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Major victory for Mahao

by Lesotho Times
  • as court blocks Thabane’s “expulsions”

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE High Court has temporarily reinstated All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao and four of his key allies who were “expelled” from the party by its leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on 17 June 2019.

High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Monapathi issued an interim order yesterday blocking the “expulsions” of the ABC’s NEC quintet pending the finalisation of their application challenging their “dismissals” by Dr Thabane. The application will be heard on 11 September 2019.

In a significant development, Justice Monapathi decried the ABC infighting saying it had “repercussions on national security and good governance”. He said regardless of who wins, he hoped the finalisation of Prof Mahao and his allies’ application challenging their dismissal “will bring lasting peace within the ABC”.

The judge echoed concerns by all and sundry that the ABC infighting is now holding Lesotho hostage with development and service delivery having stalled as the ruling party factions escalate  their war of attrition.

Immediately after the interim order was granted, the visibly elated Mahao camp lawyers, Advocates Koili Ndebele and ‘Mabatṧoeneng Hlaele, punched the air with their fists to celebrate their victory. Adv Hlaele is Dr Thabane’s daughter. She is married to ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele who was “expelled” by Dr Thabane along with Prof Mahao, Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and his deputy, Matebatso Doti.

Justice Monapathi’s interim order is a huge victory for the Mahao camp as it accords legitimacy to their special ABC conference pencilled for Saturday 7 September 2019.

The special conference had initially been planned for 6 July 2019 and the main agenda was to discuss the expulsion of Dr Thabane from the party, among other things.

It was nonetheless aborted at the last minute after Dr Thabane and deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi obtained an interim interdict from Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase to block the conference.

The Court of Appeal has since barred Justice Mahase from hearing all cases pertaining to the Mahao faction’s struggle with Dr Thabane for the control of the ABC because of the judge’s obvious pro-Thabane bias.

The premier and Mr Kabi had also withdrawn their 5 July 2019 application to bar the special conference and to stop Prof Mahao and his allies from presenting themselves as ABC national executive committee (NEC) members after their 17 June 2019 “expulsions” from the party. Dr Thabane and Mr Kabi did not give reasons for withdrawing their application.

Yesterday, Justice Monapathi also granted the Mahao faction’s prayer for an interim interdict barring Dr Thabane from making unilateral decisions without the involvement of full contingent of the NEC.

Prof Mahao’s co-applicants are fellow ABC’s NEC members, Messrs Hlaele (secretary general), Rapapa (chairperson), Masoetsa (spokesperson) and Ms Doti (deputy spokesperson).

The respondents are Dr Thabane, the ABC, the ABC’s NEC, Dr Moeketsi Majoro (who was appointed last month by Dr Thabane to replace Prof Mahao), Kemiso Mosenene (who was appointed chairperson in place of Mr Rapapa), Sentle Rabale (who was appointed spokesperson in place of Mr Masoetsa) and Joel Mohale who was appointed deputy spokesperson in place of Ms Doti.  Dr Thabane had made the four appointments with effect from 9 August 2019. He had not immediately filled the post of secretary general made “vacant” by the “expulsion” of Mr Hlalele promising to do so in due course.  The judgment issued yesterday effectively nullifies the appointments, at least for now, as Judge Monapathi interdicted Dr Thabane from instructing any member of the ABC to discharge functions of the offices held by Prof Mahao and his allies.

Prof Mahao and his four allies were elected into the party’s NEC at the ABC’s February 2019 elective conference in Maseru.

But the ABC has not known peace and stability after Prof Mahao’s election was rejected by Dr Thabane and the old NEC. Dr Thabane and some senior party officials argued that Prof Mahao was a relative newcomer who should not have landed the second most powerful party post ahead of more seasoned campaigners. The impasse over Prof Mahao’s election led to the 17 June 2019 “expulsions” of Prof Mahao and his allies and also sparked a series of litigation between the factions.  Talks aimed at resolving the infighting have also failed and yesterday, Justice Monapathi said he hoped the finalisation of Prof Mahao and his allies’ court application challenging their dismissals by Dr Thabane would “bring lasting peace within the ABC”.

“The operation and the execution of the decision of the first respondent (Dr Thabane) taken on 17 June 2019 purporting to expel the applicants as members of the ABC is stayed pending the final determination of this matter,” Justice Monapathi said.

“The first respondent (Dr Thabane) is interdicted from taking unilateral decisions and interfering with the affairs of the ABC without involvement of the full contingent of the NEC and he is interdicted from instructing any member of the ABC and its NEC to discharge functions of the offices held by the applicants.

“The fourth and fifth respondents (Dr Majoro and Mr Mosenene respectively) are interdicted…from holding themselves out as members of the ABC’s NEC and discharging any duties within the organisation as members of the ABC,” ruled Justice Monapathi adding “the prayers are granted and returnable on 11 September 2019 when the application (against the expulsions) will be heard”.

Immediately afterwards, Advocates Hlaele and Ndebele could not hide their elation, punching the air with their fists to celebrate their clients’ victory. But unlike the previous court cases where Mahao faction supporters packed the courtroom, there were only a handful of them in court yesterday.

Prof Mahao and his allies were not even present at yesterday’s court session.

In terms of final relief, the quintet wants the High Court to revoke their expulsions from the ABC and further prohibit Dr Thabane from making party decisions without the involvement of the full contingent of the NEC.

They have petitioned the court to issue a “declaratory order declaring the decision of the first respondent (Dr Thabane) taken on 17 June 2019 expelling the applicants as members of the ABC null and void”.

The five first challenged their dismissal on 22 June 2019 but the application was dismissed on 14 August by the High Court bench comprising of Justices Thamsanqa Nomngcongo, Sakoane Sakoane and Moroke Mokhesi on a technicality, saying it had not been properly filed before the court.

Yesterday, Justice Monapathi said he hoped the outcome of their application to be moved on 11 September 2019 “will bring lasting peace within the ABC”.

“It is and can clearly be observed that instability that has rocked the ABC has repercussions on national security and good governance.

“The political game continues and perhaps the judgement (in the Mahao and others’ case) will bring rest to the disputes among ABC members,” Justice Monapathi said.

Yesterday, Prof Mahao referred all questions to Mr Masoetsa who in turn, said the interim interdict had “erased the impression that they were no longer ABC members”.

“Nothing has changed on our side as we have always regarded ourselves as the legitimate ABC’s NEC but we believe this will erase whatever impressions the other side had about our membership of the party.

“The court has also pronounced itself on the fact that the leader (Dr Thabane) is a member of the NEC like the rest of us therefore he cannot make decisions without involving us. It also means the appointment of others to replace us is null and void.

“The special conference will continue as planned on Saturday and the agenda will be the amendment of our constitution to tighten all the loopholes that exist in it,” Mr Masoetsa said without elaborating.

In a recent circular to all NEC members, the women’s and youth leagues, provincial, liaison, constituency and branch committees, ABC secretary general, Mr Hlaele said “the purpose of the special conference is to find an everlasting solution to the disturbing problems within the party and the conference shall be held on 7 September 2019”.

Asked if they would still discuss Dr Thabane’s expulsion as initially planned, Mr Masoetsa yesterday said, “the (conference) delegates will guide us on other issues”.

Mr Kabi’s mobile phone rang unanswered when this publication called him for comment last night.

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