THE past two years have been bumpy for Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Keketso Rantsó. First, the RCL was fractured when several senior officials, including former Home Affairs Principal Secretary, ‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie, left to form their own party, HOPE. This was after they accused Rantsó of being a dictator and tempering with the party’s constitution to remain in power. While she was trying to recover from this, she was dismissed as Labour and Employment Minister by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro in 2020. In this interview with the Lesotho Times (LT) Special Projects Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu, Rantsó says she has recovered from these setbacks and now gearing up for the 7 October 2022 elections.
LT: You are one of the few Basotho women to lead a party, alongside Malichaba Lekhoaba (United for Change), ‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie (HOPE), and ‘Mapuleng Montši (Basotho Liberation Movement). Please briefly give us a background of your political beginnings.
Ms Rantsó: I developed interest in politics when I was still in primary school. I remember vividly going to political events with my mother. I became active at 17. By then I understood politics quite well. I come from a generation where the congress ideology was so deeply entrenched that we had family branches, sub-branches, branches and constituency committees. Family branches taught members about the importance of secrecy and confidentiality on congress matters. We were taught about the importance of loyalty to the congress movement and the understanding that our commitment to the congress ideology was paramount. These structures were important because they us that whoever becomes government would always take mandate from the electorate, not the other way round.
Throughout my life I’ve only served as secretary-general, from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)’s constituency committee, LCD youth league, women’s league as well as the national executive committee. That is why I was able to help rebuild the LCD structures after the 2012 split that gave birth to the Democratic Congress (DC).
I’ve also loved debating. Through debates I learnt that politics is about power and advancing the strongest argument if one is to prevail. But the most strength comes from the ability to defend oneself no matter how the difficult the situation is. As things stand now, political party manifestos are the talk of town as we head for the 7 October elections. How strong is your manifesto? Are you able to articulate what it contains? Are you able to sell it to the people? Is it relevant? Does it speak to people’s challenges? People must not measure a political party by its size or age. New or old, big or small, it really doesn’t matter. Voters should listen to the messages being conveyed by the different parties so that they can make informed decisions.
LT: You were one of the ringleaders of youth protests in the LCD back in 2012, leading to the departure of the party’s then leader, Pakalitha Mosisili, who went on to form the DC. What were those protests about?
Ms Rantsó: We were not content with how the youth were being treated. They were discriminated against when it came to employment opportunities in government. Tenders were given to old people at the expense of young and educated people who could easily do the work. Party youths were never allowed to contest parliamentary elections. Such opportunities were never created for them. We realised that the old members whom we elected to parliament were never interested in young people and their needs. We were calling for the appointment of young people to the Senate as that was Ntate Mosisili’s prerogative as prime minister. But still, we cannot discount the fact that the LCD government came up with progressive policies including the introduction of old age grants, free healthcare, free primary education and the school-feeding programme. But I realised at some point that Ntate Mosisili had played his part as premier and that it was time for him to make way for new blood. We tried to convince him that he must hand over the baton to someone younger but he didn’t see things that way. That is how the Litima-Mollo (firefighters) and Lija-Mollo (fire-eaters) factions of the LCD came to be. The Litima-Mollo faction supported calls for Mothetjoa Metsing to succeed Ntate Mosisili, while the latter supported his stay. Eventually, a split happened, making way for the birth of the DC and for Metsing to ascend to the helm of the LCD. I was elected the first LCD female secretary-general after that split in 2012.
LT: Why did you form RCL after leaving the LCD, when you could easily have joined one of the existing parties?
Ms Rantsó: I went down memory lane to when I wrote a letter the wreaked havoc in the LCD and resulted in the split of the party. I was calling on Ntate Mosisili to go. I remembered how nobody really cared for the youth and women. I realised the country needed a party whose core principle is the empowerment of women and the young. Women are always coy and hardly challenge the status quo. They had to claim their rightful place in politics and influence policy. I wanted a party that would empower all women. Women bore the brunt of gender-based violence (GBV) while young girls were forced into child marriage. I could not just watch and fold my arms. I felt like we needed to find our way to parliament so that we could influence policy at national level. We also needed a party to make women understand that it was wrong of them to abuse their children and spouses, and that they were not the only ones being subjected to GBV. The main reason behind the formation of RCL was to shed the spotlight on the plight women and young people, and lead the way in seeking ways to intervene.
LT: You fell out with some prominent RCL members who claimed to have expelled you before they eventually jumped ship to form their own party, HOPE. What went wrong?
Ms Rantsó: It became apparent from the beginning that I would encounter problems. When we amended our constitution while I still in exile in Ladybrand, it was resolved that the leader would be elected every six years. But immediately after I returned to Lesotho and those amendments were effected, I started to hear complaints. Some prominent members lamented that if elections were to be held after every six years, they would never become leaders. We tried to deal with it as discreetly as possible.
When RCL became part of government following the 2017 elections, I gave some women from my party jobs. I asked then to work hard and prove that women were also capable leaders. I appointed one a Principal Secretary while the other worked with me in my office. From the time they got their first salaries to date, things have been soured between us. I wish they had approached me so that we could come up with a solution to whatever they were not happy. I would never have insisted on remaining RCL leader. We could still work together as women, not alienate each other like this. It’s sad. It is time for women to work together, each from where they are standing. Even some of the women I worked closely with also left the party. I wish as women we could look past our differences because that divides us. Men capitalise on our divisions and make our heads butt. One man once said to me that even if I were to have an exclusively female cabinet, men would seduce the women to get their way. I found that disgusting because it shows how men undermine women and know which buttons to press to use them.
LT: We have seen several new political parties mushrooming ahead of the 7 October 2022 elections. What is your take on the current political situation in Lesotho?
Ms Rantsó: New parties will always come up because some politicians see parliament as a form of employment. Their belief is that if they get some numbers, they just might make it to parliament and get party funding. If there were enough jobs in the country we wouldn’t see people fighting their way to parliament. Lesotho would probably have just five political parties.
The formation of the Sam Matekane-led RFP has changed the political landscape in the country. However, some people who left their parties to join it feel hard done. They complain that there’s no democracy in RFP. The party has brought a new way of doing things and some of its members are not happy about this. But every party has its way of doing things. Its leaders determine how it is run. People who joined RFP knew how things were done. When I formed RCL, I was clear that I abhorred discrimination. When you join a political party, don’t get carried away by excitement. Understand a party for what it is, so that you don’t become surprised when things don’t go your way. I appreciate the presence of new parties entering the political space. I just wish that their purpose is to improve Basotho’s lives.
LT: You became part of the new coalition government in 2020 headed by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro. What happened between that led to him letting you go as Labour and Employment Minister after a few months in office?
Ms Rantsó: When you are appointed as a minister, you receive an appointment letter to that effect and the excitement you feel is of untold proportions. The same applies when you are let go. You get a three-sentence word that does not explain why you are being released. Things might have happened along the way, yes. But if your boss had never really complained about your conduct or performance, then you can’t say for sure why the decision to dismiss you was made. I am proud of myself and all that I achieved in the ministries that I worked in, from Public Works, to Labour and Employment.
LT: You played a role in events leading to the collapse of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s four-party coalition government in May 2020. What really transpired?
Ms Rantsó: There was a lot going on at the time. We were a coalition government of four political parties. We were known as the ‘Four-by-Four’ government. The coalition comprised Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party, and my RCL. Things went on smoothly in the beginning, but along the way I felt elbowed out. The two main parties in the coalition, the ABC and the AD, wanted us (RCL and BNP) to rubber stamp their decisions without making any input, yet we were supposed to be partners. It became a ‘Two-by-Two’ government.
We just were not getting along anymore as the four leaders who formed that government in 2017. It eventually collapsed after the ABC withdrew from the coalition and formed the current governing coalition with the DC party. But I want to divorce Ntate Thabane from the whole saga. I respect him a great deal. I learnt that he did not make some of the decisions announced by the government alone. It seems he had some influence from outside government.
LT: Lastly, is RCL going to contest the 7 October 2022 elections? Have you held primaries and fielded candidates in all constituencies already?
Ms Rantsó: Yes, we are contesting elections this year. We have fielded candidates in some constituencies but are yet to attend to others. This a difficult campaign. It is about how many buses you have to carry supporters and how much food you have to feed them. It’s about whether you have party regalia to dish out to people. These are just some of the biggest challenges we have as RCL. We can’t afford buses to rallies every day. Besides that, there are many other parties also campaigning. This confuses the electorate. Every corner you turn, there are members of a new political party campaigning. This says we must work extra hard.