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Thabane’s possible successors: who is who?

Staff Reporter

THREE candidates namely, ’Matebatso Doti, Samuel Rapapa and Nkaku Kabi, have emerged as the frontrunners in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s internal processes to nominate outgoing Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s successor. This according to the ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa.

But the process to choose Dr Thabane’s successor is not going on smoothly and fierce contestations and conflicts threaten to destroy the fragile unity in the ruling party.  By Mr Masoetsa’s own admissions, the three-person list is by no means final as more names could be added to the list of candidates.

In this analysis, the Lesotho Times, with the help of analysts and party insiders, examines the top three and other contenders who are eying the top job, outlining their strengths and weaknesses.

The three main contenders:

Samuel Rapapa

His ambitions for the top job are well-known and he has said he will gladly accept the post “with open hands” if appointed prime minister.

He was widely touted as the “prime minister in-waiting” after the ABC filed a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane last June and nominated him for the post of Caretaker Prime Minister.

Mr Rapapa was elected ABC chairperson at the party’s February 2019 elective conference and some party members believe he has an edge over his rivals because he is the most senior candidate in the party structures and he was nominated to succeed Dr Thabane when a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane was filed in June 2019. (See story on page 2).

Weaknesses: Other party sources said that Mr Rapapa’s biggest undoing could be his association with the Mahao faction in its fight against Dr Thabane. He therefore was not a neutral candidate who would be seen to be above factional politics.

Other sources pointed to the nomination of fellow Mahao loyalist, ‘’Matebatso Doti as evidence that there could differences in the Mahao camp and Mr Rapapa no longer enjoyed the full support of the Mahao camp.

In addition, Mr Rapapa has never assumed a cabinet post, a fact which an analyst said placed him at a disadvantage when compared to his rivals who were either serving or former ministers. Ms Doti was the Social Development Minister until she was fired by Dr Thabane in February 2019 allegedly for backing Prof Mahao in his power struggle with Dr Thabane. 

’Matebatso Doti

Strengths: Viewed by many in the party as the “iron lady of ABC”, the ABC deputy spokesperson is seen as a suitable candidate after she allegedly saved the party from collapse by working hard to re-unite the feuding Thabane and Mahao factions three weeks ago.

This was despite being fired from cabinet by Dr Thabane in February 2019. 

She served as Social Development Minister in Dr Thabane’s governments of 2012 to 2015 and the current government from 2017 until 2019. Her cabinet experience is seen by some as an advantage in that she has experience of statecraft and interacting with the international community as well as development partners.

She is also one of two females who have been touted for the top job and this could work in her favour should Lesotho decide to appoint its first female prime minister.

Weaknesses: Contesting against fellow Mahao loyalist Samuel Rapapa could result in split loyalties in their camp and consequently weaken her support.

Some party insiders say that despite having cabinet experience she still lacks the “clout and gravitas and would be a hard sell to the international community”.

They said unlike Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Ms Ramakoae (who served as Deputy finance minister in the first Thabane government), Ms Doti lacks the sophistication and understanding of international relations as well as economic fundamentals to hold her own in the international forums and with the Bretton Woods institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Nkaku Kabi

Widely seen as one of Dr Thabane’s “blue-eyed boys” along with Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele, Mr Nkaku was appointed Health Minister replacing Mr Nyapane Kaya who fired in August 2018. The Qeme legislator was elected ABC deputy secretary-general in February 2018 and he was solidly behind Dr Thabane in his leadership wrangle with Prof Mahao.

Strengths: Some party insiders say he his post as Health Minister-made powerful by the control and issuance of licences for medical cannabis- has helped him reach out to the international community and build relationships which would make him an acceptable choice for the top job.

Weaknesses: His unwavering support for Dr Thabane in the party’s infighting is being used as a stick by his opponents to beat him. They say that choosing him would be tantamount to handing the reins back to Dr Thabane as the veteran leader would still “be pulling the puppet strings from behind the scenes even after retirement because Mr Kabi has been firmly in the State House camp”.

Other contenders

‘Matsepo Ramakoae

Strengths: The ABC’s Matsieng legislator, ‘Matsepo Ramakoae, is a dark horse who could be nominated for the top post as a compromise candidate appealing to the party factions which backed Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao in their year-long battle for control for the party until a truce was declared three weeks ago.

ABC sources say that as a former Deputy Minister of Finance in Dr Thabane’s first government, Ms Ramakoae, is savvy enough to appeal to the international community because of her grip of developmental issues and international relations.

They say that her portfolio and standing has also been enhanced by her different roles as Chairperson of the Women’s Caucus in Parliament as well as Chairperson of the Regional Women’s Caucus of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The fact that she is female could play on the minds of the ABC legislators to nominate her as the first female prime minister.

Weaknesses: She is not a member of the ABC’s NEC which is said to be keen to choose one of its members in line with what it calls seniority and rank in the party structures.

Her refusal to side with any of the factions is a sign of independent politician but this could work against her as the party factions might prefer to back their own.

Moeketsi Majoro

Strengths: As Finance Minister, Dr Majoro is said by analysts and party insiders to be a technocrat with a solid grasp of the country’s developmental challenges.

“He is fully aware of what needs to be done to fix the country as evidenced by his spirited albeit unsuccessful attempts to rein in on government expenditure,” an analyst said.

Another analyst said his frequent interactions with development partners and the international community would make him an acceptable successor to Dr Thabane.

Fellow prime ministerial hopeful, Nkaku Kabi exalts him, saying he has the right attributes for the top post. Mr Kabi said he would not hesitate to give up his own ambitions to support Dr Majoro’s candidature.

Weaknesses: The soft-spoken minister would rather not speak about his ambitions and this- according to analysts and party insiders- is a serious shortcoming which his rivals have seized upon to proclaim their manifestos while Dr Majoro “mistakenly and naively believes his clean public image and credentials will do the talking for him”.

He is also seen as being partial to the State House camp. The fact that Dr Thabane attempted to install him as party deputy in place of Prof Mahao last June could work against him. Some see this as evidence that he is not above factional politics in the ABC and is therefore not a neutral choice.

He is not a member of the party’s NEC and this could hamstring him.

Samonyane Ntsekele

Another of Dr Thabane’s so-called “blue-eyed boys,” the Water Minister is the former secretary general of the party.

Strengths: His closeness to Dr Thabane is probably his biggest asset as it has enabled him to be in close proximity to power and decision-making.

Some party insiders say that  if it was up to Dr Thabane, Mr Ntsekele would probably be appointed to protect the outgoing premier and the First Lady’s interests.

Weaknesses: his closeness to Dr Thabane and his resolute defence of the premier from attacks by the Mahao camp is his greatest undoing.

“A fundamental change must occur after Thabane’s exit and this can only happen by removing those closest to him like Ntate Ntsekele,” said one analyst.

Another analyst was more scathing in his criticism describing the Water Minister as a “dwarf in the robes borrowed from Dr Thabane’s wardrobe”. “He cannot stand on his own. He owes his political office to Dr Thabane and once the veteran leader is out of the picture, he will also be out of it as well,” said the analyst.

Prince Maliehe

He is also mentioned in the same breath with Messrs Ntsekele and Kabi as Dr Thabane’s “blue-eyed boys”.

The Public Works Minister served as interim deputy leader of the party from 2018 until he lost to Prof Mahao at the February 2019 elective conference.

Strengths: His closeness to Dr Thabane is probably his biggest asset as it has enabled him to be in close proximity to power and decision-making.

Weaknesses: Seen as Thabane loyalist, his fortunes are tied with those of Dr Thabane and analysts say he is unlikely to survive in politics beyond Dr Thabane’s tenure.

He appears to lack any clout as shown by the fact that despite being the acting incumbent, he still finished last behind Prof Mahao and Dr Majoro in the 2019 elections to choose the ABC’s deputy leader.

Motlohi Maliehe

Strengths: the ABC founder-member is known for his fiercely independent streak and he is not one to shy away from speaking truth to power as shown by his unprecedented 2018 blistering attack on the First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane accusing her of fomenting chaos in the party and in government through her “constant meddling” in the work of ministers and officials.

The former party chair commands respect from the party factions and they all approached him to broker the ultimately successful unity talks.

Weaknesses: some analysts and party insiders say his loss of the party chairship to Mr Rapapa when he was the incumbent suggests that even though he is respected, he is not popular enough within the party to win the nomination to succeed Dr Thabane.

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Lesotho Times

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa. Contact us today: News: editor@lestimes.co.ls Advertising: marketing@lestimes.co.ls Telephone: +266 2231 5356

One Comment

  1. We are still in the reform process of the constitution so one of the important issues to deal with is that of 1st lady ,we do not need that in lesotho at all ,please remove such a post ,we have been in this stalemate because of 1st lady even in the previous government.

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