There was drama in parliament on Tuesday this week when two female legislators exchanged blows over “heckling” sparked by the presence of Southern African Development (SADC) police at the legislature.
Lesotho People’s Congress Secretary General Moipone Piet and Popular Front for Democracy Secretary General Ntšepase Mahao had to be separated by Basotho Democratic National Party Deputy Leader, Pelele Letsoela as they wrestled in the August House—much to the amusement of their peers and journalists covering the afternoon session.
National Assembly Deputy Speaker, Lekhetho Rakuoane, was left with no choice but to eject the brawling MPs from the chamber and also call for an unplanned recess after failing to bring the rest of the cheering and jeering lawmakers to order.
Advocate Rakuoane immediately told the fighting MPs that they would face a disciplinary hearing for their unprecedented conduct, which has since become such a hot topic on social media.
Asked what led to the fight, Ms Mahao yesterday told the Lesotho Times the clash was the result of a dispute which had taken place the previous day, also in parliament.
“I was having a conversation with ‘M’e Lineo Molise (from the main opposition Democratic Congress) in parliament on Monday when ‘M’eMoipone rudely interrupted us.
“She was so aggressive in her interruption that I ended up telling her that I wasn’t interested in fighting her. I also told her never speak to me that way again and had thought that was the end of it. So it came as a surprise to hear her mention my name in her discussion with Nthekeleng Mofolo (of the National Independent Party) on Tuesday.
“I asked if I had not warned her never to mention my name ever again, but when I turned my back on her as I was sitting in front of her, she hit me on the head with something metallic. The blow was so hard it stunned me, and when I realised what had happened, and remembered our confrontation the previous day, I retaliated and also started hitting her. That’s when Ntate Pelele intervened and stopped the fight,” Ms Mahao said.
Ms Piet also told the Lesotho Times that their fight was a culmination of Monday’s events, sparked by the presence of SADC police at parliament. The officers in question are part of the regional bloc’s team that has been deployed in Lesotho to help the country return to political stability. Lesotho has been in turmoil since the leadership of the tripartite government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, fell out in June this year over the premier’s alleged failure to consult them when making key decisions with a bearing on good governance. However, the SADC officers have been heavily criticised by MPs for demanding identification from the legislators and also subjecting them to rigorous screening each time they enter parliament’s premises.
“On Monday, we were very annoyed by the presence of SADC police on the premises of parliament, particularly the issue of demanding identification from us and subjecting our personal effects such as handbags and cell-phones to electronic scanners. There was a lot of heckling about the issue in the chamber and people like ‘M’e Ntšepase who support government and also the presence of the SADC police here, were answering back. So we ended-up clashing on Monday during the exchanges, but it never got to a point where we had to physically fight about it, because I had thought it was just heckling which happens in parliament all the time,” Ms Piet said.
However, Ms Piet said the issue took a nasty turn on Tuesday when she casually mentioned the clash in her conversation with Ms Mofolo.
“‘M’e Nthekeleng was telling me about how she had just had an argument with ‘M’e Lineo about another issue, and I also talked about our slight clash with ‘M’e Ntšepase from Monday. When she heard me, she reacted so angrily and threatened to beat me up if I mentioned her name again.
“When I heard her say that, I just snapped and hit her with my clutch-bag, and when she retaliated, things got out of hand,” Ms Piet said.
Ms Piet further told the Lesotho Times she never intended to fight Ms Mahao.
“I never wanted to fight her but I believe the current political situation and opening of parliament has been too much for some people. You see, there are some individuals who are taking the reopening of parliament as a loss as they didn’t want the prorogation to be lifted,” Ms Piet said.
Ms Molise, on her part, said the fight could have been the result of the opposition MPs’ continued heckling and celebration of parliament’s reopening following its nine-month suspension on 10 June 2014 by Prime Minister and All Basotho Convention leader, Thomas Thabane. Dr Thabane, who assumed power in June 2012, prorogued the House to avoid being booted out of power through a no-confidence-vote by opposition MPs. Dr Thabane only reopened the parliament on Friday last week after SADC’s intervention.
“Some MPs regard parliamentary culture such as heckling one another as offensive and take it personal, which should not be the case. I believe that’s how two MPs that I know to be dear friends, ended up exchanging blows,” Ms Molise said.