RCL leader Keketso Rantšo reflects on a ‘difficult’ exile and her vision for a new Lesotho for all
AFTER fleeing her homeland for South Africa on 25 May 2015 fearing for her life, the leader of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), Keketso Rantšo, says the two “difficult” years she subsequently spent in the neighbouring country transformed her and made her realise why Lesotho’s politics must change.
Ms Rantšo, who is also the Minister of Labour and Employment says what played in her mind most of the time was the need to change the then prevailing politics of patronage to ensure every Mosotho benefitted from the economy no matter his or her political affiliation.
She could not understand why some of her fellow Basotho would feel she did not deserve to live, which forced her to seek refuge in South Africa.
Away from home, Ms Rantšo explains she had no peace.
“I felt strongly that even though I was the leader of an opposition party, I was still a human being. I expected that to mean something from a human and political rights perspective.”
When she fled Lesotho, the RCL leader had expected her security concerns to be resolved expeditiously for her early return home.
“Nothing materialised from the engagements I had with the previous government, in fact they down-played the security threats. After some time, it dawned on me that my problems were not a concern to so many people. I started viewing the world from a different perspective. It’s a painful feeling that can only be understood by those who have walked the thorny path I have walked. Injustice is a terrible thing. I did not know what the future held and I also feared for my country, particularly in the months preceding the vote-of-no confidence in the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili,” Ms Rantšo said.
She heard of the chaos in the country as some political parties in the coalition government split while the security situation further deteriorated. Allegations of corruption, which had torn apart the first coalition government led by Dr Thomas Thabane of which she was a part of, again reared their ugly head.
“It was painful to hear what was happening. Indeed, in Lesotho, our biggest enemy is corruption because it is just not right. I do not like corruption, whether Lesotho is a rich or poor country. It’s bad; it’s killing our people. To improve the quality of governance and ensure accountability, all politicians must declare their assets so that should a certain politician suddenly get super-rich, then the source of that wealth can be easily traced.”
But all was also not rosy in her political party due to infighting, which later led to some members jumping ship.
“That is what bad political actions by some people did to my party; bad practices tear people apart. I was pushed away and as a result, could not effectively coordinate my party’s activities.”
The infighting affected the coordination of party activities and demoralised RCL supporters, according to Ms Rantšo. However, she had to employ various innovations to save her party.
She said while her family had always viewed her as “a strong woman”, away from home, Ms Rantšo says she realised how weak she was and also how she had depended on her husband and two daughters for strength all the years she was involved in politics.
“It’s a lesson that shocked me: that family is important because you draw your strength from them and they too balance our hectic lives in a strong way. Without our families, we are nothing.”
Fellow women also played a critical role in inspiring her to keep her strength. She explains women are strong and together they can face any challenge.
“I have seen how fellow women stood by me all the way. I may have been alone physically in South Africa, but many women kept in touch, reminding me that the struggle was not over. These women understood that abandoning me would mean allowing the devil to do what he knows best – kill, steal and destroy. I would also add that the devil comes to confuse people,” Ms Rantšo said.
Many a time, she said, she would analyse the political and security situation in Lesotho and then realise how governments could do much more to contribute to peacebuilding and sustained democracy through strengthening the rule of law. That way, she explained, the government could ensure people adhered to the laws of the land.
“Actions that ensure public order and peace are essential tools for sustained democracy.”
However, as conditions for her return from exile became conducive, she finally returned home in February 2017, alongside the leaders of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Dr Thabane and the Basotho National Party (BNP), Chief Thesele Maseribane.
“It was a very emotional time for me. With our return, I knew we were taking our fighting spirit home and we were going to conquer.”
With just three months to go before the crucial national election, Ms Rantšo went on the campaign trail– the most difficult one of her entire political career, she says.
“The party did not have adequate resources to reach all corners of the country and hear the people’s new expectations.
“Although we were able to campaign in all the districts we did not cover all the targeted areas because of limited resources,” Ms Rantšo said.
Following the snap election which took place on 3 June 2017, the RCL formed a coalition government with ABC, BNP and the Alliance for Democrats (AD). She was appointed Minister of Labour and Employment, a position she held during the first Dr Thabane-led coalition government which had failed to complete its full five-year term when it collapsed almost mid-term in 2015.
“I have a new mandate now, which I was given by Basotho. I am their servant and they are the ones who tell me what they want. They have the power.”
She emphasised the country needed a stable government that should focus on bread-and-butter issues. Ensuring that the coalition government runs its full term, she said, was a responsibility of each partner.
“Being in government is not about us, it’s not about settling scores but to serve the people who trusted us to lead them humbly with discipline and integrity. We owe Basotho that respect, seriousness and commitment because they gave us the torch and mandate to make Lesotho better.”
She noted on the political side, she would be working to address women’s issues, particularly the empowerment of the girl-child.
“I would like to work with civil society in this area. There is a lot work that needs to be done to empower and protect the girl-child for the country to be able to deal with issues of teenage- pregnancies, early and undesirable marriages and HIV and AIDS.”
As the Minister of Labour and Employment, Ms Rantšo said she will be tackling challenges affecting the labour sector and these will include dealing with issues related to child labour and supporting current and former Basotho migrant workers.
“We need to ensure all children remain in school because without education their future is negatively affected.”
Ms Rantšo said her ministry is also supporting The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) to locate all former mineworkers throughout the country who did not collect their benefits after working in the South African mines.
“I will also be working closely with other ministries, among them Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, to provide support to Basotho working in various countries, but particularly in South Africa.”
She said following a meeting recently with the South African Labour Minister, Mildred Oliphant, they agreed to visit some farms where Basotho are working in the neighbouring country to understand their challenges and identify the nature of support required.
“From our discussion, there are many issues we need to deal with to help them, particularly in the areas of regularising their employment and stay in South Africa. Such regularisation will go a long way in tackling abuse and exploitation at their workplace,” Ms Rantšo said.
The ministry has just finalised the reviewing of the Labour Law, which Ms Rantšo said awaits cabinet endorsement while the Lesotho Labour Policy was also finalised and will soon be presented to cabinet for approval and possible launch this year.
“I am also pushing for the finalisation of the Social Security Bill, which I expect to be tabled before parliament this year,” she said.
The minister is also looking at addressing the backlog of cases at the Labour Court through the employment of two additional people to assist the court’s president.