RCL leader Rantšo “toppled”

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

REFORMED Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Ms Keketso Rantšo was “ousted” from her post at a “special conference” held by the party in Berea over the weekend.

She was replaced as party leader by the principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, ’Machabane Lemphane-Letsie.

The conference was held despite a High Court order barring the party from holding an elective conference. The order was issued by Justice Keketso Moahloli on 20 February 2020 after Ms Rantšo petitioned the courts to block the elective conference which had been pencilled in for 15 February 2020 and subsequently postponed to 22 February.

Last night, Ms Rantšo sent a WhatsApp message to this publication, saying she was out of the country on official business and would only comment on the issue upon her return.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Ms Lemphane-Letsie said the weekend conference which ousted Ms Rantšo was a totally different matter from the elective conference which the latter successfully challenged in court. She said the weekend event was not an elective conference but a special conference called after 22 of the RCL’s constituency committees passed votes of no confidence in the Rantšo-led national executive committee (NEC) on 28 February 2020.

“There is a difference between an annual conference, an elective conference and a special conference, so definitely the matter brought before the court (by Ms Rantšo) is a totally different one altogether,” said Ms Lemphane-Letsie.

“It should be clear from the onset that there was an attempt to stop the conference which was scheduled for 22 February 2020. ‘M’e Keketso was granted her wish and the conference was stopped but afterwards there was a no confidence vote by 22 constituencies and this was unstoppable. The constituencies wanted to take over the party on the grounds that the current (NEC) committee had overstayed its tenure and they demanded a special conference.

“The last time there was an elective conference was on 11 February 2017 — a day after we fetched our leader (Ms Rantšo) from exile and some members of that committee were then deployed to government leaving vacancies within the NEC which were never filled.

The (weekend) special conference then resolved to elect a new committee and I was be elected in absentia. This means that the weekend conference was different from the elective one which was barred by the courts.”

The RCL is a junior partner in the governing coalition which also comprises of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Communications, science and Technology Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP).

Ms Lemphane-Letsie however, said she had no intention of replacing Ms Rantšo as a coalition principal or have her recalled from her cabinet post as Labour and Employment minister.

“Now that I have been elected party leader, I have to speak my colleagues and convince them that it’s not going to benefit anyone (to recall Ms Rantšo).

“If anything, recalling her would destroy ‘M’e Keke and her family. That will be as good as killing her because she needs that job for a living…Besides it is entirely up to the prime minister to appoint or to sack any of the members of his cabinet. I think this will also serve as a lesson to her to treat others well because she has this tendency of firing people each time there is a misunderstanding.”

She said the “ouster” of Ms Rantšo “was nothing personal”, adding that she still had so much respect for the latter as a “woman who really stood up in the male — dominated game of politics”.

“I supported my leader in all things and gave her my all because I believe she is a strong character. I stood by her through thick and thin and in the process learnt about her strengths and weaknesses. I still respect her but unfortunately, she was now leading a pack that no longer believed in her and I had no choice but to accept the position (of leader) when I was afforded the opportunity. This is nothing personal.”

Asked if she would soon step down from her post as principal secretary in line with Public Service Regulations which forbid public servants from holding political office, Ms Lemphane-Letsie said she had approached the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, to inform him that she had taken over as RCL leader.

“I asked him (Mr Mphaka) to be patient with me as I am yet to meet the rest of the RCL committee to plead with them to recuse me from the party post until my contract (as principal secretary) expires in August,” said Ms Lemphane-Letsie.

There has been a long-running power struggle in the RCL pitting Ms Rantšo against Ms Lemphane-Letsie. In 2018, Ms Rantšo attempted to suspend Ms Lemphane-Letsie but the latter responded by filing a court application challenging Ms Rantšo’s moves. The case is still pending before the High Court.

Last year, Ms Rantšo fell out with Retšelisitsoe Lesane who was then her private secretary, and also RCL Youth League president.

Ms Rantšo successfully argued in her court application that the RCL could not hold an elective conference last month on the grounds that it was called by Mr Lesane who was not the party’s deputy secretary general but just the youth league leader who should not be in the possession of the RCL rubber stamp.

Others who were “elected” to the RCL’s NEC at the weekend special conference are: former chairperson Poeea Letsielo who became the deputy leader, Thulo Bataung (treasurer), Nyepetsi Mlongeni (deputy chairperson), Setjeo Malibu (spokesperson), Refiloe Mokapane (deputy spokesperson) and ‘Maitumeleng Mpopo (editor).

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