The four musketeers of Lesotho politics

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Machesetsa, Litjobo, Sekata, Ramatšella

Pascalinah Kabi

ANYONE who follows the politics of Lesotho would undoubtedly be familiar with the names, Thuso Litjobo, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Teboho Sekata and Bokang Ramatšella.

They are part of the emerging crop of Young Turks on the country’s political landscape and they take no political prisoners with their highly charged and often confrontational style which has won them friends and foes alike.

There is no median point in their approach and they are either loved or loathed by those who follow their public lives.

They are not afraid to trade barbs against each other and they are the four political musketeers who believe, rightly or wrongly that they are the future of this country’s politics and that their policies will ultimately free Lesotho from the clutches of corruption, poverty, unemployment and the current instability.

The four – Basotho National Party (BNP) spokesperson Mofomobe, Alliance of Democrats (AD) youth leader Litjobo, Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) spokesperson Sekata and Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) secretary general Ramatšella have been at the forefront of the political drama which has seen the collapse of the country’s two coalition governments.

Teboho Sekata

LCD Spokesperson, Teboho Sekata

Lesotho’s first coalition government comprising of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), LCD and BNP collapsed in 2014 and this led to snap elections in February 2015 which ushered in the outgoing seven parties coalition government.

Although Mr Sekata did not have a national position in the LCD at the time of the collapse of the Thomas Thabane-led coalition government (2012-2014), he was active at constituency level in Semonkong, Maseru.

His moment came after the LCD split in 2012 which led to the formation of the Democratic Congress (DC).

Some of the-then LCD youth leaders including Litjobo threw their lot with the DC and thus opened the way for the advent of Mr Sekata and others in the LCD.

Mr Sekata subsequently rose to his current position as spokesperson in the executive committee of LCD last year, a position which saw him play an increasingly important, if somewhat controversial role in national politics.

He was one of the key players in last year’s botched protest march against United States Ambassador Matthew Harrington, accusing him of meddling in Lesotho’s internal affairs.

At the time, Mr Sekata said “the American government undermines us and our decisions,” adding, “the fact that they are helping us does not give them the right to make demands on our country and how we should run it”.

The comments were made in response to a 2016 US government letter to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili signed by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Assistant Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser, which indicated Lesotho had not done enough to meet governance benchmarks in order to remain eligible to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

AGOA is a preferential trade concession which provides for duty-free and quota-free entry of goods into the US market from designated sub-Saharan African countries, including Lesotho, and applies to both textile and non-textile goods.

Lesotho’s manufacturing industry is anchored on AGOA, and without it the estimated 40,000 jobs in the industry could be lost.

Lesotho was accorded provisional eligibility for AGOA in 2017, which is conditional upon further progress in implementing reforms.

In his rather acerbic remarks, Mr Sekata demonstrated the fiery streak of a spokesperson who will readily defend his party and government’s policies at all costs.

In an interview with this publication, the Semonkong-born Mr Sekata traced his congress roots back to 1983 when his family was forced to seek political asylum in Botswana during the BNP regime.

“I started my primary school in 1980 at Mohloki Primary School and left in 1983 when my family was chased out of the country by the BNP government. We returned in 1985,” the 45-year-old politician said.

He said despite the early political leanings, he only became active in 2011.

Before then he was in the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) priesthood until 2003 and also had teaching stints at Semonkong High School and at Trinity High School.

He stood for elections as ‘Maletsunyane Constituency candidate under LCD banner in 2012 and although he lost, he never looked back.

Asked why he chose a political career given that some schools of thought strongly suggest that church and politics do not mix, Mr Sekata said politicians were also Christians and therefore spirituality was not necessarily incompatible with politics.

“The church also played a crucial role in Lesotho’s politics so you cannot separate the two as people need to balance their soul and body, meaning that the church and politics are needed for a balanced lifestyle,” Mr Sekata said.

Mr Sekata said he literally grew up in the party ranks from sub-branches to national executive committee.

“My educational background has also prepared me for this course. I don’t think anyone can say I speak for the sake of opening my mouth because I never go to a radio programme unprepared.

“Anyone of a public standing like me must go for a radio programme armed with facts and evidence to back up such facts to avoid being embarrassed,” he said.

Mr Sekata is number seven on LCD Proportional Representation (PR) List for the upcoming 3 June national elections.

 Thuso Litjobo

ALLIANCE of Democrats (AD) youth league president Thuso Litjobo

While Mr Litjobo’s departure to DC might have opened up a window of opportunity for Mr Sekata, the former’s political activism continues to grow with each passing day.

Referred to as the ‘Malema’ of Lesotho after Julius Malema the firebrand leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, Mr Litjobo has been labelled by some as one of the architects of party splits.

He was a player in the LCD/DC split in 2012 just as he was involved in the more recent DC split which gave birth to his current party, the AD in December 2016.

And his combative style has landed him in trouble as evidenced by his frequent spats with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) who have arrested him on several occasions in recent months.

Yet this has not dimmed the fighting spirit and as he continues his political development.

“I am used to victimisation. I suffered at the hands of the-then LCD leader ntate Pakalitha Mosisili and secretary general ntate Mpho Malie for simply speaking out my mind.

“I never hide my opinion whether it’s going to hurt someone or not but I say it,” Mr Litjobo recently told this publication.

He said he owed his political growth and development to the late Basotho Congress Party (BCP) senior official Mofelehetsi Moerane who mentored him from the tender age of 15 when he joined the congress movement.

The Ha Rantšetse-born politician said he was a “naughty young politician” in 1997 when a BCP split gave birth to the LCD.

He however said he became a different character under the guidance of Mr Moerane.

“Because I was steadily maturing in politics, I actively participated in the drafting of the LCD constitution.

“In 2006 I was elected youth league deputy spokesperson and I wasn’t even aware that I was a threat to ntate Mosisili and ntate Mpho Malie who victimised me to an extent that I was suspended for five months,” Mr Litjobo said.

He said it was against this background that he had been very vocal on the controversial vehicle fleet services contract government signed last year with South African firm Bidvest Bank Limited.

The deal which reportedly flouted tender procedures has cost government millions of maloti and will be terminated at the end of this month.

Mr Litjobo was one of the young politicians who spoke against the deal and it was one of the issues cited in the DC split which gave birth to his current AD party.

“And once again I am being victimised by some of the people I worked very hard to get where they are today.

“If I didn’t work hard to expose the Bidvest deal the government would still be in place so I am glad I fought for the people, not for corrupt politicians,” Mr Litjobo said, adding that he had to join forces with the likes of the outspoken BNP spokesperson Mofomobe to expose the Bidvest deal.

 Machesetsa Mofomobe

BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe

Popularly known as Cheese, Mr Mofomobe is one of the ‘four musketeers’ who says his allegiance is with the people and not politicians.

Mr Mofomobe said he proved that he was for the people during tenure of the ABC/LCD/BNP coalition government in 2014 when he publicly exchanged words with the government, condemning it for shooting nurses during an industrial action by Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) staffers.

“My loyalty is with the people, not a political party. Having grown up in the midst of my uncles, Selala Bereng Sekhonyana, Retšelisitsoe Sekhonyana and Nehemiah ‘Maseribane, I learnt to fight for a good cause, which is why I always fight for the people regardless of who is hurting them,” he said.

Mr Mofomobe who claims to have developed an interest in politics at the age of 12, said the BNP-led government “overstayed its welcome during the Leabua Jonathan regime” (1966 to 1986).

“I believe in the rule of law and I think we (BNP) overstayed our welcome. We should have normalised things and ushered Lesotho into democratic elections instead of waiting to be overthrown,” he said, adding that he learnt from that experience that democracy was necessary for people to express their views.

The Thetsane Constituency candidate who joined forces with Mr Litjobo and ABC youth leader Mphonyane Lebesa to expose the Bidvest fleet scandal, said fighting corruption knew no political affiliation.

“I hate corruption, hypocrisy and people who enrich themselves at the expense of poor people. I investigate a lot of things and that includes Lebelonyane issue which we fought against despite that they were in my camp,” he said.

Lebelonyane is a joint venture company that had been shortlisted for the fleet services tender. It took the government to court seeking an order to stop the government from engaging Bidvest.

He however, said it was unfortunate that this had resulted in his alleged victimisation by the government through constant arrests which had drained him financially.

“I will continue to fight this government as long as there is no rule of law and there are so many corruption cases. I don’t hate them because they are legitimate and I respect the choice of the people for putting them in power.

“But I hate their actions and any government which doesn’t operate within the constraints of law, even if it is my party will not have my support. I will speak out like I did in 2012 until such matters are addressed.

“I don’t care who is in government, a wrong is a wrong. And if my speaking means I will be victimised, my oppressors should know that I am not afraid of being victimised but that makes me even more determined to fight for a good cause,” Mr Mofomobe said.

Of his many political fights Mr Mofomobe will probably be best remembered for stating that they would hunt down, arrest and tie Mr Bokang Ramatšella with a rope for allegedly insulting King Letsie III.

Bokang Ramatšella

Secretary General of Lesotho progressive Congress, Mr Bokang Ramatšella

Mr Ramatšella has since appeared before the Magistrate’s Court charged with contravening section 79(2) of the Penal Code Act No.6 of 2010, read with section 79(1) for remarks he allegedly made during a Thaha-Khube FM programme on 27 January 2017.

According to the charge sheet, the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) official “unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly” committed an act “calculated to violate the dignity and injure the reputation of His Majesty and/or the Royal Family” during a programme called Khakhathane-ea-likhang.

Mr Ramatšella is also accused of appealing to His Majesty to “refrain from engaging in politics regardless of whether he supports the opposition or government”.

But inspite of the controversy, Mr Ramatšella reportedly continues to attract a strong listenership during his radio programmes on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“That is where I beat most people. Speaking is a skill, not everyone can open their mouths and be able to command the authority I have and influence people’s thinking,” the 40-year-old Khubetsoana-born politician said.

“A lot of things happen before my programmes but mainly I do my research, make sure that I have documents to support my statements and I rehearse beforehand.

“I go as far as planning the songs I will play to ensure that I change people’s moods. I decide when to make people angry or happy and I effortlessly achieve that,” he added.

He said he got attracted to the congress movement during his formative years in the dusty streets of Khubetsoana which exposed him to the “atrocities” of the BNP government in the 1980s.

“I have experiences that shaped my political career. One of those was in 1985 when I felt our shack moving while we were sleeping at around 4 am. I later learnt that my family was being attacked by soldiers who had been sent by (the-then Prime Minister Leabua) Jonathan.

“There was a donga next to where we used to play and in it we often discovered dead bodies with gunshot wounds and we discovered that they were killed by the army.

“The other experience was witnessing a white lecturer kicking a black student in front of the whole class and that’s when I got to fully understand issues of racism,” he said about his political development.

 

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