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Analysts slam “reprehensible” ABC decision to endorse Thabane leadership

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Herbert Moyo | ‘Marafaele Mohloboli

THE ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) has set tongues wagging with its recent decision to endorse veteran party leader, Thomas Thabane, to lead its 2022 national elections campaign.

The decision was communicated to all party structures by ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, in a 20 February 2021 circular.

In the circular, Mr Hlaele said the party’s national executive committee (NEC) had resolved that Mr Thabane “will be the face of the party in the 2022 elections”.

Mr Hlaele also said the NEC would soon be meeting ABC legislators “to remind them of their responsibilities and mandate” in the National Assembly.

However, analysts have branded the ABC’s decision as “unacceptable” for so many reasons, not least of all because Mr Thabane is a key suspect in the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane.

Apart from that, the analysts said the ABC had gone against the grain by having an octogenarian lead the party at a time when its rivals, particularly the Democratic Congress (DC), had renewed their leadership structures to bring in much younger and more energetic leaders.

A political analyst, Moeketsi Kali, said the ABC’s decision was “mind-blogging” considering that the party had rejected him by withdrawing from the four-party governing coalition which he led from June 2017 to May 2020.

Mr Thabane was prime minister in a governing coalition which also included the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

He was forced to step down by his own party and replaced by his former Finance Minister and ABC legislator for the Thetsane constituency, Moeketsi Majoro.

At the time of his ouster, Mr Hlaele and party spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, who were then staunch allies of deputy leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao, both said Mr Thabane was now too old to continue in power and he had to retire. They also said the party wanted him to clear his name after being named by Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli as a key suspect alongside his current wife, ‘Maesaiah, in the murder of his ex-wife.

Messrs Masoetsa and Hlaele had even said now that the ABC had removed him from the premiership, the party would hold a special conference to choose a new party leader to replace him.

However, the two, who are now estranged from Prof Mahao, are now singing a different tune. They are said to have switched allegiance to the Thabane camp which also includes the party’s deputy chairperson, Chalane Phori and several other former members of the previous Thabane administration.

Prof Mahao, on the other hand, is said to be backed by chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, deputy secretary general, Nkaku Kabi and deputy spokesperson, ‘Matebatso Doti.

Premier Majoro is also said to be eying the ABC leadership to consolidate his position as prime minister.

Although Mr Hlaele is currently backing his father-in-law, Mr Thabane, he is said to harbouring ambitions of taking over the party leadership.

Mr Hlaele’s explanation for his about-turn is that Mr Thabane was elected for a fresh five year-term when the party held its February 2019 elective conference which also ushered in the likes of Prof Mahao into the NEC.

There is therefore no vacancy for the leader’s post, Mr Hlaele says.

The divisions within the ABC have thus played into Mr Thabane’s hands. They have given him a new lease of life when he had been seemingly dead and buried.

But according to Mr Kali and other analysts, the ABC’s decision to resurrect Mr Thabane’s career is bound to erode the party’s credibility and standing with both the electorate and the international community.

“By reverting to the person it rejected, the ABC is manifesting a lack of credibility,” Mr Kali said.

“Remember one of the reasons the ABC jettisoned him from the premiership was that he had to clear his name after being accused of murder. They said they couldn’t be led by a murder suspect. But even before he has stood trial, they have brought him back because of the infighting within the party. This says to every right-thinking person, the party does not have a credible candidate it can rely on hence it is turning to a murder suspect.

“This attempt to use Ntate Thabane as the face of the party in the face of the murder accusations suggests that the party believes that voters are not conscious of anything including the serious accusations that he faces.”

Mr Kali said retaining Mr Thabane as the party leader also sent the wrong message to the international community that Lesotho’s democracy was “weak” as it allowed suspects of serious crimes to remain at the helm of political parties and statecraft.

He said Mr Thabane still had a case to answer “unless he and his wife had snatched immunity for themselves from the judiciary”.

Apart from the murder accusations, Messrs Hlaele and others forced Mr Thabane to give up the premiership, saying he was too sick and too old to lead the party. They also said he had to be replaced because he had ceded control of both party and government to his wife, ‘Maesaiah.

‘Maesaiah also portrayed Mr Thabane as an old and sickly man on the verge of death. In her ultimately successful bail application in the Lepolelo murder last June, the murder-accused ‘Maesaiah claimed in her court papers that Mr Thabane was suffering from prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and incontinence among other illnesses.

She begged the courts to release her to look after him, claiming that no one else could provide the intimate care that he required than a spouse.

But despite all these claims, the ABC now considers the 82-year-old Mr Thabane fit enough to withstand the rigours of traversing the length and breadth of the mountainous Kingdom campaigning for the ABC.

Unsurprisingly, the party’s decision to have Mr Thabane lead the ABC’s 2022 election campaign has been scoffed at by the party’s outspoken legislator, Tefo Mapesela.

“We toppled the old man (Thabane) because of his own mistakes. How can this old man lead the party and be a prime minister again,” Mr Mapesela said in a weekend interview with the Sunday Express.

“The talk that the old man can be a prime minister again or lead us into the elections is wrong and that can never happen. That old man will not lead our election campaign.”

Mr Mapesela is currently Agriculture and Food Security minister in the Majoro-led government. He served in various portfolios including as Trade and Industry minister under the previous Thabane administration. He however, said it was a “nightmare” serving under Mr Thabane because the latter was controlled by his wife.

“Some of us had terrible experiences under the old man. He could not even make a decision. Let him tell us which decisions he made when he was prime minister. “Ntsetse (‘Maesaiah) used to tell him what to do, he never made any decisions of his own. Ask him which decisions he made from 2017 when he became prime minister. There is none. What an embarrassment.

“I have never witnessed such embarrassment, I have never. The man must now go home. He is one man that I love but he must just go home. He must go home and watch as things unfold. Let him go home,” Mr Mapesela said.

He could well be right that Mr Thabane should be allowed to retire considering that he is 82 years old now.

By contrast, the ABC’s biggest rivals are led by much younger and energetic leaders. Some of them like DC leader, Mr Mokhothu, and Movement for Economic Change leader, Selibe Mochoboroane, are in their early 40s. They are almost half Mr Thabane’s age. Even Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, is only 54 years old.

AD leader Monyane Moleleki (70) is probably the closest in age to Mr Thabane.

National University of Lesotho Political Science lecturer, Professor Motlamelle Kapa, said even though Mr Thabane was not on his deathbed as claimed by his wife, it was however undeniable that he was no longer capable of sound decisions at the time he was removed from the premiership.

Prof Kapa said the decision to bring him back was not based on the fact that he had fully recovered.

“Rather, it is because those ABC members want to use Mr Thabane for their own agendas and interests at the expense of their party and the entire nation,” he said.

Another analyst, Lefu Thaela, concurred, saying although Mr Thabane was now too old and in need of rest, the factions were merely keeping him in charge for their own selfish designs.

“They are keeping him (Thabane) because the ABC factions cannot stand each other. Even if he wanted to make way for someone else, the factions are using him because they believe he still has the charisma and is loved by the grassroots better than any of them,” Mr Thaela said.

Had the ABC been united, he said the leadership baton would be handed to Prof Mahao by virtue of his being the deputy leader. His sentiments echo Mr Mapesela’s call for Prof Mahao to replace Mr Thabane.

Tlohang Letsie of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) said the ABC’s choice of Mr Thabane painted a picture of a party which wrongly believed that he still had the charisma to appeal to voters.

“They are underestimating the electorate. But the electorate has not forgotten why the ABC removed him from the premiership when they were saying he was too old and now incapable of making sound decisions,” Mr Letsie said.

 

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