Mixed feelings over Matekane’s political entry

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  • some analysts say the RFP is unlikely to transform Basotho’s lives,
  • while others say it offers hope after years of failure by “corrupt” career politicians.

Bongiwe Zihlangu

BUSINESS tycoon Sam Matekane is the man of the moment after he caught all and sundry by surprise with last week’s launch of his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party.

With its stellar cast of prominent personalities such as former Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and former Central Bank of Lesotho Governor, Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane, the RFP has been welcomed by many ordinary Basotho as a gamechanger party which could potentially transform the country’s economic fortunes because of the intellectual calibre of its promoters.

Fellow politicians have been stung by Mr Matekane’s unexpected foray into politics with some said to be worried that this means the drying of funds that he has been pumping into their coffers over the many years that he has not been in active politics.

Some like Basotho National Party (BAP) leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao, have berated Mr Matekane and his new party for “stealing” their ideas about good governance and the rule of law, among others.

Others like Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader, Monyane Moleleki, have welcomed the mining magnate’s entry into politics.

Bereft of friends and consigned to the political scrap heap when the previous Thomas Thabane-led four party coalition collapsed in May 2020, Mr Moleleki and his AD have been searching for new allies. In his view, the RFP could be a springboard to catapult him back to government as a coalition partner after the elections which are due anytime from October this year.

Clearly, there is a lot of excitement and mixed feelings about the new kid on the political block.

Even the analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week are divided in their views of Mr Matekane and his new party.

Senior political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Tlohang Letsie, said while Mr Matekane had every right like any other Mosotho to participate in politics, his decision was probably informed by the need to protect his business interests, which he feared were being threatened by the existing political environment than any other consideration.

“You must understand that Matekane is a rational human being whose actions are influenced by a cost-benefit analysis,” Dr Letsie said.

“He is businessman and we must establish what pushed him into politics. The answer is probably that he wants to protect his business interests.

“In light of Lesotho’s slumping economy, Matekane was no longer benefitting the way he was used to. Therefore, it appears that he is joining politics to protect his business interests. Politicians who are the main role players have failed so much that Matekane was pushed to a point of venturing into politics. He simply wants to protect his gains. At least that is how I see it,” Dr Letsie added.

He said the excitement created by the new party was indicative of the fact that most Basotho had lost hope in the career politicians and Mr Matekane’s party “gives them a glimmer of hope of something better”.

He said Mr Matekane’s entry into politics would change Lesotho’s political landscape by dismantling the stranglehold of political parties that believed they had a monopoly of the game.

He said regardless of his motives for joining politics, Mr Matekane could well bring the hoped for change that Basotho have been yearning for.

“He (Matekane) is eroding their (other politicians’) confidence hence their unfavourable reactions that we are hearing. His coming might also see especially smaller political parties dying a natural death.

“This new party restores hope. It promises that the change Basotho yearn for might finally be realised,” Dr Letsie said.

Weighing in on the issue, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Director, Tsikoane Peshoane, said Mr Matekane was not offering any new ideas.

“Will he bring new ideas to the table? The answer to that is a resounding no. What he says and promises has been said before. Lesotho’s political parties are not driven by ideology. His is the same old rhetoric about economic transformation. It does not bring any ideological shift because our political landscape is not about the contestation of issues and ideologies.

“There’s nothing new that this party brings into the fold. There are no new characters and certainly no new flavour in the Matlanyanes, Majaras and (former Government secretary Tlohang) Sekhamanes of this world,” Mr Peshoane said.

He however, said Mr Matekane’s financial muscle could give him the edge over his rivals as financial resources payed a huge role in mounting a successful election campaign.

“We must admit that he (Matekane) has shaken the pre-election phase and created panic even among key political players in this country. Matekane might have sponsored some of these political parties in the past but now he is going to channel his monies towards his own political venture. Remember Matekane is seen as a product of former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress, from which he benefitted economically.

“Financial resources might have a bearing on voter participation and the outcome of elections. Other political parties are going to be hostile towards him because he threatens their prospects at the polls. Those who used to be his friends have become his enemies,” Mr Peshoane said.

Despite his scepticism about Mr Matekane, he said only time will tell if he will eventually make any hoped-for difference to the country’s prospects.

“We are not yet assured of the value that he is bringing with him. We will see how he performs post elections. But remember that Basotho are fond of him, because of his philanthropic initiatives over the years. This could count in his favour in the run-up to the elections,” Mr Peshoane said.

Another NUL lecturer, Mahao Mahao, suggested that Mr Matekane had created problems for himself by venturing into politics. He said now that he was in politics, his business dealings would be subjected to greater scrutiny.

If anything, ethics dictate that Mr Matekane has to stop bidding for government tenders now that he has joined the political arena.

“Whether he becomes prime minister or just occupies the benches of parliament, he or any company associated with him should not tender for government business as it would be ethically wrong to do so. His position in government would no doubt influence the direction of the tendering process and further entrench the corrupt culture of tenderpreneurship,” Dr Mahao said.

Dr Mahao said, if it was true that Mr Matekane had shares in some of Lesotho’s diamond mines as is widely acknowledged, then his entry into politics would pose problems for him and the government.

“The fact that the Lesotho government is a shareholder in the mines means Matekane the politician will become a highly conflicted shareholder. Not only will the shareholding set-up become problematic for him as a businessman, but it will also mean that whenever there are workers’ grievances about any of the mines where he has business interests, Mr Matekane the politician in government will probably decide to protect his financial interests,” Dr Mahao said.

However, another analyst, Sello Sello, is of a different view. Last week Mr Sello hailed Mr Matekane as a breath of fresh air on the political scene.

“He (Matekane) is a successful businessman. It appears his motivation is not money or the chance to loot the public purse for he is a highly rich person. This suggests that he is interested in national development, which no longer seems to be the primary focus for most politicians and essentially all political parties.

His entrance into politics may mean a serious threat to most of the existing political parties, particularly the ones who have dominated the scene, and effectively done nothing appreciable in terms of national development. The threat he poses may force the existing political parties to get their acts together. For example, they may become serious about meaningful policy frameworks and work hard to impress the public with viable principles and policies.

“Matekane has resources – money, importantly. Therefore, he may deploy huge resources to campaign, hence come back from the polls with a significant share of the vote. This is particularly so because his party seems set to appeal to younger voters, who may trust him because of his business success, which they may think will be replicated in government. In short, I think he has adequate time and resources for the October polls.

“Matekane may turn out to be different. I think he values his reputation at lot and does not wish to fail. Therefore, he is set to ensure that his party succeeds. He will have to be careful about those he brings into his party…. He will have to avoid people who have been wounded in their previous political parties and are only interested in point scoring. Additionally, there are some people who seem to be wealth-focused, with questionable national credibility.  They must be kept out.

“Matekane’s business success sways public perception because people believe that he will not steal from the public purse since he is already rich and he can use his business acumen to ensure an efficient government. These perceptions, and others, stand to help him woe a huge number of voters who had lost confidence in politics,” Mr Sello said.

While they may be mixed feelings about Mr Matekane’s motivations and about whether he is the real deal, there is however, a consensus that his entry into politics has shaken the established politicians and their followers. It has generated so much excitement and could well be the cure for voter apathy that has been on the increase in recent elections.

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