…as Majoro, Kabi, Rapapa, Ntsekele vie to replace Thabane,
…Rapapa fires warning shots at rivals; derisively labels them ‘Maesaiah’s boys,
…vows to win and “retrieve the ABC from the former first lady’s purse”.
’Marafaele Mohloboli/Mohalenyane Phakela
EMBATTLED Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro will face off with cabinet minister Samuel Rapapa, and ex-ministers Nkaku Kabi and Samonyane Ntsekele, in an epic battle for the soon-to-be vacant All Basotho Convention (ABC) leadership.
The four have thrown their hats into the leadership contest in the wake of ABC leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s surprise announcement that he will be stepping down at the end of the month. (See story on page 4).
The election of his successor will be conducted at the party’s special conference slated for 28 and 29 January 2021.
Two more candidates, Mr Thabane’s son in law and party secretary general Lebohang Hlaele and former Defence Minister Prince Maliehe, could also throw their hats in the ring, joining the relatively crowded field for the ABC leadership. The two had nevertheless not declared their intentions by the time of going to print last night.
The outspoken Mr Rapapa has since thrown down the gauntlet to his rivals who he derisively called ‘Maesaiah’s boys for their alleged closeness and collaborations with the hugely controversial former First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, at various points in their political careers. He has vowed to win the contest in order to fulfil his mission of “reclaiming the ABC from ‘Maesaiah’s purse”.
Over the weekend, the 82-year-old Mr Thabane, who has led the ABC since its inception in October 2006, announced that he will be relinquishing the leadership at the upcoming special conference.
“On several occasions I asked you (NEC) to release me from the mission of leading the ABC but there has been resistance although you put forward valid reasons,” Mr Thabane said in his address to party supporters at Victory Hall, Maseru.
“Today, as a party member who abides by its constitution and respects the leadership of the party, I inform all members of the ABC and the nation at large that I have decided to step down as ABC leader. I will be stepping down very soon.
“I therefore urge the executive committee of the ABC to start preparing for the party members to elect a leader of their choice. I hope this development will bring a solution to the fights and factions within the ABC,” Mr Thabane added.
This week, the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) followed up on Mr Thabane’s announcement by issuing a circular declaring a vacancy for the top party job and called on the constituency committees to prepare to elect a new leader at the special conference later this month.
“In its virtual meeting, the national executive committee has agreed that the office of the secretary general releases a circular informing the constituencies’ committees about the announcement made by party leader on 31 December 2021 at Victory Hall, Maseru,” party secretary general, Mr Hlaele, said in his circular.
“The leader has announced that the time for him to retire has come after a lengthy request that the NEC works on the logistics for his retirement. Therefore, the constituency committees should prepare to elect a new party leader at the 28 to 29 January 2022 conference.
“The leader has also appealed to all party followers to support and embrace whoever shall be elected as party leader as he will be expected to treat everyone without any discrimination. He also said he wished the election for a party leader will be a remedy to all the factions and internal party fights.
“All constituencies’ committees are ordered to nominate their contestants for the ABC leadership race and all names are expected to be submitted by 21 January 2022 latest before 16:00hrs,” Mr Hlaele’s circular further states.
Although there is still two more weeks before the deadline for the submission of candidates’ names, temperatures are already heating up in the ABC. This amid indications that Dr Majoro, Messrs Kabi, Rapapa and Ntsekele have all entered the race to succeed Mr Thabane.
Although Dr Majoro is premier and deputy leader of the ABC, his positions in both party and government have been tenuous. On 2 December 2021, the largely pro-Thabane NEC voted to recall him and replace him with Mr Kabi.
Announcing the decision, Mr Masoetsa said the party had decided to recall Dr Majoro following an outcry by the rank and file of the party as well as the general public over a plethora of issues including poor service delivery and the premier’s alleged failure to stop the high murder rates in the country over the course of his 19 months in power.
However, Dr Majoro refused to resign and make way for Mr Kabi, saying prime ministers are only removed through a no confidence vote in parliament and not by political parties.
The ABC’s initial reaction was to invite all political parties represented in parliament to a meeting to discuss the formation of a government of national unity (GNU) to replace Dr Majoro’s administration.
The proposed GNU meeting had initially been slated for 15 December 2021 at the AME Hall in Maseru. However, it had to be aborted after two of Dr Majoro’s loyalists, Keketso Lepheane and Tlali Mohapi, obtained a last-minute interim Constitutional Court order to stop it pending the finalisation of their application to permanently halt it from proceeding because it allegedly violated the constitution.
The duo had argued that the proposed GNU meeting was “treasonous” as it had been convened to “illegally” oust the prime minister.
However, the Constitutional Court bench comprising of Justices Molefi Makara, Keketso Moahloli and Fumane Khabo subsequently issued a final judgement dismissing Messrs Lepheane and Mohapi’s bid to permanently stop the meeting. The bench ruled that their fears that the political parties would engage in treasonous conduct “lacked merit.”
Despite the court victory, the Thabane faction abandoned the GNU plans as it had already emerged that the ex-premier and his allies did not have enough support to oust the Majoro administration. Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s Democratic Congress (DC) and Professor Nqosa Mahao’s Basotho Action Party (BAP) both came out in opposition to the GNU, saying it was merely a selfish ploy by the Thabane faction to help it win its factional wars at the expense of the national interest.
The DC and BAP have a combined 37 seats, only three shy of the number required to stall a prime minister’s ouster. Given that other political parties were cagey about the idea of a GNU and that some ABC MPs, especially those already serving in Dr Majoro’s cabinet, were unlikely to support his overthrow for fear of losing their plum jobs, it would have been difficult to win support for the unity government idea even if the Thabane faction had convened the GNU meeting.
Unsurprisingly, the faction decided to abandon the GNU meeting and call a special conference to deal with Dr Majoro. But that too has been overtaken by events in light of Mr Thabane’s unexpected decision to quit as party leader.
Dr Majoro will now contest to replace him and all machinations to oust the premier will come to naught if he wins the leadership contest.
Dr Majoro’s Senior Private Secretary, Tlali Mohapi, confirmed that the premier would “definitely contest” the ABC top job.
Mr Mohapi said he was confident Dr Majoro would emerge victorious as he had “proven leadership qualities”.
“Speaking in my personal capacity and not on his behalf, I can confirm that Dr Majoro will be contesting the elections. I personally urged him to join the race and he did. He has accepted the challenge and we will dress him up in the bright shining colours of the ABC.
“Of all the candidates, I have decided to support him because he is a proven leader. He isn’t any less of a leader just because a certain clique within the party tried to recall him. I am optimistic that he will win,” Mr Mohapi said yesterday.
Dr Majoro will lock horns with Mr Kabi, the man he fired as agriculture minister after the prime minister refused to make way for him to take over his job in the wake of the recall effort last month. Mr Kabi had been water minister before he was moved to agriculture by Dr Majoro, in addition to having served as health minister under Mr Thabane.
As has become his modus operandi over the past year whenever he senses that the media wants him to respond to contentious issues, Mr Kabi did not answer his mobile phone when this publication repeatedly called him for comment yesterday.
However, the soft-spoken ABC deputy secretary general had already won the approval of the Thabane group as manifested in its decision to nominate him to replace Dr Majoro last month.
In an obvious sign that Mr Kabi remains the faction’s candidate, supporters of Mr Thabane, led by his controversial wife, ‘Maesiah, chanted Mr Kabi’s name as Mr Thabane was announcing his impending retirement. ‘Maesaiah even helped with sticking Mr Kabi’s posters to motor vehicles in a clear endorsement of his candidature to succeed Mr Thabane. It remains to be seen whether the support of the controversial ‘Maesaiah, who is largely blamed for Mr Thabane’s downfall, will be a boon or doom for Mr Kabi.
ABC chairperson Rapapa has also declared his intentions to take over the top job, making the contest a battle royale.
Mr Rapapa, who is also Communications, Science and Technology minister in Dr Majoro’s cabinet, will be hoping that luck will finally be on his side this time around. He was initially the NEC’s choice to replace Mr Thabane when the party forced the latter to step down as prime minister in May 2020. He, however, lost after the ABC parliamentary caucus insisted on voting on the issue. He lost to Dr Majoro by 26 votes to 18.
Nevertheless, he is brimming with confidence. He could not resist a dig at Dr Majoro and his other rivals, saying at some point they had all been “‘Maesaiah’s boys”.
He considers his to be an important mission to “reclaim the ABC from ‘Maesaiah’s purse” and reunite the party ahead of this year’s general elections.
“I am a man who stands for the truth and I have remained loyal to the ABC and always ready to protect it. There will always be factions in every party because people always have different opinions; it is just that the ABC differences are always in the limelight. But the party now needs an effective leader to take it forward. I am that leader.
“I am the only one out of the candidates who protected Majoro when they wanted to handover the government to a rival party. Now I will contest against him for the second time. We first competed to replace Ntate Thabane as prime minister in 2020 and I never held any grudges against him afterwards. We are a party and all that needs to happen is for one to accept defeat. I will go into the fight with my fighting stick held up high. I started campaigning a long time ago and I will win this contest.
“One major advantage I have against my competitors is that I have always stood up to protect the ABC. Their disadvantage is that all of them have been in ‘Maesaiah’s pocket. You will always find Ntsekele by ‘Maesaiah’s side even when she goes to court for her personal issues. Majoro plotted with her to get rid of (Professor Nqosa) Mahao while Kabi is currently conniving with her. ‘Maesaiah has been the primary source of ABC’s problems and people who want to remove the party from her purse will vote for me,” Mr Rapapa said. It also remains to be seen whether making the hugely unpopular ‘Maesaiah a campaign issue will work for Mr Rapapa.
During her time as first lady, ‘Maesaiah faced criticism over her abrasive style which saw her humiliating senior government officials, including ministers, at times publicly. She was accused of involving herself in key government issues despite that her role as first lady did not entitle her to such. Some labelled her the “real prime minister” in place of her ageing husband. She is now on bail over her alleged involvement in plotting the death of Mr Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo, so she could fast track her ascendancy to the first ladyship. She is widely seen as the main cause of the downfall of the once wildly popular Mr Thabane, who was ousted as premier in May 2020.
On his part, Mr Ntsekele, long considered to be Mr Thabane’s blue-eyed boy, when he was still ABC secretary-general and water minister, and nicknamed Isaiah by ABC followers, who derisively call him ‘Maesaiah’s son, is also eyeing the top job even if this means competing against the Thabanes’ ‘new favourite’, Mr Kabi.
“I have been approached by some members of the party and by my constituency to run for the leadership. I have accepted the mandate and I would like to wish the other contestants luck.
“I also appeal to my fellow contestants to put our people and the country first by ensuring that we hold a peaceful election. Thereafter, we should all unite for the good of the party and its oneness,” Mr Ntsekele said.
Mr Hlaele, is known to harbour ambitions to succeed his father in law, hence his falling out with Prof Mahao, whom he had originally staunchly supported, after both were elected as secretary general and deputy leader respectively at the party’s 2019 elective conference. He was not answering his phone yesterday and could not be reached to confirm whether or not he will stand. Mr Maliehe, the former defence minister is seen as the dark horse, having also been initially favoured by ‘Maesaiah to take over from her husband. He too could not be reached for comment last night.
Because of the intense factionalism within the ABC and the despondency among its rank and file as the factions engaged in battles of attrition, it seems difficult at this stage to discern who is the clear front runner.