SADC speaks on ABC chaos

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…regional body concludes that the infighting is about who will succeed veteran leader Thabane

Pascalinah Kabi/ Herbert Moyo

THE opposition to Professor Nqosa Mahao’s election as deputy leader of the ABC by members of the outgoing national executive committee (NEC) is not really about a fraudulent election process as has been alleged by some senior party officials.

Rather, it has been prompted by fears by the old NEC that a “novice” (Prof Mahao) has suddenly been thrust into a position that makes him the front-runner in the race to succeed the party leader, Thomas Thabane, ahead of more seasoned founding members of the party, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Oversight Committee has concluded.

The SADC Oversight Committee also concluded that if not amicably resolved, the power struggle between the new and old ABC’s NECs could split the party and even lead to the collapse of the government.

Sources close to workings of the regional body which was set up as an early warning mechanism on the political and security situation in Lesotho, this week told the Lesotho Times that the oversight committee drew the conclusions after separate meetings in Maseru last week with Prof Mahao and some members of the old NEC, namely the outgoing secretary general, Samonyane Ntsekele, outgoing chairperson Motlohi Maliehe and Futho Hlooho.

The sources said Prof Mahao first approached the oversight committee to persuade it to intervene in the ongoing dispute that has so far prevented the National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor and other members of the new NEC from assuming office after their election last month.

The committee is said to have told Prof Mahao that it had no mandate to intervene in an internal party matter but it used its meeting with him and the subsequent meeting with the old NEC to draw up its report about the instability in the ABC and the likely consequences for the party and the government. The report will soon be presented to the regional leaders in line with the committee’s mandate to act as an early warning mechanism on the political and security situation in Lesotho.

“There is a pending court case challenging the outcome of the NEC elections on the basis of alleged irregularities in the 1 and 2 February 2019 ABC polls,” a source privy to the ABC and SADC committee meetings told the Lesotho Times this week.

“However, the court challenge masks the real issue which is that the old NEC’s gripe is not about election irregularities or even about the election of the other members of the NEC. Their only problem is the election of Mahao whose elevation to the post of deputy leader puts him firmly in the driving seat in any contest to succeed Thabane.

“For the old NEC and many other ABC veterans, this is really a bitter pill to swallow because as argued by the likes of Maliehe, they formed the party 12 years ago and they can not just hand it over on a silver platter to a Johnny-come-lately like Mahao who hasn’t been in the party for more than four years.

“It’s a situation where the old NEC and the party leader could even attempt to divide and conquer by saying to the rest of the NEC, ‘we are prepared to allow you into office on condition you abandon your support for Mahao’.

“When they appeared before the (SADC) committee, the old NEC and in particular Mr Maliehe was very clear that they formed the ABC 12 years ago and they were not just going to hand over the party to a newcomer like Prof Mahao so that he could become Dr Thabane’s successor,” the source added.

The old NEC is said to have told the committee that there was a danger that the party leadership would fall into the hands of “a newcomer who did not possess the institutional memory of the party ethos” and so they had done everything in their power, using their ABC constitution to ensure that Prof Mahao did not contest the February elections.

This involved disqualifying him and thereafter expelling him from the party when he took it to court for disqualifying him. However, their efforts to ‘safeguard’ the party were allegedly frustrated by the Court of Appeal which nullified their decisions and even struck off the clause in the ABC constitution which permitted the party to fire members who initiated court action without exhausting internal processes to resolve disputes.

Another source said that in its meeting with the SADC committee, the old NEC attacked Justice Kananelo Mosito (the President of the Court of Appeal), saying he is the one who imposed Prof Mahao on them through his 1 February 2019 ruling which overturned his disqualification and expulsion from the party and cleared the way for him to contest the NEC elections.

“They (the old NEC) said Justice Mosito ignored the fact that the ABC was a voluntary organisation with its own constitution which it used to first disqualify and thereafter expel Mahao. They questioned the basis of Justice Mosito’s ruling saying the Court of Appeal judge did not even have a written judgement from the High Court where the Acting Chief Justice Maseforo Mahase had ruled against Mahao.

“According to them, Justice Mosito should have only heard Mahao’s appeal if there was a written judgement. They said you can only overturn a judgement if you have written copy and know the reasons for that judgement which Mosito did not have.”

Mr Maliehe this week confirmed meeting with the SADC committee and further told the Lesotho Times that they had no problems accepting the results of the rest of the NEC elections. He however, said that “the deputy leader position is the only questionable post given that the Court of Appeal declared that a clause of our constitution which barred him (Prof Mahao) from contesting the elections was unconstitutional”.

“I was part of that meeting with the SADC committee with Ntate Ntsekele and Futho Hlooho. They informed us that the professor (Mahao) came to them, carrying a very big file. In that big file, there were documents which he used to detail how the NEC elections took place and asked them to intervene.

“To our surprise, this educated Mosotho man who is a professor in law chose to approach the SADC Oversight Committee with issues that are being dealt with in the courts of law. SADC has not given this (oversight) committee a mandate to deal with internal party politics, its mandate is simply to assist Lesotho in her quest to achieve lasting peace, security and political stability,” said Mr Maliehe.

The outspoken politician further said that he would not have had a problem had the deputy leader’s post been won by the other candidates and not Prof Mahao.

“The main problem with him (Prof Mahao) is that he is going to lead a party whose members do not know him. I only know him from his political background when he was a member of Popular Front for Democracy. I do not know him as ABC member. I know nothing about his ABC membership,” Mr Maliehe said of Prof Mahao this week.

In addition, the old NEC allegedly told the SADC committee that they suspected that Prof Mahao was not acting alone but that he had the active support and funding from a foreign country in his campaign to take over the ABC. They however, did not say which foreign country was backing Prof Mahao.

They said they would stop at nothing to ensure that Prof Mahao would not assume his position and even the planned negotiations between the old and new NECs for an out-of-court settlement were doomed to fail if Prof Mahao was not dropped from the new NEC.

Just as they did with Prof Mahao, the SADC committee is said to have replied by telling the old NEC that the ABC issue was an internal political matter that did not warrant the regional body’s interference.

“They (SADC committee) said all that SADC could do was to offer advice to both parties who would have to negotiate and resolve their differences to avoid a split in the party that could destabilise the government as well,” a source said.

The source further said that it was on the basis of its meetings with Prof Mahao and the old NEC that the SADC committee reached its conclusions which can be summarised as follows:

  • The real issue is not about the credibility of the ABC elections. The fight is about who succeeds Dr Thabane and the old NEC, particularly the likes of Maliehe, believe that having formed the ABC, it is they and not a ‘newcomer’ like Mahao who should succeed Thabane when he eventually decides to go.
  • SADC believes that the negotiations will fail and the power struggle will only be resolved in court.
  • Alternatively, SADC believes that the ABC issue could be settled by the attitude of the new NEC, that is, whether or not they are willing to drop their support for Prof Mahao so that they can be allowed to get into office.
  • SADC also believes that the old NEC is now actively working to isolate Prof Mahao from the rest of his colleagues in the new NEC by offering to allow them to take over as long as they dump Prof Mahao.
  • SADC believes that if a solution is not found, the ABC will split and this will also collapse the government in which the ABC is a main partner in the coalition which also includes the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

The sources said the SADC committee will prepare a report on the political and security situation in Lesotho which will be submitted to the SADC Organ for Politics, Defence and Security.

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