- former minister speaks amid plot to expel him from ABC
THE ever-escalating infighting in the ABC has taken a new strange twist after Lebohang Hlaele, the man who won the contest for the coveted secretary-general position, received a letter threatening to suspend him from the party, from the very man he defeated, Samonyane Ntsekele.
As the fallout from the main ruling coalition party’s elective conference intensified this week, Mr Hlaele, a son in law to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, said his life was in grave danger as he has been receiving tip-offs about death threats from unspecified sources.
But more bizarrely, Mr Hlaele, who won the powerful position of secretary-general, at the ABC’s 1-2 February 2019 elective conference, has been asked to show cause why he should not be suspended – as a possible precursor to expulsion – by Mr Ntsekele, the very man he defeated for the position.
The “show cause” demand comes hot on the heels of Dr Thabane’s recent dismissal of Mr Hlaele from his position as Law and Constitutional Affairs minister. The dismissal of Mr Hlaele, together with his cabinet counterpart ‘Matebatso Doti, is seen as Dr Thabane’s revenge against the two’s staunch support of Nqosa Mahao, who won the deputy leader’s post against the ABC leader’s wishes.
If Mr Ntsekele’s defeated NEC proceeds with a plan to suspend and subsequently expel Mr Hlaele, the victor in the elections, the current court cases over the legitimacy of the elective conference notwithstanding, then the ABC – a political behemoth – risks reducing itself into a complete circus. But analysts also warn of the tragic consequences for the country from a protracted battle for supremacy in the senior coalition government party (see analysis on Page 6).
The show cause letter against Mr Hlaele stems from an accusation that he “fraudulently” authorised the appointment of K.J. Nthontho Attorneys to represent the ABC in a case in which three ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe) are seeking the nullification of the results of the party’s elective conference.
But Mr Hlaele said he remained unfazed by Mr Ntsekele’s show cause letter. He sees it as a desperate attempt by a group failing to come to terms with the fact that they lost a legitimate election. Instead he was more worried by attempts to eliminate him.
Mr Hlaele told the Lesotho Times that he had received tip-offs of an alleged plot to assassinate him. He would not say who was planning to assassinate him. But he added that he was taking the information seriously and taking precautions to ensure his safety.
Mr Hlaele was voted into the secretary general’s post while Professor Mahao, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor was voted into the post of deputy leader, casting him in good stead to eventually lead the ABC and possibly become Prime Minister. However, Mr Hlaele, Prof Mahao, Ms Doti and the rest of the newly elected NEC have not been able to assume office after their election was challenged by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.
The trio allege that the polls were marred by gross irregularities which made it impossible to achieve a credible outcome. They were recently granted an interim order by Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase barring the new NEC from assuming office until the finalisation of the main application seeking the nullification of their election.
Mr Hlaele’s ‘show cause’ letter was signed by Mr Ntsekele himself. Mr Ntsekele’s obvious reason for doing that stems from a belief that since the new NEC was interdicted from assuming office, then his defeated NEC retains the right to run the party.
Mr Hlalele was given until Sunday to write back and state why he should not be suspended from the party to pave way for investigations into his alleged fraudulent authorisation of the appointment of K.J. Nthontho Attorneys to represent the ABC on 11 February 2019.
This is the same law firm that successfully challenged the old ABC’s NEC’s decision to disqualify Prof Mahao from contesting the elections on the grounds that he had not served in the party structures for the required period.
The ABC, the ABC’s NEC, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN), Prof Mahao and other candidates in the ABC polls are cited as the first to 44th respondents in the trio’s lawsuit. The LCN are cited in their capacity as the organisation that ran the polls on behalf of the ABC and announced the new NEC line-up.
Part of Mr Ntsekele’s show cause letter to Mr Hlaele, dated 21 February 2019 states that, “the (old) ABC national executive committee (NEC) is aware of the allegations that on 11 February 2019, you wrote a letter and signed a fraudulent letter indicating that there was a NEC meeting which resolved to appoint K.J. Nthontho Attorneys to represent the ABC in court”.
“It is further alleged that the fraudulent letter had a fraudulent official stamp of the party because the authentic official stamp of the party is in safekeeping of the office of the secretary general (Mr Ntsekele) who has never handed it over to you.
“Honourable (Hlaele), the (old) NEC is deeply worried by these allegations and in its 18 February 2019 sitting, the NEC took a decision to thoroughly investigate these allegations. You are therefore ordered to give reasons why you should not be temporarily suspended from the party while investigations against you are ongoing,” Mr Ntsekele further states.
Mr Hlaele told the Lesotho Times that he would respond to Mr Ntsekele’s letter but did not give a time-frame. He however, said he was not moved by the threat to suspend him as he was legitimately elected the new secretary-general of the ABC.
“My future in the party is not in any way threatened by this (letter). I am here to stay and we (the new NEC) have the mandate from the ABC’s electorate to administer this party. That some people are seeking to cling to power at all costs does not alter this mandate,” Mr Hlaele said.
He said the new NEC had nonetheless resolved to be patient with the outgoing committee. It would tread carefully to ensure that the “transition period” does not cause irreparable harm to the party, he said.
“Now is the time for us to be tolerant. We have to be patient with them (the outgoing NEC) until such time they see and appreciate that the electorate threw them out of office just like it did with their predecessors. We need to be patient enough with them so that they can voluntarily accept that the mandate has been given to a new committee. The voice of the masses represents the voice of God and our predecessors must accept that. Once we accept that the people have spoken, things will go smoothly.
“The truth of the matter is that the former committee has continued to occupy the office of the ABC contrary to the decisions of the ABC electorate and this simply means that at some point in time, they will have to vacate the office. At the moment they are saying the courts have ordered that they continue to occupy the office and we are saying let us wait for the final decisions of the courts,” Mr Hlaele said.
He said the plot to suspend him was a clear indication that there were certain individuals who strongly believed that leading the ABC was their “birthright”.
“They do not want to be led by anyone else and we know that change is painful and people are trying by all means to come up with reasons to overturn the verdict of the elective conference. It is not easy to accept change especially when you have the illusion that you have so much power that you can change the decisions of the elective conference. This is just a temporary storm that will soon pass.”
Mr Hlaele also rubbished the allegations that he fraudulently acquired the ABC stamp, saying there was nothing new or amiss with the new NEC’s decision to acquire a new party stamp.
He said Mr Ntsekele also acquired a new stamp when he became secretary general in 2014.
“The 2014 stamp had his (Ntsekele’s) signature and we didn’t see anything untoward about that. Now that there is a new administration, we acquired a new official stamp because we could not have continued to use the stamp which bears Ntate Ntsekele’s signature. There is really nothing to this matter because the (alleged fraudulent) stamp belongs to the new ABC committee which was voted into power at the ABC’s conference at Lehakoe Recreation Centre.”
On the plot to kill him, Mr Hlaele said; “I received tip-offs that there was a plot to assassinate me and I did not take those tip-offs lightly. I am trying everything in my power to ensure that I am safe because we are not sure how factual these rumours are. But I must also put it on record that I have not fled the country. I will not flee this country because there is no reason enough to force me to flee. I am still in the country, I stay at Sekamaneng and as I speak with you, I am at my place at Sekamaneng.”
On his part, Mr Ntsekele confirmed writing to Mr Hlaele. He however, denied the allegations that he authorised the manufacture and purchase of a new party stamp bearing his signature when he took over as ABC secretary general in 2014.
“The official stamp of the ABC does not have a signature. It is a date stamp that is operated manually and that stamp has always been there since the formation of the ABC in 2006. It is the official stamp of the party and it does not belong to any member.
“Ntate Hlaele must differentiate issues, I have never changed the party official stamp but what I did was to make my signature electronically available to the office administrator after realising that my absence from the office rendered the office inefficient, especially on the issuance of membership cards which bear the signature of the secretary general.”
He also accused Mr Hlaele of ignoring the show cause letter because of his failure to collect a copy of the letter from the ABC offices even after giving assurances that he would do so.
He said the (old) NEC would soon meet to decide on the next course of action. But while Mr Ntsekele threatened unspecified action against Mr Hlaele, he also emphasised the need for dialogue to resolve the infighting in the ABC.
“Mr Hlaele had said he would collect his letter but he has never done so. It is however clear that there are challenges in the party that need to be addressed. Currently there are court cases involving us and we will accord the courts the respect they deserve and let them deal with these issues.
“But there is a need for us all to sit down and start talking to each other. Leaving this matter entirely to the courts is not wise because the courts might solve only some of the issues. ABC members need to warm up to the idea of sitting down together to decide on the future of the ABC. We cannot leave things hanging, the future of the party is very important,” Mr Ntsekele said, adding that all party members must put aside their egos and come together to devise strategies to grow the party.
How that is possible to achieve when it seems clear the chasms within the party are escalating by each day will remain a mystery to many.