‘Lesotho going in the wrong direction’

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Deputy Leader of BNP Chief Joang Molapo
Deputy Leader of BNP Chief Joang Molapo

AS the Mountain Kingdom counts down to the golden jubilee independence celebrations on 4 October 2016, the Lesotho Times shines a spotlight on some of the prominent events and actors over the past 50 years.

Formed in 1959, the Basotho National Party (BNP) is one of the oldest political parties that actively participated in negotiations leading to Lesotho’s independence in 1966.

In this wide-ranging interview, BNP deputy leader Joang Molapo tells Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Pascalinah Kabi about the role the party played in ushering Lesotho into independence and beyond.

LT: Briefly tell us the BNP’s history.

Molapo: As a political party, the BNP was formed in 1959 by a group of people who had defected from the congress movement. During the 1950s, the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) was the only political movement.

Much like today, the congress ideology then was not inclusive of every Mosotho. This is so unfortunate given the founders of congress movements, the African National Congress of South Africa and congress movement in India, are inclusive and want everyone to feel welcome.

So I think the founders of the BNP – Chief Leabua Jonathan, Sekhonyana ‘Maseribane and Letsie Manyeli – were the victims of Lesotho’s congress ideology and decided the country needed a new political identity. They decided to take the good aspects they liked within the congress ideology and built on the national ideology of inclusiveness.

The BNP contested in elections for the first time during the 1960 local elections and the party did not win even a single council seat. So, between 1960 and 1965, they worked tirelessly to market the party throughout the country.

The popularity led to the BNP participating in the independence negotiations with the British. What a lot of people don’t realise is one of the BNP’s demands was for the army and certain other institutions to directly report to the King so there would not be exposed to political influence.

However, because the BCP had won the local elections and were 100 percent certain they would win the 1965 elections, they wanted all the executive powers.

This is why they were disappointed when the BNP came first with 30 seats, BCP with 28 and Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) bagging one seat. BNP did not have an absolute majority so they negotiated with the MFP to form government.

The BCP contested the election’s results in two constituencies and a court ordered a rerun in Masemouse and Qaqatu constituencies – both won by BNP. Parliament was prorogued while waiting for the rerun results and BNP won those; giving BNP the mandate to usher the country into independence.

LT: What was the role of the BNP in ushering Lesotho into independence?

Molapo: I think the BNP’s biggest role was in framing the 1966 constitution. At that time, there was a very serious debate surrounding the role of the monarchy. I think the MFP wanted His Majesty to have executive powers, BNP wanted separation of monarchy and the executive – which I think is the political system we have now – whereas BCP wanted Lesotho to be a republic.

I think the BNP’s input was to find a middle ground which I personally think works for Lesotho. I also think it might not be a bad idea, as we enter into the reforms process, to strengthen the role of His Majesty King Letsie III in the running of this country. He has proven himself to be somebody with a clear vision, understanding and very neutral.

So in short, I think the role of the BNP was in shaping the constitutional debate and also in establishing the government. In 1966, when Lesotho got its independence, a lot of intellectuals were from the BCP and the congress movement sold the idea they were the most visionary people based on their educational qualifications.

So the civil service was polarised with the congress movement followers expecting their party to win the elections. One of the things Chief Leabua was able to do was to establish the executive separate from the public service because most civil servants did not want to cooperate with the BNP government.

While a lot of people believe the process of public service politicisation was championed by the nationalists, I want to dispel this belief because it is not true. The public service was already polarised when the BNP regime took power in 1965 and civil servants did not want to be governed by “uneducated” people.

While Chief Leabua admitted nationalists were not educated, he worked hard to form partnerships with other political parties to ensure all Basotho had access to educational opportunities. The National Manpower Development Secretariat is Chief Leabua’s brainchild as he wanted to see as many people as possible educated.

He also understood Lesotho was landlocked by an apartheid regime, and it was impossible for Lesotho to survive without having a relationship with South Africa. Chief Leabua also supported South African freedom fighters while also engaging the apartheid regime in an ethical manner. He was a big supporter of liberation struggles throughout the region while also appreciating the reality of living in a landlocked country.

I normally hear people trying to compare Chief Leabua and Ntate Ntsu Mokhehle and for me it is like comparing two different things. Chief Leabua governed with the congress and other people, it was in his nature to accommodate people whereas the Mokhehle regime was very focused on an “us and them” ideology.

LT: As Lesotho celebrates 50 years of independence, is the BNP still relevant in the country’s politics?

Molapo: I still believe we are the most relevant political party in Lesotho because we are ideologically the clearest. If you were to ask someone their predictions if BNP was to govern Lesotho, that person would tell you we will see a strong and stable government, serious investment in agriculture, investment in Basotho through education, health through primary health programmes and infrastructure, and the police and army under proper control. With the nationalists you are clear on what you are going to get.

For example, look at the economic status of Lesotho. One does not get a sense there is a clear policy direction on what we want to achieve. In the previous coalition government consisting of the All Basotho Convention, Lesotho Congress Party (LCD) and BNP, we were able to reduce pay as you earn (PAYE) tax rates in the first year. Our argument was if you want to see Lesotho’s economy growing, you have to put the money in the hands of ordinary citizens rather than the government spending the money.

In the period from 2000 to 2012, Lesotho’s economy grew by an average of two percent whereas during the previous coalition government’s two-year regime, the economy grew by 5.4 and 5.6 percent in 2013 and 2014 respectively. That is your evidence.

The agricultural inputs for those two years were higher as compared to the 15 years the congress movement was in power. By virtue of its name and ideology, the BNP understands the diversity in our society. Although it has taken a long time, Basotho have come to realise that an exclusive political ideology is not constructive.

We understand and appreciate that Basotho’s dignity starts with being economically independent and that government’s role is to help Basotho create an enabling environment.

LT: You keep on accusing the present coalition government of lacking policy direction and implementation. Based on your experience as a former minister, is it not easier said than done?

Molapo: Delivery is a step-by-step process. You first have to start by digging the foundation just like in the case of a building. In the two years we were in government, we were able to attract more foreign direct investment than the previous government; meaning that our message to the outside world was clearer that Lesotho was serious in developing itself.

We found the Americans’ Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in progress. We successfully completed it and were able to negotiate for the second compact that has since been freezed due to the current political upheaval.

We were delivering on the promises we had made. If you remember, we had an army worm outbreak but we still harvested more than the 15 years the congress regime was in power. Our coalition was delivering but we were frustrated by the LCD because they didn’t want to see any radical policies that would expose the fact that they did nothing. As much as possible, the LCD wanted us to maintain the status quo rather than coming up with new things.

By the time we left office, we were at the final stage of preparing for the job submit and the plan was to create 50 000 new jobs and to add 10 000 jobs in the formal sector of the economy for the next five years.

The first year for every regime is to implement the past government’s policies using their own budget. The second year is coming up with own policies and putting money into such. So you don’t even see the success of any government until year three or four because year five they are busy preparing for the elections. So I want to argue that people were yet to see what we were about.

LT: Is it not hypocrisy for the opposition to accuse the present government of failure hardly two years in power?

Molapo: No. You cannot compare a marriage of six weeks with one that has lasted for 60 years. However, if the couple seeks the family’s intervention six weeks into the marriage, we can start to see signs of a doomed marriage.

Yes, success is measured after three to four years, but there are certain behavioural traits that give citizens confidence we are going in the right direction and behaviour that shocks us all. The current government’s behaviour does not give us confidence we are going in the right direction.

The United States has been a good friend of Lesotho for 50 years and we are one of the first MCA beneficiaries.

Now they have pulled out their M4 billion investment, why? What are you saying to those people you won’t be able to build clinics or benefit from the construction of water and sanitation facilities?

The European Union had promised us M440 million in budget support and they have pulled out. This means we won’t be able to build schools for our children because the present government does not want to conduct business according to acceptable norms.

All citizens of Lesotho are entitled to the presumption of innocence and the soldiers detained at Maseru Maximum Security Prison should be accorded the same opportunity. Police and Public Safety Minister Monyane Moleleki was charged with corruption and he stayed at home because we knew he is innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law.

LT: Does BNP foresee a future free of corruption where politicians will push for voters’ interests in line with development?

Molapo: Yes. Basotho just need to vote wisely and they have already started. Government postponed the local government elections because they can see the direction our politics are taking, they are going to lose.

We can see that Basotho are going to put us back in office. We are going to see stability. We attract a different calibre of people. Look at the past coalition government ministers, we are all back to our previous jobs.

For instance, I am into farming, construction work and soon enough I will be opening my engineering office. (Former agriculture minister) Ntate Litšoane Litšoane and (former agriculture deputy minister) Ntate Mahala Molapo are back into farming.

We ventured into politics, but politics doesn’t feed us.

LT: Should BNP be voted into government in the 2020 elections, what will you do to ensure your regime serves voters instead of furthering personal ambitions?

Molapo: We don’t follow individuals but the party. That is why if party leader Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane was to defect and start his own party, the BNP would still stand strong. We can change leaders unlike the congress movement which is clouded by so much infighting. For instance, the Democratic Congress (DC) is embroiled in personality politics.

So when a person decides to join the BNP, they learn about the party’s ideology and philosophy. They learn about the economy, social development and education policies; that is how one becomes a nationalist. Our focus is less on personalities and much more on the policies.

LT: What does it mean for the BNP to mark 50 years of independence with your leader Chief ‘Maseribane in exile?

Molapo: We are not celebrating. The government cannot sell division politics and wake up the next day expecting everybody to be on the same page.

If the government had an inclusive message, we would have understood the importance of celebrating independence together. Ultimately 50 years does not mean anything. We don’t have to wait for 50 years to start initiating progressive programmes. The time to do the right things is now.

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