- Deputy Prime Minister Moleleki steps in as Phamotse and Litjobo allegedly face-off in power struggle
DEPUTY Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki was this week forced to step in to diffuse escalating tensions which are threatening to tear apart his Alliance of Democrats (AD) party.
This was after youths said to be loyal to party spokesperson Thuso Litjobo recently set fire to party property in a violent demonstration against the secretary general, Mahali Phamotse.
The AD is one of the four parties in the year-old governing coalition along with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) which is having its own internal fights which have seen at least three senior officials being suspended from the party or kicked out of government.
So vicious and violent is the power struggle within the AD that the insiders allege that Mr Litjobo recently organised a mob to burn party property at the AD’s Maseru East offices. The demonstrators wanted Dr Phamotse fired from her party position and from government where she holds the post of Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation.
Mr Litjobo, who is also a legislator through the proportional representation system, has however, denied orchestrating the violence which saw youths set fire which destroyed office property.
The destroyed property includes a machine used to process membership cards, a computer, two doors, sofas, eight plastic chairs and table cloths.
The mob accused Dr Phamotse of fanning factionalism and other offences which have allegedly brought the party into disrepute. The party youths alleged that Dr Phamotse was behind the formation of a faction calling itself Babochabela (those who come from the Northern region).
They further accused Dr Phamotse of firing two AD members from her ministry and replacing them with a member of former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) party which is now in the opposition. The AD is a splinter party from the DC.
The demonstrators subsequently handed over a petition to the AD’s deputy leader, Ntoi Rapapa.
“This petition serves to show that we no longer want ‘M’e Mahali Phamotse as the party secretary general or as Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation,” part of the petition states, adding, “Her removal will protect the good image of AD, the coalition government and His Majesty King Letsie III’s image as head of Lesotho”.
The petitioners further said “the secretary general (Phamotse) is embarrassing us by employing her own children through corrupt means and one of her children receives a salary from the Ministry of Water despite the fact that the child in question does not work at that ministry”.
However, Mr Moleleki had no kind words for the violent youths when he addressed them and other party supporters at the party offices early this week.
He said although their actions warranted arson charges, he had pleaded with the police to “have mercy on them only for this time”.
He however, said he would not make it a habit to plead with the police to forgive anyone who had committed a crime. He added that no one, including His Majesty King Letsie III, Prime Minister Thabane, cabinet ministers and himself had any right to tell the police how to do their job.
“What you did was a clear sign of disrespect for me as the leader of this party because you should have come to me when you had grievances instead of burning our property which has been donated by good Samaritans,” Mr Moleleki said, adding such behaviour was bound to undo the work that was being done to attract new members.
“If there is any adult who is behind this, I don’t know what to say to them. The people who are behind these actions must know that AD will not offer them any assistance in times of trouble. The AD will not go out of its way to pay legal fees for you and you will be on your own.
“I was in Cape Town when I received a call alerting me of the actions of the youth and I immediately ordered that the matter be reported to the police because arson is a crime,” Mr Moleleki said, adding, he subsequently made an about-turn and asked the police to “have mercy on the youths” because he had forgiven them.
He said the youths’ recklessness had forced him into pleading with the police to let them go free, adding this was something he had never done before.
“What you did didn’t sit well with me. I have never done this before in my life. No one is allowed to tell the police how to do their job and I am not telling them how to do it. But I am only pleading for mercy on your behalf. Please don’t put me in a tight spot by destroying property when you are angry.
“Please understand that what you did was wrong and I condemn your actions. I am only asking for mercy on your behalf because you are still young and don’t know how things work.”
Mr Moleleki said it was particularly galling that the violence was committed at a time when he was out of the country with the chief executive officer of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), Mohato Seleke, “to negotiate with one of the big investors who wants to invest in this country”.
He said the party youths were wrong in thinking that errant AD members could not be fired from government, adding that any Mosotho who violated their contractual obligations with the government was bound to sacked.
He however, said he had pleaded with Dr Phamotse to postpone the legal measures she had planned against the two AD members who were employed in her ministry. He said the postponement would enable him (Mr Moleleki) to first address the party youths.
“The Secretary General briefed me on this matter and I asked her to halt the process to allow me to first address you. The fact that she is taking legal measures against AD members pained you but you are wrong to think that AD members cannot be fired. AD members will be fired from this government and if you think that cannot happen, then you are misdirected.”
AD sources told this publication that Dr Phamotse’s contemplated measures against the two AD members were seized upon by Mr Litjobo and his supporters in their ongoing power struggle with the former.
The sources said the Phamotse-Litjobo spat had its genesis in the struggle for power prior to the party’s elective conference in March this year where Dr Phamotse emerged as the secretary general.
Mr Litjobo, Dr Phamotse and former secretary general, Mokhele Moletsane had all been asked by Mr Moleleki to withdraw from the race for the secretary general’s post for fear that the election of any one of them could cause divisions among their supporters which could weaken the party.
“All these three are my handiwork because I am the one who politically mentored them when they joined politics more than 11 years ago. I know their capabilities and flaws. I therefore, advise you not to elect one and let the other two fall. It is your choice at the end of the day but please make sure that you don’t make decisions that you will regret later,” Mr Moleleki said on the eve of the party’s elective conference in March.
Only Mr Litjobo heeded Mr Moleleki’s call and withdrew his candidature, leaving Ms Phamotse to slug it out with Mr Moletsane.
This week the sources said that “prior to the elective conference, there were three camps- that of ‘M’e Mahali, Ntate Litjobo and Ntate Moletsane”.
“’M’e Mahali and Ntate Litjobo joined forces against the group that supported Ntate Moletsane. They were victorious and their alliance worked well until Ntate Litjobo started accusing ‘M’e Mahali of enjoying cordial relations with Ntate Moletsane’s camp.
“It must be understood that while it is normal for any entity to go into elective conference divided, every leader voted into power should work to unite the same camps that went into the elective conference divided,” one source, said, adding Mr Litjobo was miffed by Dr Phamotse’s attempts to reconcile with Mr Moletsane after her election.
Another source said Mr Litjobo should shoulder the blame for the damage caused by the mob.
“Ntate Litjobo sent the youths to destroy the property. That is how he operates. He organised the naïve youth members to fight his own battles and to make matters even worse, his two wives were among the youths that stormed the party office. How can Ntate Litjobo say he did not know about this (storming of the party offices) beforehand when his wives were part of it? He was behind this and the leadership of the AD knows about that,” the source said.
Contacted for comment, Mr Litjobo however, denied the allegations, saying “the problem with you journalists is coming to me with statements made by anonymous sources and you want me to respond to faceless individuals”.
“I am only going to give you a response because I respect you. Otherwise I don’t have the time and energy to entertain allegations made by faceless people. Go and tell your sources that o ntsa pota (loosely translated to mean that ‘your source is talking nonsense’).
“If your source is an AD member, he should have listened to our leader on Sunday and stop behaving like a rebel and criminal.
“I wonder who they (the sources) are taking after because the AD was not founded on the basis of lies but honesty and unity that our leader preaches. On the issue of my wives, let me just say that all the things your sources have told you are lies,” Mr Litjobo said.