Majoro, Kabi factions in peace talks

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…as both sides fear defeat if the ABC fights elections disunited  

’Marafaele Mohloboli

AFTER months of debilitating infighting, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s faction of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) has begun peace talks with its rival faction led by party leader Nkaku Kabi.

ABC sources close to the developments said the two sides have been compelled to try and find common ground to save the party from being completely obliterated in the upcoming general elections due anytime from October 2022.

The ABC was already on the back foot as the incessant infighting, which began three years ago when former leader Thomas Thabane rejected the February 2019 election of his former deputy Nqosa Mahao, had allowed the more cohesive Democratic Congress (DC) to steal a march on its main partner in the current coalition government.

The prospect of a total annihilation of the ABC had unnerved some of the party’s apparatchiks, particularly after the entry of prominent businessman, Sam Matekane into politics, highly placed sources in the party said.

Last month, Mr Matekane formed his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party. The fledgling party already boasts of prominent Basotho personalities who had generally shunned politics.

It has also caused high profile defections from existing parties with the Alliance of Democrats (AD) of Monyane Moleleki being the biggest casualty thus far after losing its seniors like Mahali Phamotse, Tlohelang Aumane Leketekete Khetso and ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli.

Faced with this existential threat, the warring ABC sides had agreed to give peace talks a try and reunite the party ahead of the elections.

Mr Kabi and Dr Majoro had gone to war after the prime minister refused to relinquish his position after losing the party’s leadership contest to Mr Kabi in January.  In a sign that the ructions in the ABC had become endemic,  Mr Kabi supported a parliamentary vote of no confidence against Dr Majoro but the prime minister prevailed.  He has vowed to remain in power until the elections though he has quit the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC).

Despite their war, Mr Kabi has a huge incentive to reconcile his party, lest it be annihilated in the elections.  He realises  his dream of becoming premier  will remain stillborn if the ABC fights the elections in its current chaotic state, the sources said.

The Majoro faction had appointed Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation Minister, Motlohi Maliehe, and the party’s Likhetlane constituency legislator, Lekhetho Mosito, to represent it at the talks which got underway in Maseru last week. The Kabi faction is represented by Thaba-Phatšoa legislator, Mahala Molapo, and former secretary general, Samonyane Ntsekele.

Messrs Maliehe, Mosito, Ntsekele all confirmed that there were ongoing talks between the two factions but refused to divulge more details. They also refused to give any hint about whether any progress had been recorded.

“Yes there are such talks but I am not in a position to talk about them as of now,” Mr Maliehe said in a brief interview yesterday.

Mr Mosito also confirmed that he was involved in the talks but refused to give details.

On his part, Mr Ntsekele said he was involved in the talks. He however, said he could not say much since “this is quite heavy a subject to touch on”.

Mr Molapo said he was unable to comment as he was driving when the Lesotho Times contacted him yesterday.

Their reluctance to speak at this stage could be down to suggestions that hardliners on Mr Kabi’s side are fiercely opposed to the talks. They are said not to be interested in any pact with Dr Majoro and his supporters  despite the prospect of their party being hammered in the elections and falling the way of once might political juggernauts like the Basotho National Party (BNP), Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) who are now shadows of their former-selves.

“Not everyone is happy about the talks, but I think they seem to be on track as both sides admit that the unity of the party is the most important thing.

“Talks between warring factions are never a walk in the park because they normally entail bargaining. But we hope they will yield the desired unity,” an ABC official said not wanting to be identified disclosing confidential party information.

ABC deputy chairperson and Qoaling legislator, Chalane Phori, a staunch Kabi loyalist, is nonetheless one of the people nonchalant about the talks.

“We want peace and at this point we can only talk about it as dream because others (Majoro camp) have proved to be enemies of the party. But I fully support my leader (Kabi). Even if I’m standing aside and have distanced myself (from the talks), I will support him if he succeeds in his mission of bringing the two warring sides together. I will still support him even if he fails. But I just can’t lie about it and say I’m supporting the talks as that would be hypocrisy on my part,” said Mr Phori.

Party spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa was more scathing in his dismissal of the talks despite the confirmations by the other top party officials that the talks are underway.

“Those who have gone their own way have gone and we have nothing left to discuss with them. Right now we are busy with the party programme,” Mr Masoetsa said of the Majoro faction.

There is no love lost between Mr Masoetsa and Dr Majoro. This after the ABC spokesperson was briefly detained last year after he announced that Dr Majoro was no longer prime minister in the wake of  the party’s NEC decision on 2 December 2021 to recall him and replace him with Mr Kabi.

Mr Masoetsa blamed Dr Majoro for his arrest but the premier denied any involvement.

After Mr Kabi subsequently won the ABC leadership contest, Mr Masoetsa was among the NEC members who called on Dr Majoro to relinquish the premiership to the new leader. Dr Majoro rejected the calls and survived the vote of no confidence subsequently pushed against him.

It remains to be seen if the peace talks will eventually unite the fractious ABC and enable its leaders to pull in one direction  to withstand the challenge from the DC, RFP and other parties.  Previous efforts to smoke the peace pipe among the ABC factions have failed.

Under Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s leadership, the DC appears to have become a formidable force if the huge turnouts at its rallies are anything to go by. Prof Mahao’s Basotho Action Party (BAP) appears to also have hit the ground running. A disunited ABC is thus unlikely to make headway.

Dr Majoro has kept his cards close to his chest. Sources say he is keeping his options open.

The Lesotho Times incorrectly reported last week that he could be one of the defectors to the RFP. However, the correct position is that he was approached by the RFP to join its ranks but declined, at least for now.  He is said to have mulled forming his party but decided on remaining in the ABC. If anything were to happen to Mr Kabi, he believes he will be the automatic replacement since he lost the leadership contest by a fairly narrow margin, according to authoritative sources.

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