Thabane breathes fire

  • I have nothing to discuss with Mahao
  • premier angered by Prof Mahao’s claims of a dictatorship in the ABC and in govt

Limpho Sello/ ’Marafaele Mohloboli

HOPES of a deal to end the infighting in the All Basotho Convention (ABC) are all but dead in the water after ABC leader and Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, launched a blistering attack on his deputy in the ABC, Professor Nqosa Mahao, saying he had “nothing to discuss with him”.

Instead, the gloves are off in the high-stakes leadership contest pitting the duo after Dr Thabane angrily reacted to Prof Mahao’s blistering attack on his administration. Prof Mahao alleged that there were clear signs of a dictatorship in the manner that both the ABC and government were being run.

Dr Thabane began by acknowledging the impasse in the ABC talks when the Lesotho Times contacted him yesterday. He added that the warring national executive committee (NEC) factions had approached him to intervene to save the party from possible collapse.

His tone changed to anger when he was asked to comment on the weekend claims by Prof Mahao that there were clear signs of a dictatorship in both party and government as seen through the old NEC’s refusal to hand over power to the new NEC and the closure of parliament among other things.

The two were supposed to meet yesterday and discuss the infighting in the ABC but Dr Thabane told the Lesotho Times he had no business engaging Prof Mahao on anything and there was nothing that needed to be resolved in the ABC.

“He (Prof Mahao) is not answerable to me, he is answerable perhaps to his wife. He is not answerable to me at all. Everybody is answerable to themselves in a free world and if he is saying the kind of things he is saying it is his business and it has got nothing to do with me.”

On being asked whether he would still engage Prof Mahao in talks to end the infighting in the ABC, Dr Thabane replied by asking, “Why should I engage him? What do I want from him? What do you think I want from that guy?”

When it was put to him that he needs to hold talks with Prof Mahao to resolve the ABC crisis, Dr Thabane again said, “There are no issues in the ABC”.

It could not be established whether or not Dr Thabane was aware of yesterday morning’s court order by the Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase which nullified the election of Prof Mahao and others to the ABC’s NEC (See lead story).

Justice Mahase’s order means that Prof Mahao and others can no longer claim to be the new NEC and there is likely no reason to engage them in talks.

The talks have since been declared as “dead” by the spokesperson of the pro-Mahao faction, Montoeli Masoetsa. Mr Masoetsa said there was no point in negotiating with the other faction because Dr Thabane had not approached the talks in good faith.

“Though the talks between the outgoing committee and our in-coming committee were scheduled for today (yesterday) in the presence of the leader (Dr Thabane), they have died.

“There shall never be any talks, not today, not ever. We have reached a point of no return because the talks were not in good faith. The Prime Minister’s wife, says her husband has gone to seek medical attention in South Africa, but when other people call the premier, he tells them that he is at the State House resting. This means he (Dr Thabane) is just buying time and the talks are not going to do us any good as they are in bad faith,” Mr Masoetsa said.

The premier’s anger also stemmed from this weekend’s blistering attack by Prof Mahao on his (Dr Thabane’s) administration. The outgoing National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor charged that all the signs of a dictatorship were now evident in the manner that both party and government were being run.

Prof Mahao said this while addressing thousands of ABC supporters at a rally in Pela-Tšoeu in the Leribe district on Sunday. His unprecedented attack comes at a time when he has revealed that talks between the warring ABC’s NEC factions to resolve their power struggle have reached a dead end and any deal can only be through the intervention of Dr Thabane.

Prof Mahao clinched the deputy leader’s post at the 1-2 February 2019 conference but he and the rest of the new NEC have been blocked from assuming office by the old NEC which allege that the party elections were rigged.

The old NEC, which is said to enjoy Dr Thabane’s backing, has declared that it is only prepared to compromise and allow the new NEC into office if Prof Mahao steps down as deputy leader. It says that Prof Mahao, who joined the ABC in 2015, is a “relative newcomer” who should not be allowed to succeed Dr Thabane ahead of more seasoned ABC politicians who formed the party almost 13 years ago in 2006.

In addition, ABC cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency) filed a court application seeking the nullification of the election of the new NEC because of alleged vote rigging. The trio wants the High Court to order fresh polls.

A court order issued by Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase for the two NEC factions to negotiate an out-of-court settlement lapsed on 19 March 2019 without any tangible outcome as the two sides refused to budge from their entrenched positions.

The old NEC had demanded that Prof Mahao steps down from the deputy leader’s post as a precondition to allowing the rest of the new NEC to assume office. The new NEC refused to accept the demand hence the cancellation of the talks and the lapse of the period for an out of court settlement.  Justice Mahase must now resume hearing the case filed by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane. She has not done so because she has been absent from work due to ill health.

Two months ago, 21 ABC legislators appended their signatures to a petition calling on Dr Thabane to resolve the power struggle in favour of the new NEC. Dr Thabane has himself, acknowledged the infighting, warning that if not resolved urgently, this could lead to the split of the party and the collapse of the government.

While expressing his disdain for the old NEC, Prof Mahao has steered clear of any direct attacks on Dr Thabane who allegedly backs the old NEC. However, his Sunday claims of an apparent dictatorship in the manner in which both party and government are run, suggest that the gloves may finally be off in the battle for the heart and soul of the ABC. A party source said Prof Mahao’s allegations showed that he had cast off all restraint and was now willing to go toe to toe with Dr Thabane as the ABC infighting continues to scale new, unprecedented heights.

The source further said that Prof Mahao’s unbridled attack, which comes at a time when he and Dr Thabane are supposed to be negotiating an end to the infighting in the ABC, testifies to the futility of the talks which have since been declared as “dead” by the spokesperson of the pro-Mahao faction, Montoeli Masoetsa.

Prof Mahao told the Sunday rally that even if Dr Thabane were to breathe new life into the negotiations, his faction would not “sell out” their supporters by accepting any deal except the one that would see them take up their rightful positions as the new ABC’s NEC. (See story on page 8).

He chronicled how the “dictatorship” within the ABC and government manifested itself, beginning with the refusal by senior party officials in the party’s old NEC to hand over power to a new NEC which was elected at the party’s 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference.

Prof Mahao said the dictatorship also began to manifest itself in the manner that the government has been run, through the closure of parliament, the alleged capture of the judiciary and the refusal to open the Court of Appeal.

He said he was currently reading a book called the ‘Dictator’s Hand Book’ and Lesotho was experiencing the signs of a dictatorship as described in that book.

He said when Basotho elected the ABC in the 2017 national elections, they were voting for change and democracy because they wanted to move away from the “government of the Goliaths” of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ regime and not the current dictatorship.

However, according to Prof Mahao, Basotho’s hopes for democracy had been dashed by the old NEC which refused to acknowledge and hand over power to a new NEC which voters chose in the exercise of their democratic rights in line with the ABC’s constitution.

“The old NEC is clinging on to power although they lost the elections. They even chose to file a case in court that remains pending and this interference with the courts will result in the public losing its trust in the courts of law,” Professor Mahao said.

“It is very said to see some of own refuse to hand over power when in 2017 the parties that lost the national elections never refused to hand over power even when they had concerns about the outcome of the polls.

“They (parties that lost the 2017 elections) handed over power and after that they sought the court’s intervention which gave its ruling (against them). But in our own (ABC) house, the other faction chose to cling to power and capture the courts to their own advantage. This again is a sign of dictatorship,” Professor Mahao said, adding that other signs of a dictatorship include the closure of parliament and the suspension of the Court of Appeal.

Parliament was indefinitely suspended early last month amid widespread speculation that the move was aimed at starving off a possible vote of no confidence against Dr Thabane while creating time for him to resolve the power struggle within the ABC.

The motion for the adjournment of parliament was not even debated and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Lehloenya simply announced the indefinite closure of parliament without a vote on the issue.

According to Standing Order #18, the speaker or his deputy is allowed to indefinitely suspend the sittings of the National Assembly if at the official time of the closing of parliament, a motion has not been debated or voted on.

Parliament was closed at a time when the ABC’s pro-Mahao legislator for the Mosalemane constituency, Samuel Rapapa, was pushing for the amendment of parliamentary Standing Order Number 111 to enable legislators to vote in secret on a motion of no confidence against a sitting prime minister. This is said to have thrown the pro-Thabane camp and the ABC’s governing allies into a state of panic.

Some government and ABC sources told this publication that the motion to indefinitely adjourn the sittings of the National Assembly was a direct response to Mr Rapapa’s motion, which despite the latter’s repeated denials, was seen by Dr Thabane’s loyalists as part of an elaborate move by the new NEC to get rid of Dr Thabane because of his apparent support for the old NEC. Mr Rapapa is the incoming chair in the new NEC.

The Court of Appeal was supposed to begin its April session on 15 April but up to now it has not been opened with the Acting Registrar of the High Court, Pontšo Phafoli, saying it was suspended because of the shortage of funds for its operations.

There are widespread allegations that the suspension was a politically motivated decision aimed at ensuring that the new ABC’s NEC does not appeal to the apex court in the event that it loses its High Court dispute with party’s old NEC.

Last Friday, hundreds of ABC members including the new NEC’s chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, joined hands with opposition Democratic Congress (DC) and Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) supporters to stage a protest march against the Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, who they accuse of being a willing tool of the government in its alleged quest to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

In an unprecedented show of unity, supporters of the three parties coalesced under the banner of the Voice of the Voiceless Association (VOVA), a civil society organisation and marched from Sethaleng Sa Mopapa to the High Court in Maseru to demand the ouster of Justice Mahase.

The ABC supporters are livid with Justice Mahase who they accuse of deliberately failing to speedily resolve the case in which the February 2019 election of the new ABC’s NEC is being challenged by some ABC ministers.

Prominent members of the new ABC’s NEC have taken turns to publicly attack Justice Mahase over the delay in finalising the case. Three weeks ago, Mr Rapapa, said he had proposed the protests against Justice Mahase.

“This case (against the election of the new NEC) was supposed to be treated as an urgent application because that is what it was when it was filed in February.  But surprisingly, the case has been dragging for very dubious reasons. First it was Advocate Ranale Thoahlane who got ‘sick’.

“I suspect that she (Justice Mahase) has been promised the post of Chief Justice on a permanent basis once the outstanding issues have been ironed out with the current Chief Justice,” Mr Rapapa said.

He further said that Justice Mahase has been holding secret meetings with some “top people” in the government “who are influential and have the power to make decisions to appoint the Chief Justice”.

The incoming ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, was even more scathing in his criticism of the judiciary and in particular, Justice Mahase, who he suggested had feigned illness so that she could delay hearing the case.

And on Sunday, Prof Mahao said he was perplexed by the closure of parliament and the failure to open the Court of Appeal which were clear signs of the dictatorship that has taken hold in government.

Prof Mahao is on record saying the new NEC will appeal to the apex court if they lose the case in which their election is being challenged.

“When you close parliament and the Court of Appeal for your own intentions this shows that you are now a dictator, it’s a sign of dictatorship,” Prof Mahao said.

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