Why I support the death penalty, Peace and Unity Commission: Mokhothu

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MORE than two years have passed since Democratic Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu succeeded party founder and former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili at the helm of the DC. A year and two months have also passed since the DC forged a governing coalition with its bitter rival, the All Basotho Convention (ABC). ABC deputy leader, Moeketsi Majoro, heads the governing coalition with Mr Mokhothu as deputy prime minister. This week, Lesotho Times’ (LT) Senior Reporter, Pascalinah Kabi, sat down with Mr Mokhothu who reflected on his time so far as DC leader and deputy prime minister in the ruling coalition. Mr Mokhothu frankly discussed various issues, including his support for the controversial National Peace and Unity Bill and the death penalty in Lesotho.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

LT: More than two years have passed since your January 2019 election as DC leader. How has your time in charge been so far?

Mr Mokhothu: A political journey is never easy; it has its own ups and downs. But I can safely say that we have made positive strides towards growing this party. We have a three- year-plan broken in three phases, each implemented over one year. Our main agenda when we took over was to grow the membership of the DC. There was no way we could do that without instilling peace and stability in the party to make it attractive to new members.

We preached the message of peace and unity within and outside the party. Our message was very clear that the DC jealously strives for and guards peace within itself because we could not preach peace to the outside world when we did not have peace within. Our message was for the DC to be at peace in line with the philosophy of the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I.

We took our peace message to the next level by ensuring that the DC is at peace with other sections of the population including our political rivals. Even though we differ with them on policy issues, we do not want our differences to degenerate to a culture of insulting their leaders and members.

We must only differ with them on their policies and poke holes into their policies without allowing the rivalries to degenerate into insults and personal wars. Over the years the political landscape had descended into personal insults instead of constructive disagreements on policy issues and that is something we want to move away from.

This is why the DC has decided to make friends across the board. It is a difficult exercise because some of our competitors strongly believe that they must sell lies about the DC in order to defeat us. They are particularly coming hard on the DC with hatred and smear campaign politics. But we have taken a softer and more progressive approach.

Lesotho’s politics is a rough terrain with constant intensive fighting but we have taken a different approach which is more concerned about how best we can improve livelihoods. Some leaders can address rallies for five hours without talking about policies. Some even form new parties just to oppose certain individuals, without necessarily coming up with new strategies and solutions to national problems. But we have taken a bold stand of saying what we want and how we will achieve it.

Peace building it is godly. As Christians, we believe that we should strive for peace even with those we differ with. We believe in the principles of peaceful co-existence that King Moshoeshoe I applied in his dealings with King Shaka of the Zulu people and all other kings who attacked him. He would overpower them and later send them cows as a peace offering.

Cannibals ate King Moshoeshoe I’s grandfather, Peete. But after capturing them, he ordered their rehabilitation instead of killing them. These are principles that we believe in and we will continue to preach King Moshoeshoe I’s message of peace. The DC must be a peaceful home for everyone in the country.

Beyond this, we have also agreed that for any political party to be strong, it needs solid leadership structures from the branches upwards. We established working committees and trained them to continue to preach the message of peace and attract new members from other parties. We also introduced an internal disputes resolution mechanism because there is no denying that every political party has ambitious members who may want to fight over power.

It does not mean these challenges cannot be experienced in the DC but whenever they arise, we quickly attend to them and ensure that they are properly addressed.

There is no other political party in Lesotho with as many singers and new members as the DC. We have 19 different singing groups directly supported by the DC to record their music and attend our political rallies.

LT: Were there any specific issues that compelled you to establish the disputes resolution mechanism?

Mr Mokhothu: We know the impact of disputes and infighting too well, from the splits in the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and subsequent splits which led to the formation of the Lesotho People’s Congress in 2001 and the ABC in 2006. In 2012, the DC was formed from the Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) party, and then in 2016, the Alliance of Democrats was formed from the DC. That long legacy of disputes and infighting must come to an end.

We have since established that the source of these never-ending disputes is mistrust among legislators and members of the national executive committees (NECs). Failing to address trust issues leads to some people secretly sharing their discontentment with their trusted colleagues and that is a breeding ground for the formation of camps which ultimately fight over the control of the party.

Once each faction has its own leader, it will strive to control the party for its own selfish interests. All this has taught us the cancer of infighting and factionalism comes when a party resists peaceful talks and coming together to share each other’s concerns and ensure that they are properly addressed.

We need to nip the growth of factions in the bud. If left unaddressed the factions will grow in size and even attend the same party events wearing different party t-shirts.

Leadership need to attend workshops on peace building and ensuring that the party is at peace and all members are satisfied.

Everyone in the party should stick to the same message of oneness, peace and stability. We should engage all party members so we can find common ground and see how best they can be helped. After all, the party was formed to assist people and it must therefore help its members. Some get disgruntled over employment issues which can lead to the split of the party if not addressed.

LT: You have said that leading a political party is not a walk in the park. How have you discharged your mandate to keep the party intact? 

Mr Mokhothu: We hold routine meetings with district committees. I personally hold meetings with each district and constituency committee every two months to appreciate what is happening on the ground. We also use these meetings to encourage each other to continue to diligently serve the party because we want the DC to be the biggest party in the country.

We even have a media team which has received three trainings. I still feel there is a need for them to attend more trainings and have a well-developed department. There should be full time media officers with the necessary equipment.

When we took over the leadership, there were only two party vehicles and we now have nine. This shows that there is growth. We can see the growth at the headquarters and constituencies in terms of conflict management and attracting new members.

LT: As a government leader, what are you doing to advance reconciliation and peace?

Mr Mokhothu: Our biggest role is to disseminate the message of peace and unity and to influence the formation of structures which will give the country platforms to achieve this. Fr instance the Peace and Unity Bill creates a platform for peace and reconciliation because everybody will go there without paying anything. It is unlike paying a lawyer to sue people. One can go to the (proposed National Peace and Unity) Commission free of charge to air their grievances and allow the Commission to make sense out of the information presented to it before a decision can be made (on whether or not a suspected perpetrator of human rights abuses is pardoned).

LT: What is your message to the victims of human rights abuses who are opposed to the establishment of the National Peace and Unity Commission with powers to recommend the pardoning of suspects and awarding of compensation to victims?

Mr Mokhothu: The main issue is for people to know the truth and establish what really happened to their loved ones. Whether it was killings, human rights abuses or damage to property, people need to know what really happened.

Once they know what really happened, we will look into the role of government in bringing about forgiveness and justice.

If a person confesses that they killed another, we will look into economic impact of that killing for the family. Was the person who was killed a breadwinner?  How much was he contributing to the family? After considering all this, we will then come up with befitting compensation.

On the other hand, we will also consider what would be the befitting punishment for the perpetrator even though he has freely confessed. Perhaps we can say where they should have served 22 years in jail, we can agree on a five or two-year jail term. We still need to inflict punishment to send a strong message that we will not tolerate criminal acts.

I personally think that after this Commission has concluded its business, we will still need new laws to deal with crimes. Lesotho is in the top ten countries with the highest murders and we need to have a law that says if you kill you shall also be killed. If you murder someone, your punishment should be that you die as well. That means that death sentence must be revisited with regard to murders.

LT: But will this not be going against international best practices as many countries have either abolished the death penalty or are moving towards abolishing it?

Mr Mokhothu: The death penalty is a controversial issue. But it will send a strong message that anyone who murders someone will be harshly punished. Look at what recently happened in Mphosong, Leribe. A 76-year-old woman was slaughtered, her head was cut off and the family has a headless corpse in its hands. I am told she will be buried next week but her throat, down to her private parts are missing.

So how do you punish a person who killed someone like that? How many years in jail term do you give a person who has killed a helpless 76-year-old woman? How many elderly people will die for ritual purposes?

LT: Coming back to the National Peace and Unity Commission, many people, including the victims, feel that the envisaged Commission is meant to protect certain high-profile individuals from facing justice for their crimes. They feel it will not usher in a new era of unity, peace and reconciliation. What is your take on such views?

Mr Mokhothu: Those are the people who listened to the opponents of the Bill without necessarily giving themselves time to read and understand it. The Bill will assist this country to establish the truthfulness of what really happened in many cases where people stepped on each other’s toes. The Bill clearly states that the Commission can recommend many steps towards reconciliation including recommending that a suspect be tried in the courts of law.

It can recommend negotiations or a mediation process aimed at finding sustainable solutions coupled with compensation, peace and reconciliation. The most important thing is that the Commission will afford this nation an opportunity to sit down and unearth the truth of what really happened. Many deaths related to politics occurred in this country and they remain unresolved.

(Former ABC deputy leader) Ntate Sello Machakela was shot dead at his home and up to now we do not know what really happened. We want to know who killed the journalist Mahlomola Motuba. Many people’s houses were burnt down and they lost their land in the 1970s.

Shops were burnt down in the 1998 political uprising and the owners want to know who did that. Some people like Kenny Mahase died and his family wants to know details surrounding his death. All families need to know what happened to their loved ones and we need to create an enabling environment for that so that we can safely go about the healing process. There were also the 2014 political events. The families of (slain army commander) Maaparankoe Mahao, Police Sub-Inspector (Mokheseng) Ramahloko and (Constable) Mokalekale Khetheng want to know what happened. That is why we need the Commission to get to the bottom of all this.

LT: What has inspired you to chart a different path of reconciliation when you were raised in an environment where politics were retributive and political leaders routinely engaged in name-calling and smear campaigns?

Mr Mokhothu: I have spent most of my political career in the congress movement, heavily leaning on the constitution and congress philosophy of peace, truth, reconciliation and economic emancipation.

That philosophy has made me who I am today. I also studied Development Studies and History. I have also studied the concept of governance itself and the governments of different states like Russia, Germany, Americans, Britain and Italy. I have also studied a lot on Africa and southern Africa. I read about people like King Moshoeshoe I and I fell in love with the manner in which he practiced governance. I read a lot about the legacies of (South Africa’s first democratically-elected president) Nelson Mandela and (Tanzania’s founding president) Julius Nyerere. I also read about the formation of the Chinese Communist Party which is now pursuing the economic emancipation of that country. You can see the manner they are modelling their own issues is progressive. China is now a superpower.

I have read of biblical leaders like Moses, Joshua and David seeking peace and stability for their nation. In each of their journeys, there were disputes along the way but they had a rare wisdom to solve them.

I want to see everybody leading a good life even if they are an enemy. I strongly believe that people must lead a godly lifestyle, not that of vengeance, hatred and divisions.

LT: We have seen that politicians seem to forget about the ordinary people once they have been voted into power. What are you doing to retain the people’s trust and confidence?

Mr Mokhothu: People must separate real politics from the mediocre. Every two months, I go back to the masses and going back says to them they can hold the party accountable.

Also, there are many programmes that we have undertaken including the Miss DC beauty pageant. We are saying the DC must relate directly with the youth and we must be seen to be doing something for the youth. We also introduced the Rata-oa-Heno (love your fellow human being) programme. This is a programme where we buy from street vendors and this means we have a direct relationship with informal traders.

We do not just want to go to them when we need their votes. We want to do something for them and have a solid relationship with them regardless of whether or not they vote for us.

We also have relationships with other sectors like the disabled and herd boys as part of our thrust to have direct relationships with different sectors of our society.

There is a saying that “before you hold them by their hands, you must first touch their hearts” and as a leader, I believe that having direct relationships with these sectors and doing something for them is putting that saying into practice. There is no way we can ask the nation to vote us into power when it has no relationship with the DC and has not benefitted from us. We must first have a relationship and only then can we ask our friends to vote us into power so that we can come back to assist them.

We have also helped establish businesses for some of our members. Some are graduates but are struggling to get jobs. We sit down with them to get a sense of what they want to do before assessing if we can secure funding for their business ideas. We assist them so they can see that the party wants everyone to make a decent living.

 

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