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Knives out for high commissioner

by Lesotho Times
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Foreign affairs delegation leaves for SA to resolve a dispute between embassy staff and High Commissioner ‘Malejaka Letooane  

’Marafaele Mohloboli

A three-member delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs left for Pretoria yesterday  to meet with staff employed at Lesotho’s diplomatic missions in South Africa who are said to be demanding the removal of High Commissioner ‘Malejaka Letooane.

According to insiders who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, the workers are not happy with Ms Letooane’s management style and also accuse her of “driving the opposition’s agenda” in South Africa at the expense of the government.

Lesotho has diplomatic missions in Pretoria, Durban, Johannesburg, Klerksdorp, and Welkom, which all report to Ms Letooane.

However, sources privy to the matter told the Lesotho Times that most of the staff want the High Commissioner removed from the post because of the way she “belittles every single one of us no-matter how senior you might be”.

Ms Letooane also stands accused of “working against the government” in South Africa, and leaking confidential information to opposition political parties.

One of the officers based in Johannesburg told the Lesotho Times that the situation was so bad that some of the staffers were threatening unspecified action if Ms Letooane was not removed from her post which she assumed in January 2014 under the Thomas Thabane-led government, which has since been replaced by a coalition of seven parties led by Democratic Congress (DC) leader Pakalitha Mosisili.

“Although the delegation was initially supposed to meet staff working at the Johannesburg and Pretoria missions only, it will now meet even those from the other missions because we are all not happy with ’m’e’s administration. We have also realised that they are always fighting with Ntate Tumisang Mokoai, who is responsible for the Johannesburg office and we don’t want to be caught in between.

“We are tired of this infighting and the divide-and-rule tactic used by ’m’e ’Malejaka which is not healthy for any workplace. There is so much negativity here now that if the situation is not addressed, it will degenerate into something more serious and embarrassing for Lesotho as a country,” said the officer.

Another Johannesburg-based officer accused Ms Letooane of “driving the opposition’s agenda using state resources”, and allegedly sheltering some Lesotho Defence Force members who are wanted by the government for suspected mutiny.

“She uses the state’s cars for her political caucuses and personal errands, leaving the core business of the embassies to suffer because there would be no resources,” said the officer.

The officer also accused Ms Letooane of allegedly leaking classified information to “her circle of friends” in the opposition.

The source added: “During the Africa-China summit held here last month, there was a SADC side-meeting pertaining to the Phumaphi report into Lesotho’s security challenges. She attended the meeting, but before we knew it, she had vanished, and what was discussed in that closed meeting was soon trending on social platforms. Not even her driver could find her; she was nowhere to be found.”

Yet another officer said Ms Letooane was allegedly in the habit of “belittling and undermining us”.

The source continued: “On several occasions, we have asked to have a meeting with her so we could raise our concerns, but the response we get is she doesn’t talk to juniors like us.”

Another complaint against Ms Letooane is that she allegedly does not follow proper procedures when seeking services for the embassies. She is also alleged to have changed passwords to the office mail “so that no one can see communication with the embassies before her”, said another source.

Ms Letooane has also been accused of ignoring a court order reinstating a driver she had fired and replaced with her gardener.

“She did not give the driver any duties, and at some stage, withheld his salary until the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervened from Maseru,” the source said.

“She then replaced the same driver with her gardener, claiming that she could not have her privacy while the driver was around,” the source added.

The Lesotho Times made repeated attempts to get Ms Letooane’s comment this week, to no avail. After initially asking the Lesotho Times to call her after 3pm on Tuesday, Ms Letooane was no longer answering her phone thereafter. She also did not respond to questions sent to her via email and the recorded voice message.

However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tlohang Sekhamane, yesterday confirmed that the ministry’s Acting Principal Secretary, and officers from the Human Resources Department and Legal Department, had left that morning for Pretoria to engage relevant stakeholders on the issue.

“I received a complaint from ’m’e ’Malejaka; she was accusing some of her staff of insubordination and said the junior officers had even taken two of her vehicles without her consent, making her appear  irresponsible,” said Mr Sekhamane.

“I have sent a team of three senior officers to the Johannesburg and Pretoria consulates to establish what the real problem is because I have also received several complaints from the officers about her.”

Asked about his alleged dispute with Ms Letooane, Mr Mokoai denied the claims as mere fabrication. He also denied claims that one of Ms Letooane’s official vehicles had been taken away without her consent because there were no resources at the Johannesburg office.

“That is not true at all. It was agreed that the Johannesburg office should use the car for other office errands as there is a shortage of resources and there are officers who have just been deployed here and are still trying to settle. We are using one of the cars to ferry them around. And there is certainly no bad blood between me and ’m’e ’Malejaka,” Mr Mokoai said.

“I heard this talk making the rounds but brushed it off, but now I think I should take it head-on and put an end to it. I respect ’m’e so much and there is simply no way we would take away her car in that manner, we work as a unit.”

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