Once Thabane goes, I go too: Phori

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

LOYAL to the very end. This aptly sums up Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing Minister, Chalane Phori, who says he will step down the minute Prime Minister Thomas Thabane leaves office.

The 80-year-old Dr Thabane announced on 16 January 2020 that he would soon step down due to his advanced age after more than 50 years in the civil service and active politics.

He did not give a date for his departure and his party’s national executive has since given him an ultimatum to step down by the end of day today. The party has even threatened that if he does not go, it will go ahead and present the name of its preferred successor to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, when parliament re-opens tomorrow.

Mr Phori, who stood behind Dr Thabane in his year-long power struggle with his All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, this week told the Lesotho Times that he owed his meteoric rise in politics to Dr Thabane and saw no reason to stay on after his mentor’s departure.

“I joined politics because of Ntate Thabane who believed in me even though I am illiterate compared to other ministers,” said Mr Phori.

“He (Dr Thabane) has always had faith in me and that is why I have always put my head on the block to protect him because I look up to him. Growing up, I never had a father figure because my dad passed away when I was only six and my mother single-handedly raised us. I come from a very poor background where my mother brewed traditional beer to make ends meet.

“The first person to ever show so much faith in my abilities is Ntate Thabane and it would defy logic for me to remain a minister when he leaves. I have business companies to take care of and I need to make sure that they succeed. So, I will go when goes,” said the minister-cum-businessman, whose interests span several sectors including construction.

Mr Phori was one of the few senior ABC officials who backed Dr Thabane when he attempted to stop Prof Mahao from assuming the deputy leader’s post. This was despite that Prof Mahao contested and won the post at the ABC’s February 2019 elective conference ahead of more seasoned party cadres like ministers, Moeketsi Majoro (Finance), Prince Maliehe (Public Works) and Motlohi Maliehe (Social Development).

The power struggle almost split the ABC and almost collapsed the coalition government. Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao eventually buried the hatchet last month and soon afterwards, Dr Thabane announced that he would be stepping down.

Mr Phori made headlines last November for approaching Dr Thabane to order the Maseru City Council to award the multi-million maloti Mpilo Boulevard construction tender to his business partner, UNIK Construction Engineering company. The tender has since been frozen pending investigations by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

Mr Phori however, defended his record, saying he was already rich when he joined politics and he did not need to use his political position to make money. He said Dr Thabane had stressed to him the importance of using his political position to spearhead national development.

“Ntate Thabane sees potential where everyone else doesn’t see it and that is why today he is having problems within his party as some educated members of the party think that their qualifications should get them into cabinet.

“He (Dr Thabane) taught me that politics is not a get-rich quick scheme but a platform to help the nation get quality services and from then I knew that I wanted to be in politics because I also have the interests of my people at heart.”

He denied claims that he was one of Dr Thabane’s blue eyed boys, saying he had earned his position on merit.

“If at all these assertions (of favouritism) were anything to go by, my wife would also be employed in government but she is still unemployed despite that she holds a Master’s Degree. None of my siblings work for the government.

“My sister in law was expelled from her job by this very government that I serve and even after she had won her case, they never reinstated her but I never complained,” said Mr Phori.

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