I would rather lose honestly than sell my soul: Lekhoaba

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HARVEST FM founder, ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba, never saw herself venturing into politics. Although she interacted with politicians as a media personality through her radio programmes, the bug never rubbed onto her. Her late husband, Adam Lekhoaba, was a die-hard politician but this too never tempted her to join politics. She therefore, took many people by surprise when she founded the United for Change (UFC) political party in June 2020. Lekhoaba admits that the going has been tough.

In this interview with the Lesotho Times (LT) Special Projects Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu, the UFC leader also laments that the country’s political landscape is poisoned by selfish politicians who throw money at voters during campaign rallies and go on to compensate themselves when they get into power. Unlike them, she says, she would rather lose honestly than sell her soul. Below are excerpts:

LT: Please briefly tell us about your background and political beginnings. What informed your decision to form a political party?

Lekhoaba: I’m a widow with two kids. I’m the founder/owner of Harvest FM, a local radio station. My highest qualification is a post-graduate Degree in Business Management. My passion for media was sparked by my interest to interact with local politicians in order to understand more about politics. However, that’s not the primary reason why I eventually ventured into politics.

Some people believe that I got interested in politics because my late husband was involved in politics. But that is not the case. I was reluctant and never supported him fully as I believed that it was dangerous for him. As a radio station we were being targeted by politicians around 2006-2008, particularly by the government of that time. I wouldn’t encourage my husband to get involved in politics but I was nevertheless bound to support him in what he believed in.

However, the abject poverty I saw during my philanthropic initiatives sparked my interest in politics. I would ask myself why the government left vulnerable families to fend for themselves instead of providing them with critical services. It broke my heart because in as much I was doing something to help, I couldn’t assist all of them given my meagre resources. It was unfortunate that those mandated to help them were more focused on themselves and their cronies. Politicians forget that they need votes from those vulnerable Basotho, yet they completely forget them once they get into power. I became so touched that I was propelled to seek a permanent solution for them by establishing the UFC.

LT: UFC was founded in June 2020. Looking back, would you say the party has managed to break ground and consolidate itself? Are you happy with where you are?

Lekhoaba: I’m not comfortable with what we have achieved now because we were aiming higher. We are not close to what we wanted because of new political parties that are coming up. But I am confident that we are doing well because I value whatever I do. I must also mention that Basotho are a nation that I don’t understand. They are always looking for temporary relief. They will never support anyone reaching out to them for permanent solutions. They want something that they can survive on in the moment and would rather let the future take care of itself. That makes it difficult because when we go for campaigning the first thing that people want to know is that we have brought them. When you tell them that you don’t have anything to offer but promise to do something when you assume government power, they tell you that they can’t promise to vote for you. That is why most politicians become corrupt long before they get to office. They apply all means available to obtain funding using underhand means so that they can bribe Basotho. The saddest part is that Basotho don’t mind getting T-shirts in exchange for their votes even though those T-shirts won’t put food on the table or provide for their future. That is why some politicians provide Basotho with those little things in exchange for their votes, to win their hearts. And those beneficiaries don’t care. They tell me how they have supported certain parties long before I ventured into politics. They openly say that they are not ready to leave parties that have failed to provide solutions for them. I really don’t understand this.

LT: Being a female political party leader in a predominantly male space, how has the public reception been thus far?

Lekhoaba: It is a norm in Lesotho to not support women in anything they do. Once a woman rises and does something out of the ordinary, they hardly ever get the support they desire. So, it is not strange for women to not get support in politics. I am not shaken because women are not supported, not only in politics, but everywhere.

So, the reception wasn’t good. But I must say the greatest shock was the attacks I got from fellow women. But luckily, I have got thick skin. I am never shaken when I know that I am doing the right thing. Even if some women may speak ill of me being in politics, it doesn’t shake me one bit. I know that I am doing the right thing for Basotho.

LT: You recently launched the UFC manifesto. What are the key features of your manifesto, through which you hope to help Basotho? 

Lekhoaba: I am passionate about women empowerment. I don’t know for sure if I am a feminist or not, but it makes me happy to see women excelling in different disciplines. I salute and honour them because I know that getting there can’t have been easy for them. Once voted into power, I will ensure that 60 percent of the people in cabinet are women. For decades we have seen five percent of women, if not less, making it to cabinet. There was a time when there was only two women in cabinet. If we can’t empower women to take their space and play a role in transforming this country, then we will have serious problems in future. Men take advantage because they know that women don’t get the support they need. They know that we don’t give women opportunities and they get excited knowing that women themselves don’t help each other. I’m one of those women who would like to see other women flying high. Every opportunity I get, I make sure that I bring women along.

Secondly, we are going to reduce the number of ministers. We have more deputy ministers than we need. Our plan is to prune the number of ministers to 16, from the 30 or so that we have now. Resources used for the upkeep of a bloated cabinet could be diverted elsewhere, to create jobs and so on.

My other concern is the state of Lesotho’s agriculture, which is so poor that it cannot sustain our people. I come from strong agricultural background. My parents are farmers hence I know that farming can be a source of income. My parents paid my school fees through farming. If we could make more concerted efforts as government to support agriculture, we’d be taking a step in the right direction. We should aim for at least 70 percent domestic production, then import the remaining 30 percent.

LT: More and more agricultural land is being lost to make way for houses and other developmental projects. What remedial measures could be taken to ensure that we don’t run out of agricultural land?

Lekhoaba: We can learn from developed countries like Switzerland. It is like our country terrain-wise. We can learn a lot from them on how to utilise our agricultural land and still build houses and other infrastructural developments without running short of land for agriculture.

LT: One of the issues you raise in your manifesto is the independence of the public transport industry, which is currently regulated by government. You emphasize the importance of self-regulation. Could you please expand on that?

Lekhoaba: I am passionate about the independence of the public transport industry. I’ve seen the industry doing well in South Africa, where the government does not run the sector but comes in only to assist. We want to see transport operators in Lesotho controlling the industry. This could help improve cross-border movement between the two countries. The movement of people and goods in and out of Lesotho is still not efficient to date and I don’t understand why. Perhaps it is because the government has not made the public transport industry its priority. There must be cohesion between government and this sector to ensure efficiency.

LT: UFC has not held any rallies ahead of the 7 October elections? What could be the reasons behind this?

Lekhoaba: UFC has not held any rallies because it is costly to do that. Of course, we can spend the little we have on rallies. We normally do door to door campaigns where we meet people on the ground. We don’t want to spend much and then want to compensate ourselves when we get into government. The money spent on rallies does not come from heaven; it comes from somebody’s pocket.

Basotho look at a party leader and ask what they have for them. They come to rallies expecting you to feed them and all that. Not holding rallies is something that I’m not ashamed of. I believe people will vote for me without me making any empty promises. I have not portrayed myself as having money. People must know that politicians with money won’t be spending it on government business when they assume power.

LT: Does your party have sponsors? One female political leader recently complained that her party did not have sponsors because she was a woman. Do you share similar sentiments?

Lekhoaba: Well, we don’t have sponsors. But it’s not because they don’t want to sponsor women. Most sponsors prefer to give money to parties that are already in government because they help them to manipulate the system to enrich themselves. They don’t see how they can benefit from a person like me who comes with a pure heart and good intentions.

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