THE feuding national executive committee (NEC) factions of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) returned to the High Court after the lapse of the 13-day period they had been given by the court to negotiate a deal to resolve their struggle for the control of the party.
The talks failed to kick-off as the old and newly elected NECs refused to budge from their respective positions. The old NEC had demanded that Professor Nqosa Mahao should step down from the deputy leader’s post which he won at the ABC’s 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference as a precondition to allowing the rest of the new NEC to assuming office. The new NEC refused to accept the demand hence the cancellation of the talks and yesterday’s resumption of the hearing of the court application by three ABC legislators, Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe).
The trio want the court to nullify the outcome of the February elections and order fresh polls within three months of their application.
In her 6 March 2019 court order, Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase had given the two NEC factions up to 19 March to resolve their differences failing which they would have to return to court yesterday on 20 March.
But yesterday, the case failed to kick off with Justice Mahase postponing the matter to 25 March 2019 after one of the respondents’ lawyers, Advocate Ranale Thoahlane called in sick. Justice Mahase also extended the order barring the new NEC from assuming office to 25 March 2019 and this means that the old NEC will continue to run party affairs until then.
The other respondents’ lawyers queried Adv Thoahlane’s sick note, arguing that it was a fraudulent and meant to delay the hearing of the case. Despite their protestations, Justice Mahase accepted the sick note and postponed the case.
The crowd that had come to listen to the court proceedings angrily left the courtroom. Many of them could be heard accusing Justice Mahase of siding with the old NEC by postponing the matter when she had been told by the other lawyers that Adv Thoahlane’s sick note was fake.
Yesterday morning Adv Thoahlane’s office served the court and the counsels for both sides with letters informing them that he had been involved in a car accident on 14 March 2019 and was therefore was unfit to appear before the court. Later on during the day, he served them with a doctor’s note indicating that he (Thoahlane) had been sick since 14 March when he suffered an accident.
“We kindly request that this honourable court postpone the matter because our Advocate Thoahlane was involved in an accident on 14 March 2019 on his way to Bela-Bela to the funeral of Justice (Maseshophe) Hlajoane,” part of the letter reads.
The applicants’ lawyer, Advocate Rapapa Sepiriti, told the court that his side was ready to proceed but it would be inconsiderate of them to continue while their colleague had been involved in an accident.
“I have filed my heads of argument and I am ready to proceed but one of the respondents’ lawyers has asked for a postponement due to the accident he suffered last week so we do not have a problem with his request.
“I never thought his colleagues would be so inconsiderate to ridicule his sickness like this. I was with him when the accident happened but I cannot say I am surprised as some of them even passed by the scene as if it was someone they did not know,” Adv Sepiriti said.
One of the defendants’ lawyers, ‘Mabatṧoeneng Hlaele, argued that the sick note was fake and part of a strategy to frustrate the case. Ms Hlaele who is the wife of one of the defendants, Lebohang Hlalele, who won the secretary general’s post, urged the court to disregard the sick note and proceed with the case.
“We received notice of Adv Thoahlane being sick today between 10am and 10.30am and it is not proper for a person who has been sick from last Thursday to inform the court at the eleventh hour. His doctor’s note, which we received at about 2pm today, bears a signature which is not clear and further indicates that he was examined today. The sick note raises eyebrows in that it is impossible for the said doctor to tell that a person was sick on 14 March when he only examined him today. What is insensitive is for someone to lie to the court to force a postponement
“Adv Thoahlane has been seen several times within the court premises after the accident these past days so it is a lie that he is sick. This matter does not only put the ABC executive in trouble but the judiciary and the parliament as well. It was brought before this court as an urgent matter and we are all treating it as it should, except the people who brought it before the court. They are playing tricks because they are in a comfort zone as there is a rule giving them power. If the court decides to postpone the matter, may we be given a written ruling and a discharge of the rule (barring the new NEC from office),” Adv Hlaele argued.
Justice Mahase admonished Adv Hlaele for allegedly raising her voice to the court and rejected her submission.
“Do not shout at me counsel (Adv Hlaele). There has to be evidence that the sick note is a fraudulent one and you cannot give such evidence from the bar. The matter is postponed to 25 March to give Adv Thoahlane time to heal. The rule (barring new NEC from assuming office) is extended,” Justice Mahase said.
Adv Hlaele responded: “This (postponement) we expected.”
In terms of Justice Mahase’s court order of 6 March, a verdict will be delivered on 29 March 2019. It remains to be seen if this date will be met after yesterday’s postponement of the case over Adv Thoahlane’s illness.
The two NEC factions have been locked in a bitter struggle which has seen the old NEC refuse to hand over power to the new NEC on the grounds that the February polls were marred by vote rigging.
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 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.