Thabane suspends NEC member as ABC rifts escalate

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. . . suspended official seen as “Majoro loyalist”  

Nthatuoa Koeshe

ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has flexed his muscles by suspending the party’s national executive committee (NEC) member, Keketso Lepheane.

Mr Lepheane was suspended over his social media utterances questioning why the ABC’s recent 15th anniversary celebrations were held at Mr Thabane’s Makhoakhoeng, Ha-Abia, home instead of some other neutral place. His suspension is with effect from 19 October 2021.

ABC insiders say Mr Lepheane is an outspoken supporter of ABC deputy leader and Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who is locked in a battle for supremacy with Mr Thabane in the ruling but faction-ridden party.

They say his suspension is aimed at neutralising Dr Majoro’s support base in the NEC and other party structures.

There is no love lost between Mr Thabane and Dr Majoro who replaced the former as premier in May 2020. This after the ABC’s NEC had resolved that the party’s then 81-year-old founding leader had become a liability due to his age and his alleged failure to stop his wife, ‘Maesaiah, from meddling in party and government affairs. In addition, the party also wanted Mr Thabane (now 82) to step aside and clear his name first over sensational allegations that he and ‘Maesaiah, had murdered his ex-wife, Lipolelo, on 14 June 2017.

It remains to be seen if their much-anticipated trial will eventually get underway in the High Court. But in the meantime, Mr Thabane has taken advantage of the fights between leadership hopefuls such as Dr Majoro, secretary general Lebohang Hlaele and chairperson Samuel Rapapa to claw back and regain some of the political clout he used to enjoy within the party.

Insiders say that he is keen on leading the party into next year’s elections and reclaiming the premiership in the event of an ABC victory. Other party stalwarts say they will push for an early elective conference to have him replaced as party leader before the 2022 general elections.

Mr Thabane’s refusal to exit the scene hitherto has in recent weeks fuelled intense factionalism manifested by among other things, the failure by some party stalwarts, including Dr Majoro, to attend the 15th anniversary at Mr Thabane’s home.

Mr Lepheane was among those who snubbed the celebrations. Besides him and Dr Majoro, others who did not attend are deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi, Messrs Rapapa, Masoetsa and Ms Doti.

Mr Hlaele, a Thabane loyalist and son-in-law to the former prime minister, described the quintet’s no-show as “unacceptable” and a clear example of their ill-discipline.

Dr Majoro and others later said they had not snubbed the event. They said they were committed elsewhere on the day. In any event, Mr Hlaele had not properly communicated about the event through the official party channels, Dr Majoro said.

Mr Lepheane was nevertheless not as diplomatic about his no-show at the anniversary celebrations. He is said to have questioned the decision to hold the event at Mr Thabane’s home.

Mr Hlaele did not take kindly to Mr Lepheane’s utterances. He subsequently sent an audio recording to fellow NEC members questioning why Mr Lepheane had issues with the staging of the event at Mr Thabane’s residence when he was “always running” to Prime Minister Majoro’s official State House residence to discuss party issues.

In the same audio, which was leaked to the Lesotho Times last week, Mr Hlaele also threatened disciplinary measures against Mr Lepheane and anyone else fomenting divisions in the party he claimed to be working very hard to re-unite after the messy April 2021 split which saw former deputy leader Nqosa Mahao leave to form his own Basotho Action Party (BAP). Mokhotlong legislator and former cabinet minister, Tefo Mapesela, also dumped the ABC to form his own Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP).

It appears the writing was therefore on the wall for Mr Lepheane once Mr Hlaele had threatened action against him.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Thabane has now pulled the trigger against the little-known NEC member.

“As the leader of ABC, I have learned of the things you said on social media on 15 October after I asked the general secretary (Hlaele) to arrange a meeting with constituency committees for the party’s 15th anniversary commemorations,” Mr Thabane states in his 19 October 2021 letter to Mr Lepheane.

“You made an announcement on social media that party issues should not be discussed at anyone’s home. Accordingly, I am suspending you from all the committees of the party with immediate effect,” Mr Thabane states.

The ABC leader does not indicate the duration of Mr Lepheane’s suspension or elaborate on what measures will be taken against him.

Mr Lepheane said he was not aware of his suspension. He said he had only seen a letter purporting to suspend him on social media but had not been formally served with it.

“I have not received the letter yet I have seen it circulating on social media,” Mr Lepheane said, adding, he would continue as an NEC member until he had been served with the suspension letter.

ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, insisted that Mr Lepheane had indeed been suspended by Mr Thabane.

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