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Mahao digs in on ABC crisis

by Lesotho Times
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Limpho Sello

THE incoming deputy leader of the fractious All Basotho Convention (ABC), Professor Nqosa Mahao, says that negotiations to end the infighting between the old and new national executive committee (NEC) factions are dead in the water and his faction is pinning its hopes on the intervention of the ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to save the ruling party from collapse.

Prof Mahao said even if Dr Thabane were to breathe new life into the negotiations, his faction would not “sell out” their supporters by accepting any deal except the one that would see them take up their rightful positions as the new ABC’s NEC.

He further said that despite their clear victory at the party conference, they were never-the-less engaging their estranged old NEC colleagues including the “stubborn (Motlohi) Maliehe” in negotiations to save the ABC and ultimately the almost two year-old governing coalition from collapse.

Prof Mahao said this while addressing a weekend rally in Ha-Khabo, Pela-Tšoeu.

His admission that the intra-party talks had collapsed came against the background of similar claims by the spokesperson in the new ABC’s NEC, Montoeli Masoetsa.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times last week, Mr Masoetsa attributed the collapse of the talks to the two factions’ failure to agree on an agenda for the negotiations that are aimed at resolving the infighting.

Mr Masoetsa accused the old NEC faction of pitching up for the talks without a concrete agenda on the key issues that have caused the infighting. Instead, he said the old NEC faction negotiating team comprising of Messrs Samonyane Ntsekele, Motlohi Maliehe, Futho Hoohlo, Kemiso Mosenene and Makhetha Motšoari were only keen to negotiate with the new NEC to stop addressing parallel constituency rallies which competed with the old NEC’s rallies which were addressed by Dr Thabane.

Another sticking point was the refusal by the old NEC to drop a court challenge seeking the nullification of the results of the ABC’s 1-2 February 2019 elective conference which ushered in a new NEC which has Prof Mahao as its deputy leader.

Mr Masoetsa said the old NEC insisted that the court challenge “was not relevant to the talks” and they were not willing to withdraw it to give the talks a chance to succeed.

In the aftermath of the February elections, the old NEC, which reportedly enjoys Dr Thabane’s support, refused to make way for the new NEC. Three ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung constituency), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe) subsequently filed a High Court application seeking the nullification of the February party polls on the grounds that they were marred by vote rigging.

Initial attempts at talks to end the impasse suffered a stillbirth in March after both factions refused to compromise on their hard-line stances.

The old NEC had demanded that Prof Mahao and the incoming secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, should step down from their posts as a condition for the rest of the new NEC to be allowed into office.

However, Prof Mahao and Mr Hlaele dug in and insisted they will not step down from their posts.

Prof Mahao even told ABC supporters at a rally in Ha Makhalanyane in the Koro-Koro constituency that the negotiations between the old and new ABC NECs should only lead to one outcome; the old NEC handing over power to the new NEC, failing which they go as far as the Court of Appeal if the High Court does not rule in their favour.

The fire-spitting professor further said they were only negotiating to “understand what sort of sickness had afflicted their colleagues” and if necessary, they would even “force democracy down the throats” of the old NEC to get them to accept that they should relinquish power.

Despite the failure of the March talks, it had been hoped that the infighting would finally be resolved after it was announced at the beginning of last month that Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao would begin negotiations. The two have been meeting on their own while the old and the new NECs have also been holding preliminary discussions.

However, the talks collapsed again last week with Mr Masoetsa telling the Lesotho Times that the two factions failed to agree on any of the sticking points last Monday.

And early this week, Prof Mahao told ABC supporters that the talks collapsed last week after the trio of Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane flatly told them that they would not withdraw their court challenge even if asked to do so by the old and new NECs.

He said the trio had been brought into the talks after the old NEC said they had not sent them to file the court challenge and they could not dictate to them to withdraw the lawsuit.

“During our discussions with the old NEC, we asked whether they were the ones who were behind the court case and they denied having influenced them (Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane) to file the court case,” Prof Mahao told the rally.

“It was then that we asked that they call those who filed the case. We asked them (Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane) whether they would comply with the outcome of the talks (if it meant withdrawing the court application). But one of them told us that they never asked anyone for permission to file the case and they would not be told by anyone to withdraw it. We then had to agree with the people we were talking to (old NEC) that the talks had hit a rock (failed).”

Prof Mahao said due to the three litigants’ intransigence which led to the collapse of the talks, his faction was now pinning their hopes on Dr Thabane to intervene and save the party from possible collapse.

He however, said they would not accept any outcome that would not lead to the new NEC assuming office.

“He (Dr Thabane) said we must approach him if ever we encountered any challenges with the talks and so we called him on Tuesday (30 April). So, we asked him to come and resolve this issue because the ABC followers want their new office NEC in office.

“We expect the leader to point out the direction because we have reached a point where the talks have collapsed. We have had many political parties splitting in the country and losing power. But I and my team would want the ABC to be that one political party in Lesotho that survives very united even when it is at the verge of death.

“What can stop us from re-uniting? Even if we have to talk to engage the stubborn Maliehe we will engage him because we accept that he is one of the founders of the ABC.

“But let me assure you that we are not in the talks to sell you out. We will not sell your votes in any way but we needed to engage in talks because we are one family. No matter how wrong they (old NEC) are, they are still our brothers under the leadership of Dr Tom Thabane,” Prof Mahao said.

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