MASERU – Basotho National Party (BNP) veteran ’Mabatloung Lillane is among candidates who are vying for the presidency of the former ruling party.
Lillane faces a stern test from a host of party veterans who have expressed a desire to lead the embattled party.
She faces competition from, among others, Professor Kopano Makoa, Dr Majara Molapo, Ranthomeng Matete and Pius Molapo.
Lillane is the only woman among the seven candidates who have expressed an interest in the party’s top job.
This is not the first time that Lillane has thrown her hat into the ring.
In 2007 Lillane contested for the BNP leadership post.
But she says she was physically barred by thugs aligned to the party’s former leader from entering the conference hall to participate in the elections.
The elections, which are due this weekend, have been called to elect a successor to Metsing Lekhanya who was ousted in a boardroom coup last December.
This week the Lesotho Times quizzes Lillane on her vision for the BNP and how she hopes to help turn around the party’s fortunes.
Below are excerpts from the interview with Political Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu (LT).
Lesotho Times (LT): What is your vision for the BNP?
Lillane: I would love to see a united BNP, one devoid of discrimination based on gender. I want the BNP to reinvent itself to be a political organisation that puts its people first and subscribes to the preservation of human dignity.
It should be a strong party able to breed tomorrow’s leaders. It must be a party that can reinvent itself, move along with the times without turning its back on its values and founding principles such as the upholding of Christianity.
But more than anything, I have a dream to see the BNP as a party that is at peace with itself, able to promote principles of democracy and those of the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I.
LT: What kind of leader do you think the BNP needs to achieve this?
Lillane: One who relates well with the electorate and strives for unity. This party needs the kind of person whom people will approach freely because he is not reserved or distant.
We need a leader who will dedicate his time and energy to the party and forsake his personal interests. I mean the kind of leader who understands that he is a servant.
LT: What factors would you say have in the past decade affected the BNP adversely?
Lillane: The fact that the BNP does not have structures nationwide has been a great misfortune.
It has resulted in the BNP membership becoming scattered and having less contact. It has only been alive in our hearts.
The party also seemed unable to retain its membership, such that some deserted while others formed their own political parties. A good example is that of the Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP).
The BNP also ceased to hold rallies to revive the spirits of supporters. The worst part was the lack of post-mortem reports after every election to establish where the party could have gone wrong.
Some people left because for them, going to the polls made no difference. This contributed immensely to the dwindling membership.
LT: How do you hope to reorganise the BNP structures?
Lillane: I will first visit all the BNP constituencies in all the four regions of Lesotho, these being the northern, southern, central and the highlands regions.
There I will convene people according to these regions and hold rallies at the centre of each region in an attempt to revive their spirits so they feel the need to be more involved in the party. We will also discuss the way forward, but in a mild manner.
The second leg will involve meeting at district level where our discussions will be more in-depth.
We will then establish constituency committees which will enable us to be in a position to hold primary elections in which we are able to elect candidates in a transparent and democratic manner.
LT: Any formula in place to use when approaching local government elections?
Lillane: We will start by teaching people the importance of local government elections as well as how electoral divisions work.
It is very crucial because local governance is close to the people since it impacts on their daily lives.
It will also be our chance to gauge our strength in elections and a reflection against which we will prepare for general elections.
LT: What should former BNP leader Metsing Lekhanya have done differently?
Lillane: He should have made the party more accessible to BNP supporters.
We are lucky to be a party with academics specialising in different fields.
He should have engaged their skills to advance the party. There should have been committees established according to each field of specialty.
I can refer to the registration of voters and teaching people about what responsibility they have to the party and vice versa.
LT: What is your take on the BNP constitution?
Lillane: It is the most porous piece of legislation. It shows that it was not done through a referendum.
It was just imposed on us. It’s wrong. I’d go for the BNP 1983 constitution and call for amendments to be made on it in order to match it with modern times.
LT: How do you hope to shake off competition from most of the candidates who have been in the frontline of BNP politics?
Lillane: One’s profile is not as important as getting the work done. All I ask is for the electorate to consider me because I don’t belong to any camp.
I just want to get the work done for the BNP.
LT: It took guts to challenge a field full of men? Where do you get the bravery to challenge for the BNP presidency?
Lillane: I’m brave by nature. I also used to herd my family’s cattle and till the fields while growing up.
Besides that, for a while I taught at an exclusively boys’ school, Christ the King High School (in Roma).
I am a wife who submits herself to her husband in the home and I do respect men.
But in politics we are more or less equal.
LT: What do you make of the role of women in both BNP and national politics?
Lillane: It is minimal.
In my opinion, women’s leagues are established within political parties to give the illusion that women are participating at a significant scale when in actual fact that is not the case. We are yet to see women becoming more decisive in politics.
LT: Do women support each other in politics?
Lillane: Women do not support each other, not in the least. When a woman contests elections, women are the first people to dish out harsh criticism.
The focus is always on her moral conduct more than her brains and leadership potential.
LT: What motivated you to take on men?
Lillane: The illusion that a woman cannot excel as a political leader is a myth perpetuated by our culture as we are raised to feel inferior to men. I wanted to give women hope.
I want women to take over the reins of governance.
Men have proven they are tired. Just look at the manner in which they have been dwelling on the improper allocation of proportional representation seats since 2007 when there have been better things they could have focused on.
They should make way for women and realise that politics is like a global village: open to everybody.
Seeing the BNP membership dwindling also scared me. I did not want to just sit there and watch as my beloved party gradually disintegrated.