation that when we are in government we serve them at the expense of the rest of the nation. That’s how corruption starts. You will see a lot of parties campaigning using resources from various funders and think of them as being impressive. But experience has taught us in the RCL that it comes with a lot of pressures for the parties to return the favours after elections. The controversial vehicle fleet contract between the government and Bidvest is a typical example.