MASERU — Former army general Metsing Lekhanya’s reign as the leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP) came to an abrupt end last Saturday night.
In the end it took a vote-of-no-confidence in which almost more than two thirds of the delegates at the party’s special conference voted for his ouster.
With 199 people voting for his removal and a measly 68 rooting for his continued rule, Lekhanya, 72, had no choice but to accept that his 11-year reign as leader of the troubled former ruling party had come to an end.
His ousting was a victory for his internal opponents who had been fighting tooth and nail for the past three years to push him out.
In that time Lekhanya survived an open rebellion and a vote-of-no-confidence motion.
This time, however, his opponents made sure that they succeeded.
And push him out they did.
They immediately proclaimed that his toppling meant the dawn of a new era for the party whose political fortunes have been waning since its dictatorial rule came to an end in 1986 through a military coup d’état that, ironically, Lekhanya himself masterminded when he was still an army general.
Lekhanya’s ousting was not without drama.
Party officials who attended the special conference said Lekhanya stormed out of the conference hall as soon as the vote-of-no-confidence motion was accepted by the delegates.
“Ntate Lekhanya became stone cold upon realising that the delegates meant business,” said an official who requested anonymity.
“He stormed out of the conference room and left us to make a decision in his absence. He warned some members of the committee to be careful not to make a mess of the vote lest they all ended up in courts of law,” the delegate added.
“We were told in confidence that Ntate Lekhanya went to consult about three lawyers about his chances of suing the party for removing him unlawfully.
“But they are said to have all turned him down, citing in more or less the same manner that he (Lekhanya) could not claim that the conference he had officially opened himself was unlawful.”
This week Lekhanya told the Lesotho Times he had accepted defeat but added that he was not happy with the way the special conference had “handled the issue”.
“But a man of my age and status should not be involved in unnecessary struggles for power,” Lekhanya said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
“If they feel that without me at the helm the BNP stands a better chance of winning elections, so be it then. But I will always be available should anyone need me.
“I painted a lot of scenarios in my head on how to deal with this issue.
“But in the end I thought I should just let it be. Even those who support me encouraged me to drop it and move on,” Lekhanya said.
Thesele ‘Maseribane, his deputy, will lead the party until the next elective conference which party insiders say is likely to be held next March.
Although Lekhanya says he is no longer bitter, he believes ‘Maseribane is not the right man to “fill my shoes”.
He describes ‘Maseribane as “blatantly immature”.
“I cannot be compared to ‘Maseribane, especially his blatant immaturity. I do not have even the slightest confidence in him,” Lekhanya he said.
He alleged that ‘Maseribane’s handling of finances was questionable.
“I give them until March next year. I tell you that by then they will have fought amongst themselves. The party will be in tatters,” Lekhanya said.
The only way the BNP could survive, Lekhanya said, was if the current secretary general Ranthomeng Matete replaced him as party leader.
“He is a man of integrity and high standards,” Lekhanya said.
“He’s an experienced administrator and his approach to protocol is just so well-groomed and well thought out. He’s also a very well-groomed leader.”
Under him the BNP might have become more fractious and lost membership in droves but Lekhanya insists he actually revived the party.
“I was also able to transform the mindset of our youth who were popular for being arrogant and rebellious.
“I managed to strengthen relations between the BNP and political parties from other countries. Our relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) is a good example,” he said.
‘Maseribane told a press conference on Monday that the delegates at the special conference “wanted a shift in power. It was time for the leader to go although he has earnestly worked for the party”.
‘Maseribane denied that Lekhanya stormed out of the conference room but conceded Lekhanya had told them “to be careful” lest they find themselves in court.
“The leader said we should continue (with our plan) but be sure not to do anything that would land us in courts of law. But he never stormed out of the conference. If he had, we would know,” ‘Maseribane said.
He however said if Lekhanya were to take legal action the party “would have to fight to protect the resolutions made”.
“It would not work in the best interest of the BNP to run the party through court orders. We will do all we can to ensure that we work together to avoid unnecessary court cases,” ‘Maseribane said.