Why I didn’t attend Matekane’s inauguration: Mokhothu

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FOLLOWING his stunning 7 October 2022 election victory, Prime Minister Sam Matekane was sworn in on 28 October 2022 in front of several regional leaders and international development partners at a fully packed and rocking Setsoto Stadium in Maseru.

South African President and SADC facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa, graced the event along with several members of his government as well as opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader, Julius Malema. Also in attendance was Namibian President, Hage Geingob. He is also chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

Other presidents who graced the event were Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema and Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi. His predecessor, Ian Khama, also attended while Zimbabwe was represented by its Foreign Affairs minister, Frederick Shava.

As a show of confidence in the new government, United States President, Joe Biden, sent a high-powered delegation led by Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) CEO, Alice Albright. In May this year, the MCC and the former government signed a lucrative US$300 million deal for a second MCC compact to fund various projects aimed at fostering socio-economic growth in Lesotho.

Former Prime Ministers Thomas Thabane and Pakalitha Mosisili were there to witness the passing on of the baton to a new leader chosen in elections which both had not contested for the first time since they entered the political arena several decades ago. Both are no longer at the helm of their beloved All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Democratic Congress (DC) parties which they founded in 2006 and 2012 respectively. Even immediate former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro attended the event but given the openly hostile reception which he received from the crowd, mainly comprising supporters of Mr Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party, he could be kicking himself for not staying away from the function as most other career politicians from other political parties. As he read his handover speech, the boisterous crowd roundly booed each and every word he uttered.

While several career politicians were noticeably absent from the inauguration, the absence of former deputy prime minister and now Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu, really caught the eye. There were claims in some quarters that he had not attended the event out of sour grapes because his party came a distant second with a combined 29 seats, dashing his hopes of landing the coveted post of premier.

The Lesotho Times (LT)’s Special Assignments Editor, Bongiwe Zihlangu, caught up with Mr Mokhothu to hear from the horse’s mouth why he snubbed Mr Matekane’s inauguration. In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Mokhothu also discusses the way forward for his party after last month’s polls.

Excerpts:

LT: Why didn’t you attend Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s inauguration? Expectations were that, as an immediate former deputy prime minister, you would grace the occasion.

Mokhothu: During the election campaign, I realised that RFP supporters went out of their way to intimidate supporters of other parties. They were a bit violent. They would use their party’s (Moruo) slogan and gestures to stir up trouble. A party’s slogan is not meant to harass others, but RFP members used it to undermine and provoke other parties’ members.

I didn’t attend Mr Matekane’s inauguration because I had foreseen that his supporters would behave like ABC members, who in 2017, mockingly carried a coffin around Setsoto Stadium to symbolise the burial of the DC (which had lost the June 2017 elections). It was against this background that I decided I would not go (to Matekane’s inauguration).

LT: You’ve said before that the RFP is yet to reprimand its supporters for what you consider to be their “unsavoury” behaviour at the prime minister’s inauguration. Please elaborate.

Mokhothu: Yes, the RFP is still silent. Nobody from that party has ever come out publicly to reprimand its supporters or even distance the party from their actions. All the political leaders who were given a platform to speak at the inauguration did not address the issue of RFP supporters insulting senior people. You saw how former Prime Minister Majoro was heckled by RFP supporters while he delivered his exit speech. That is despite complaints from many quarters including the public. Nobody said anything or addressed the issue and to me, that is failure of leadership. It is wrong for a leader not to reprimand his supporters when they insult leaders of other parties. If the RFP has decided to leave things as they are, then they must know that one day their supporters will turn on them. They will insult them. In the past, we have seen supporters insulting leaders of other parties, only to turn against their own leaders later. The RFP will go down the same route.

LT: In the run up to last month’s elections, you were upbeat and positive that you and your party had done enough to win the elections but that did not happen. How are you taking your defeat by the RFP? 

Mokhothu: This is not the first time that the DC is in the opposition. Look, when you go to elections you expect two things: to win or to lose. We present our manifesto to the people and whether they were sold on it or not is their decision. If they decide to give us enough votes to govern, we will serve them. If they decide that we must be in the opposition, then that’s where we will be. We will continue pursuing good governance from the opposition benches.

LT: This is your second stint as Leader of Opposition in Parliament; the first being between 2017 and May 2019. What are you going to do differently this time? What differences are we likely to see in the DC’s approach to issues in parliament? 

Mokhothu: The course remains the same, full steam ahead. We will support the government where it does right by Basotho and reprimand it where it errs, both in parliament and outside. The only difference will be in the energy applied depending on the magnitude of the government’s errors. As the DC leadership elected in 2019, we went on the ground, holding rallies across the country to engage with the grassroots and establish ourselves. In a similar vein, we will hold rallies to market ourselves and grow the party. We will be a strong opposition. We are far from being disillusioned by our defeat at the polls. That is not the nature of a congress party. If anything, we should be fired up and gearing for next year’s local government elections and the 2027 general elections.

LT: It is tradition for the main opposition party to have a shadow cabinet to keep the executive in check. Does DC have its shadow cabinet in place already?

Mokhothu: Indeed, it is tradition. Our shadow cabinet is in the works, we will unveil it soon. Right now, we are still deliberating on whom to appoint to what post.

LT: What are your expectations as far as the DC’s January 2023 elective conference is concerned?

Mokhothu: I expect the DC to be renewed after the elective conference. The primary purpose of any congress party is to go to elections and to renew the mandate of the leadership. DC members will be electing the leadership they want and for the party to emerge from such a conference rejuvenated, energised and united. We will be more focused and ready to serve our people, while growing the party at the same time.

LT: His Majesty King Letsie III has delivered his Speech from the Throne. He advised parliament to go back to the drawing board to assess if the aborted constitutional amendments and other laws to give effect to the envisaged national reforms are in line with Basotho’s wishes. You have indicated that you are not happy about this recommendation. Please explain your stance.

Mokhothu: As far as I’m concerned, the reforms process are almost complete and all that is left is for the passage of laws to give effect to the reforms. Those who drove the process did what was expected of them. You will recall that after the dissolution of (the previous) parliament (on 13 July 2022), it was then recalled in August to pass the outstanding bills to facilitate the implementation of the reforms. There are standing orders that can be activated to revive bills that have collapsed and that is what we did at the time even though the courts subsequently ruled against the recall of parliament.

What should be happening now to revive the bills. But now that this government is considering going back to square one, it means we are going to have to revive the National Reforms Authority (NRA) and the National Leaders’ Forum. It is going to take a long time because all the bills that had been drafted and are ready to be passed into law will have be to be scrapped and everything will be started from scratch. Should the new government decide to start the reforms process from scratch, it would be a never-ending journey because every new government wants to do reforms its own way. Going back to the drawing board, as the King said in his speech, might be a problem especially where Lesotho’s development partners are concerned. You will recall that following the collapse of the bills after the dissolution of the previous parliament, pressure was exerted on us to ensure to pass them hence why parliament was recalled in August.

There was so much pressure and threats of withdrawal of support by the development partners. SADC was on our backs and the United States (US) made it clear that it would withdraw its support of the second compact under the US’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). We are yet to hear what MCC and SADC will say now. Maybe things will be different now that government has changed hands. Maybe the new government will be given the space to walk at its own pace. But going back to the drawing board endangers the new government in many ways. Instead of going back to the drawing board, why not pass laws such as the banning of floor-crossing in parliament, to protect the government? If they go back to the drawing, there is no guarantee that this government will still be in place by the time the process is completed.

LT: Still on the King’s Speech, you expressed concern at what you described as a regression in terms of capacity building for the disabled. You said there was a difference between social welfare and social development. Please explain.

Mokhothu: There is a huge difference between social welfare and social development. The minute you talk of welfare and not development, it changes the policy direction. When you deal with the disabled as a government, development means empowerment while welfare means you give them hand-outs for their survival. Many countries changed their policy direction by dropping welfare for development, after realising that disabled people needed to be capacitated with skills. Instead of being given fish, they are taught to catch their own. But the minute we speak of welfare, we are saying that it is okay to regress, to give them hand-outs. But development on the other hand, simply means helping and empowering them, from giving them education to equipping them with vocational skills.

LT: You have described Prime Minister Matekane’s offer to the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) to use his helicopter as “bribery”. You have also complained that some businessmen-cum-politicians were lending resources to the government and even promising to buy vehicles for the police. What is wrong with lending a hand to the police who are severely under-resourced?  

Mokhothu: The problem is that any criminal who wants to be in the police’s good books will even be donating toilet paper to the police. It will lead to a point where people will be feeding the police or delivering lunch to their posts, just for things to go their way. The LMPS is one of the institutions that must be independent at all times. An individual cannot sponsor a security agency like the police. You cannot do that, it is prohibited. According to the principles of good governance, that is tantamount to bribery.

LT: If you were in government, what would you do differently in this regard?

Mokhothu: The DC election manifesto stated that our plan was to establish a police air wing and engage the services of experts to train our police. The plan was to buy helicopters for the police as a matter of urgency. It is very wrong for a politician to lend the police his helicopter. It is very wrong whichever way you look at it.

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