The gravy train needs no talkers

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Mahao Mahao

IN a morning programme on Harvest FM last week, one of the lieutenants in the current government was on air to share with the nation what had transpired at a rally convened by Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) in Leribe the previous Sunday. PFD is special in two ways in the current context. Firstly it is a party that was founded in 1991 with the late Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao being one of its founding members. It may have therefore come as a shock to many PFD sympathizers that the party ended up joining a conglomeration of congress splinters to emerge with the most heavily patched up government in Lesotho’s history. Even a broken leg with seven patches can no longer be called a leg; amputation would be its only saviour. This is a government that stands tall in the literal meaning of the expression.

Secondly, PFD is special in that a government they are part of is the one whose army assassinated its founding member Lt-Gen Mahao. There shall forever be documented history to this effect; whether it becomes a source of pride or shame for the current leadership of PFD, it is for them to weigh, analyse and synthesise. In a principled society where conscience, accountability and the rule of law reign supreme, PFD would have long pulled out of such a government. But this is Lesotho where negative talk is banned once you have comfortably settled on your seat in the gravy train. Where the train is heading for does not matter; what matters is that you are in it and enjoying the luxurious ride. From time to time, a small makeshift table in front is folded up and a sumptuous meal is served. Those on a journey in this train have to show the best of table manners by shutting their mouths otherwise they might choke or spill the contents of the plate in front of them. All they wish for is that the train does not stall or stutter, or worse chuck some of them out of their comfortable ride back to the reality that they seem to forget as soon as they grow long wings of power.

What most Basotho do not know is that Thabang Kholumo who was on Harvest FM last week, was the same man who turned up at the home of Maaparankoe’s brother – just after the heinous assassination to tell the family and those present that evening what his Prime Minister had said about the circumstances of his killing. Despite having listened to the family version of events, he still appeared more interested in the shameless lies that were being propagated by his beloved government. He was nearly chewed up alive that evening. I am not sure what saved him. The wounds were still fresh at the time and to listen to a member of PFD, the party that Maaparankoe had founded, show solidarity with a government whose army (probably under instruction by some in the same government) had just committed murder was unbelievable.

You need not go far to discover how political allegiance breeds politicians who sing far louder than the choir master himself. A cluster of ministers around Jacob Zuma has ensured his continued stay at the helm of state power despite his scandal-ridden history along with the selfishly wasteful Nkandlagate that refuses to go away and has released a fart that seems to linger forever in the atmosphere. The one shining beacon in this saga is Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector (Ombudsman in Lesotho) who stands firm and does not intend to yield to the pressure exerted on her by those who continue to support Zuma’s compromised personality. There is a vast array of vocabulary to describe the type of people Zuma surrounds himself with: lapdogs, lackeys, hangers-on, opportunists, boot-lickers and many more. These guys will lick the master’s boots no matter what has soiled them. They cannot risk privileges for the sake of principles and good governance. Usually these are the type of people who would struggle to get jobs anywhere else in the national economy except where they currently are hence the fear of losing the bread that’s buttered on both sides is not too inconceivable.

As the PFD and other (even smaller) parties – together with the numerous government spokespersons – continue to shout that the recommendations by the Phumaphi Commission are not binding to the government, one senses a protection of privileges as opposed to representing good principles and governance, integrity, accountability and the rule of law. All these groupings would rather support a compromised government and its army than lose the privileged lifestyle they currently enjoy. They will continue to back up a government whose pants are already at the knees and show greater propensity to go further down than upwards.

Those who listened to Harvest Radio last week may have also heard when PFD suddenly registered their condemnation of the assassination of Lt-Gen Mahao. This was very interesting coming exactly six months after his death. The most obvious question, of course, is why only now? What PFD will not tell the nation is that they are a party under immense pressure from some of their key allies both at home and abroad. Some of the latest developments have to do with Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), a long-time sympathizer of PFD. This Union had, for many years, pledged its support to PFD but have lately made the party aware that they will not be supporting them in view of how they handled the Maaparankoe killing and their continued allegiance to a government that remains one of the chief suspects in his death. The decision by LTTU is almost akin to that of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) who withdrew from COSATU, a long-time traditional ally of the ruling ANC, due to factors such as the expulsion of Zwelinzima Vavi, the bloody state-sponsored Marikana massacre and the compromised and scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma.

Perhaps the abrupt u-turn by PFD to condemn the killing of Maaparankoe is a result of sudden awareness that loss of public support will eventually result in loss of political power. In case PFD still has doubts over the repercussions that may unfold in the months and years ahead, they should just pay a quick visit to one of their partners in government – the LCD – to find out how in just over two years 12 constituencies became two. In just that period, 26 members of parliament in 2012 for the LCD had shrunk to just 14 in 2015. That is the meaning of political support. It is cruel and humiliating to those who think the public does not care about what is happening around them. Today, the LCD is probably even more damaged than it was in 2015. Only those who lead the party may not acknowledge this glaring reality. If the LCD was a property put up for sale, it would surely fetch less than a quarter of its original value.

The question then for PFD is whether, in the next election, they will manage the modest achievement of the current two parliamentary seats. A rude awakening may be lying on their path and Maaparankoe Mahao may well deliver a defining blow to the party even from the darkness of his grave in Mokema.

Mahao Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesoth

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