First Lady clashes with Minister Phamotse
- says she will not allow Phamotse to “disrespect” her husband
Moorosi Tsiane/ Bereng Mpaki
FIRST Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane publicly clashed with the Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, Mahali Phamotse, at the soccer match between newly-crowned league champions, Matlama and Linare at the Setsoto Stadium on Saturday.
The clash, which happened in full view of dignitaries and the public at the VIP section of the stadium, was subsequently branded as a “humiliating insult to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s image” by his son-in-law and former Law and Constitutional Affairs minister, Lebohang Hlaele.
Dr ‘Maesaiah and Dr Phamotse clashed after the former rebuffed the minister’s attempts to get the premier to leave his V.I.P seat and come down to the soccer pitch to greet players and officials ahead of the start of the title-deciding fixture as is the norm with such high profile fixtures.
Dr ‘Maesaiah took exception to what she viewed as Dr Phamotse’s attempts to undermine her by bypassing her and speaking directly to the prime minister.
The First Lady then launched a verbal attack on the sports minister whose attempts to reason with her only served to further infuriate her. From where our reporters stood, the exchange between the two was not audible but sources who were much closer to the scene told the Lesotho Times that Dr ‘Maesaiah shouted at Dr Phamotse to “leave her husband alone and not disrespect them”. The confrontation was very brief and it was over in under five minutes even before reporters could make their way up to the scene of the confrontation.
That the situation was quickly diffused appeared to owe more to Dr Phamotse who had the presence of mind to quietly walk away and greet the soccer players and team officials on the pitch by herself.
This week, Dr Phamotse acknowledged the confrontation but she was diplomatic about it.
“I am His Majesty King Letsie III’s minister and I want to protect that dignity so I won’t say much about what really went down but those who have seen have seen and those who heard have heard so I don’t want people to say that I said I was attacked,” Dr Phamotse said.
“I just want you, as journalists, to report what you have seen. Of course there was a clash and those who saw it, saw it but it’s not something I want to talk about. I can only confirm that it happened.”
In addition to being Sports minister, Dr Phamotse is the third most powerful politician in Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) party which is one of four parties in the governing coalition. The ruling coalition also includes Prime Minister Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Communications minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
Asked if she felt the Saturday incident could threaten her cabinet post, Dr Phamotse said that was “a difficult question and I really don’t know what will happen”.
“The issues of this country are very amazing so we will just wait and see what will happen.
“But as the gender minister, I note there are issues of abuse which come in different forms. I therefore appeal to the nation to stop (the abuse) because we will end up as a broken nation without peace.
“As a minister, I am not expected to have any of the people close to me acting in a way that will cause me to be embarrassed. What I am saying is that I wish that as someone in a position of authority, I can get all the support from everyone around me.
“My plea to everyone is that we have to respect each other as a nation and that has to start at the very top with us because if it starts with us, it will be easy for the respect to cascade down to our political parties and Lesotho will have peace,” said Dr Phamotse.
On her part, Dr Maesaiah admitted to this publication that she had an altercation with Dr Phamotse who she accused of disrespecting Dr Thabane.
“It is true that there was a confrontation between me and Mme Mahali. What happened was that when the match was about to start some Matlama official asked Mme Mahali to go onto the pitch and greet the players and immediately after she got that message, she (Dr Mahali) turned to Ntate Thabane, held him and asked him to go with her to greet the players. That was when I stood up and told her that Ntate Thabane had already been on the pitch and greeted the players so there was no need for him to go again,” Dr Maesaiah said. She said in any event, they attended the match on their own volition as they had not been invited by the sports minister.
“On Saturday we just decided to go to the match and we were not invited by anyone. Ntate Thabane didn’t go there in an official capacity so he needed his space and time. Ntate Thabane even got on the pitch to greet the players as they were warming up for the match and so there was no need for him to go back when asked to by Mme Phamotse.
“I think Mme Mahali disrespects Ntate Thabane because she arrived late at the stadium and still she wanted to take him up and down. I wouldn’t allow that. Maybe she wanted the limelight by making a grand entrance with the Prime Minister.”
Former law minister Lebohang Hlaele has described the altercation as a humiliating insult to the prime minister.
Addressing thousands of All Basotho Convention (ABC) supporters in Mantšonyane in the Thaba Tseka district early this week, Mr Hlaele said, “We have heard of what transpired at Setsoto Stadium where the attention of football supporters was swayed from the game to elsewhere”.
“This is despicable. It is not something we should entertain and laugh about. This is a humiliation similar to undressing the prime minister who is the ABC leader and my father.
“And I will not keep quiet when my father is being humiliated like this by young people who are supposed to be revering him,” Mr Hlaele said.
The former minister is Dr Thabane’s son-in-law. He is married to the premier’s daughter, Advocate ‘Mabatṧoeneng Hlaele. However, he is estranged from Dr Thabane who fired him from his cabinet post in February this year. Although Dr Thabane did not give reasons for his decision, it is widely believed that Mr Hlaele was given his marching orders for siding with Professor Nqosa Mahao in the vicious war for the control of the ABC.