Soulo pushed me out: Billy

MASERU – The alliance between the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) came to an abrupt end last week.

As part of the “divorce settlement” the ABC also demanded that all members of its executive committee, including those from the LWP, should be card-holding members of the party.

There will be no dual membership, the party says.

That has put LWP leader Macaefa Billy who is also the ABC general secretary, in a dilemma.

Will he relinquish his LWP leadership to appease the ABC? Will the parties work together in parliament?

What led to the collapse of the alliance?

The Lesotho Times’ Senior Reporter, Caswell Tlali, talked to Billy to get answers to these questions and many more.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

LT: The ABC leader Tom Thabane has confirmed that the alliance with the LWP is now history. What do you think led to the collapse of the alliance?

Billy: I think they feared me. They feared that I was getting too popular in the party and I was going to take over from Thabane. That is what they feared most. The ABC members seemed to identify with me more maybe because I am a young man. Maybe the old man (Thabane) was not speaking to them well.

LT: Is that an allegation or a fact that you can prove with evidence?

Billy: This is what was happening. At one time I was stopped from addressing a rally.  It looks like there were already plans to get me out of the picture. I also know that there are people who want my position.

LT: Who wanted your position and who were they working with to push you out?

Billy: I think Thabo Thakalekoala (ABC publicity secretary) wanted the position. I have been told that he wants the position. Soulo Molobeli (ABC chairman) wanted me out. These are the people who were telling the leader that I wanted his position.

LT: Did the LWP want the alliance to end?

Billy: I did not want the alliance to end. LWP did not want it to end. In fact, if you look at the proposal that we submitted to the ABC you will see that we wanted the alliance to be strengthened and not terminated. But they decided otherwise. There were people who were telling Thabane that I wanted to take over as ABC leader. Soulo was telling Thabane this.

LT:  So Thabane did not actively participate in breaking the alliance? Are you saying he was a by-stander?

Billy: No, he was part of the issue. He was participating together with Thakalekoala and Soulo. 

LT: Do you think that Thabane is a weak leader who can’t stand for what he believes in or is he a push over? From what you are saying it would seem that Thabane was being influenced by other people?

Billy: I think he is a strong leader but he has serious weaknesses. For instance, there are times when he cannot stand for his policies. He can just be influenced by people around him. Soulo is one of those people who have the power to influence Thabane. I think it’s because they are friends.

LT: The ABC alliance with the LWP collapsed last week but already there is violence between members of the two parties. At a rally in Mazenod on Sunday some LWP youths were beaten up for allegedly singing protest songs. Had relations between the two parties become so acrimonious that it would turn violent? 

Billy: To start with, those youths who were assaulted were ABC members. Of course some were LWP members. One could no longer distinguish between an LWP and ABC youth after we established this alliance and people wear the same political regalia. The incident shows that some ABC members are not happy with the party leadership’s approach to serious issues. The termination of the alliance is just one of those issues that they are not happy with.

To be precise, members are not happy with the way the leader is allowing the party chairman, Soulo, to run this party disregarding the executive committee. I am also not happy because I am the secretary general of the ABC and of course the LWP is unhappy.

LT: You keep saying Soulo is influencing Thabane but how do you illustrate this with evidence?

Billy: Thabane, old and politically experienced as he is, is taking Soulo’s word for God’s word. Thabane listens to Soulo even when it is clear that Soulo is pushing this party over the precipice. He implements Soulo’s ideas and he does not care whether the executive committee agrees or not.

In actual fact, only three people are running this party and they run it like it is their private café. The leader himself, Thabane, together with Soulo who influences every unwanted and unacceptable change in the party, and Thabo Thakalekoala are causing trouble. These three people run the ABC by decree.

Soulo has always been running the ABC and Thabane has been his obedient follower.

LT: But those are still allegations.

Billy: Let me give you the evidence then. If you have ever attended our rallies, I think you noticed that Soulo would just announce at the end of the rally when and where the next event would be held.

The discussions about rallies were between him and the leader not with me or the working committee.

Under normal circumstances, rallies are the responsibility of the committee which decides the venues and times basing on the needs of the constituencies or areas that need attention.

LT: Has it always been like this from the start?

Billy: When I was elected the party’s secretary general I told them that Soulo’s tendency to control the party single-handedly should stop.

There was resistance from the leader who even said Soulo was his friend and did not care if the two of them would remain the only members of the party while the rest leave.

Who does not know in this country that Soulo stood for the 2007 election as an independent candidate in Lithoteng competing against the ABC candidate, Eliabe Mokhanoi?

After losing the votes to Mokhanoi he was not ashamed to join the queue for the PR list and Thabane allowed it because Soulo is his friend.

LT: Why did you not raise that issue as the secretary general of the party? 

Billy: I was a leader of an alliance partner and not an executive member of the ABC then. The onus was on ABC members to object to that. My role was to accept the list given to me by the ABC. But Soulo, as an influential person close to the leader has kept making dangerous decisions for the party. No wonder some members had to run away. I know many of them loved their party so dearly, except this man (Soulo).

LT: Some people in the ABC accuse you of not having contributed to the growth of the alliance since you were elected its secretary general.

Billy: How could I perform to the expected standard when I had a leader who was advised by Soulo and while members of the executive lay dormant?

Soulo was working behind my back. They started by making sure that I did not have crucial office equipment like a computer, ink and others things. They took the old computer donated by a party member and put it in the leader’s office where it was used by his secretary. I did not have access to it. Were they expecting me to buy the equipment with my personal funds? Secondly, when I called meetings they seldom attended. In the end they didn’t bother to show up at all. The meetings were held on Tuesdays but they shifted them to Thursdays behind my back. When they saw me attending the Thursday meetings they started having them in secret locations. I would just learn of a decision they would have made at a meeting held somewhere private. They were shunning me. All these were decisions that were taken by Soulo and Thakalekoala. The leader just follows.

LT: Which party has more to lose from the collapse of this alliance?

Billy: I don’t think either of the parties is strong without the other. No individual party in this country can win an election against the LCD (on its own). We are strong when we are united. 

LT: Will the LWP work with the ABC in parliament?

Billy: No, we are on our own. They will have to fight on their own.  We are now separate entities.

LT: So when are you planning to hand in your resignation as the ABC secretary general?

Billy: I am not going to resign. I will not allow the three men to unceremoniously undo what has been done by the ABC conference. I want to go to the conference and tell members all these issues. The conference will then give direction as to what should be done. Apart from that, I had a mandate from LWP to lead the party into this alliance and also to be elected into its executive committee. So, my next move will be directed by the LWP. Here, we are not like the ABC where a leader can make a big decision without consulting the party.

LT: What do you think is stopping Lesotho’s opposition parties from forming alliances to take on the LCD?

Billy: I think it is personal greed. It’s selfishness. Everybody thinks they can go it alone. Even Thabane thinks he can do it alone. That is why he has broken the alliance at a crucial moment like this. He thinks he can do it but he will realise that it’s not going to happen.

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