- says he opposed Thabane’s attempts to kick out Mahao “only on principle”
Herbert Moyo/ Silence Charumbira
ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, says he never supported Nqosa Mahao’s election as deputy party leader.
Mr Hlaele said he and other ABC national executive committee (NEC) members were opposed to Prof Mahao’s election “from the word go” and only rallied behind him “on principle” after ABC leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane attempted to oust him. Any such ouster would have been in defiance of the majority of ABC members’ decision to elect Prof Mahao to the second most powerful party job.
Mr Hlaele also boasted that he wielded so much power as the secretary general was the “nerve centre of the party alongside the leader”. He said due to his powerful position, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro had asked him to indicate which cabinet post he preferred when the current government was formed on 20 May 2021.
He said although he had declined the offer, he still had a hand in the selection of ABC ministers who were appointed to the current government. In fact, Mr Hlaele claimed that all but one ABC minister had been appointed on the basis of his recommendations to Dr Majoro.
Mr Hlaele’s remarks, in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week, followed a turbulent two weeks for the governing coalition’s main anchor party wherein its deputy leader, Prof Mahao dumped it to form his own Basotho Action Party (BAP).
Nine ABC MPs subsequently crossed the floor in parliament to join Prof Mahao’s BAP. The nine are Mphosong MP Libe Motšoane, Sotlehang Sekhamane (Maputsoe constituency), Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote), ‘Mamoipone Senauoane (Thaba-Tseka), Motlatsi Maqelepo (Berea), Mphosi Nkhasi (Pela-Tšoeu), Nto Moakhi (Malibamatšo), Tello Kibane (Peka) and Motebang Koma (Koro-Koro).
They crossed to the opposition benches in parliament last Friday immediately after the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Lebohang Ramohlanka, had read each of their letters indicating that they had ditched the ABC.
A 10th MP, Nyapane Kaya (Mechachane constituency) also left the ABC. But contrary to Professor Mahao’s previous claims that he would join the BAP, Mr Kaya instead joined Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane’s Movement for Economic Change (MEC).
Speaking on his decision to dump the ABC a fortnight ago, Prof Mahao told the Lesotho Times that he was left with no choice after Mr Hlaele had betrayed him by joining forces with Dr Majoro and Mr Thabane to plot his ouster from the party.
Prof Mahao also accused Mr Hlaele of conniving with Dr Majoro to hand back the party and government to Mr Thabane who they had fought so hard against.
Mr Hlaele was one of the “Big Four” ABC’s NEC members who had stood solidly behind Prof Mahao in his power struggle with Mr Thabane from 2019 until after the formation of the current governing coalition last May.
The others are chairperson Samuel Rapapa, spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa and deputy spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti. Such was Mr Hlaele and Ms Doti’s support for Prof Mahao that they even sacrificed their cabinet posts when they were fired by then premier Thabane in February 2019 over their support for Prof Mahao.
Mr Hlaele and other NEC members had traversed the length and breadth of the country campaigning for grassroots ABC supporters to rally behind Prof Mahao in his fight with Mr Thabane. They even lodged several successful court applications together to stop Mr Thabane from ousting Prof Mahao from the party.
Despite all these public affirmations of support, Mr Hlaele is now claiming he never supported Prof Mahao’s election as deputy leader of the ABC from the “word go”.
He said his and Prof Mahao’s names were first proposed for the posts of deputy leader and secretary general respectively by current ABC deputy chairperson Chalane Phori. He said he had been sitting next to Prof Mahao when Mr Phori made the proposal at a party meeting in 2018 and he immediately opposed Prof Mahao’s nomination on the grounds that the latter had not served in a constituency committee to be eligible to contest the post.
“I did not know him politically and I could not trace his political profile,” Mr Hlaele said of Prof Mahao.
“As much as he came into the conference and was elected deputy leader, he wasn’t qualified for that position. We all knew that. I had raised this issue during a meeting when Mr Phori suggested that he should contest the deputy leader’s post while I contested for secretary general.
“I said no, Prof Mahao is not qualified for the position. But his followers made a lot of noise in that meeting saying he was qualified. At the time, I was the deputy secretary general and I told them I did not have anything on Prof Mahao in my records.
“I told them they would have to find a way to convince the rest of the party that he was eligible to contest and they submitted to the party’s conflict resolution committee that Prof Mahao had joined the ABC in 2015. I told them that the ABC constitution was clear that if you aspire for higher office, you must have spent two years in the branch committee and three years in the constituency committee. I said Prof Mahao had never been in any of those structures.
“Anyway, the (2019) conference elected Prof Mahao deputy leader and who was I to challenge the decision of the conference, the supreme decision-making body of the ABC? I did not support Prof Mahao as a person. I supported the democratic principle that this man had been elected by the conference and we should therefore support him because he had been elected. That was all there was to it. That was the thing,” Mr Hlaele said.
Asked why he eventually ditched Prof Mahao for Mr Thabane’s faction, Mr Hlaele said this was after the former deputy leader insisted on maintaining his faction despite the party resolving that all camps must be dissolved in the interests of party unity and cohesion.
“After getting together as a party on 10 January 2020, we agreed to dissolve our factions. We agreed to have one group called the ABC.
“In that meeting, I told them (Mahao camp), I no longer belonged to their group, I belong to the party.
“I told the ABC rank and file that we were on a programme of uniting the party. But he kept on calling people to his house.
“His people who have gone with him to his new party kept their faction well oiled. They resisted to be part of the collective. They had their meetings and I ignored them,” Mr Hlaele said, adding he however regretted that Prof Mahao had decided to jump ship when he could have contributed so much to the ABC. He said they would still welcome him back into the ABC should he choose to return. However, he would have to start at the bottom as an ordinary card-carrying member not in his former position, Mr Hlaele said.
The ABC secretary general said despite having previously sided with Prof Mahao, he enjoyed warm relations with Prime Minister Majoro. The premier had even contacted him about taking up a cabinet post ahead of the formation of the current government last May, Mr Hlaele said.
He said although he declined, he was still consulted over the appointment of other ABC ministers.
“Regarding the new regime under the leadership of the Prime Minister Majoro, we were together when we were making arrangements for a new cabinet. He (Majoro) asked me, ‘where should I place you? But I said no, just leave me out. Let us put other people instead. I proposed names and I can tell you that all but one of the ABC ministers are people I suggested.
“So, it is not true that the prime minister sat alone in his corner and appointed people without consulting,” Mr Hlaele said adding he had declined the offer of a cabinet post to concentrating on his demanding job as party secretary general.
Meanwhile, Mr Phori yesterday confirmed that he was the one who proposed Prof Mahao for the deputy leader’s post.
“Mr Hlaele is telling the truth. I suggested Prof Mahao because I am friends with his sister and we were looking for a person of his calibre in terms of education and international appeal.
“I thought he could work well with others but he proved otherwise. I was also the first person to fight him in the party shortly after proposing his candidature and spending my money on his campaign. I had realised that he was virtually unknown by the grassroots,” Mr Phori said in a brief interview with this publication.