ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Thomas Thabane (pictured), who had over the past three years, resisted calls for him to quit, finally agreed to go at the end of this month due to several factors including old-age, ill-health and the need to give the party ample time to choose a successor to lead the party into general elections later this year.
This is according to senior ABC officials who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week in the wake of the former prime minister’s surprise weekend announcement that he will be stepping down from the helm of the party he has led since its inception in 2006. At his press conference at Victory Hall, Maseru, Mr Thabane said he would be quitting soon but did not give reasons for the decision.
“Today, as a party member who abides by its constitution and respects the leadership of the party, I inform all members of the ABC and the nation at large that I have decided to step down as ABC leader. I will be stepping down very soon,” Mr Thabane said.
“I therefore urge the executive committee of the ABC to start preparing for the party members to elect a leader of their choice. I hope this development will bring a solution to the fights and factions within the ABC,” he added.
Mr Thabane was unreachable when this publication called him for comment yesterday.
ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa said the 82-year-old Mr Thabane was stepping down because he was now “tired and needed to rest”.
“For the longest time, Ntate Thabane has been saying that he is tired and needs to retire. Therefore, he is stepping down because he feels the time has come for him to go and rest. This is the only reason for his impending retirement,” Mr Masoetsa said in an interview.
However, it appears there is more to the veteran leader’s decision to quit. A senior ABC official, who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said apart from old-age and ill-health, Mr Thabane was also stepping down to concentrate on his upcoming trial for the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
He will stand trial in March this year alongside his current wife, ‘Maesaiah and other suspects who include Famo musicians.
The timing of his departure this month, is also aimed at giving the party ample time to choose his successor and thereafter prepare for the elections which are due anytime from September this year, the official said.
If the murder trial drags for any reason including any appeals by any of the parties, it would have been ludicrous for the ABC to go into the elections with a leader caught up in a murder issue, the official added. It would have given campaign fodder to the ABC’s opponents. Mr Thabane had also long wanted to retire as party leader but could not do so because his young wife, ‘Maesaiah, had wanted him to cling on. For the past three years, the ABC has been riven by serious divisions and infighting. Initially the power struggle was between Mr Thabane and his former deputy, Nqosa Mahao, who had been elected into the national executive committee (NEC) at the party’s February 2019 elective conference.
Professor Mahao eventually left the ABC and formed his own Basotho Action Party (BAP) in April 2021. He accused Mr Thabane of plotting with Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, to oust him from the party.
Prof Mahao departed with 10 MPs while Mokhotlong MP, Tefo Mapesela, also jumped ship to form the Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP). The splits, as well as the departures of a few other MPs to other parties, whittled down the ABC’s National Assembly seats from 50 at the inception of the current governing coalition in May 2020 to just 35. The ABC infighting did not end with Prof Mahao and Mr Mapesela’s departures. Currently the power struggle is between Mr Thabane and Dr Majoro’s factions. The pro-Thabane NEC even voted to recall Dr Majoro at its 2 December 2021 meeting.
However, Dr Majoro refused to resign in favour of former cabinet minister, Nkaku Kabi, who had been chosen to replace him. (See story on page 2). According to the senior ABC official, the ongoing infighting has taken its toll on Mr Thabane and he now fears that unless the party unites behind a new leader, it will dismally lose the general elections.
Therefore, he is quitting when there are still many months before the expiry of the tenure of the current parliament in September this year to give the ABC time to elect a new leader and regroup in time for the polls, the official said.
“The leader’s imminent departure may come as a surprise to the public but it is not at all surprising to us,” the official said.
“Publicly, he has been digging in and saying he is not going anywhere but since 2019 he has been telling us to work on choosing his successor. He would have gone a long time ago had it not been for the infighting in the party particularly after the election of Mahao into the NEC.
“It was his idea that we prepare for the January 2022 special conference to choose his successor. It is his wish that the elections to choose his successor proceed smoothly and don’t cause further divisions among us. However, it is highly likely that the losers will not be happy with the outcome of the polls to replace him. Therefore, he has timed his departure for the end of this month to give the party ample time to regroup and unite behind his successor ahead of the general elections later this year.
“Besides that, he is now a sickly old man and wants to rest,” the senior ABC official said.
Mr Thabane has himself alluded to his old age in his court papers filed in November 2021 as part of his ultimately unsuccessful application for bail in connection with the Lipolelo murder.
Despite waging a spirited campaign to topple Dr Majoro who is 22 years his junior, Mr Thabane has in his court papers, portrayed himself as terminally ill old man who fears dying in jail if he is not granted bail.
“The petitioner is a sickly old man who is 82 years old. The petitioner’s health situation is fragile and he suffers from a medical condition that requires specialists in Johannesburg where he attends the medical services frequently (sic). The petitioner needs the specialist medical services to sustain the last stages of his gracious life.
“The matter is urgent as the petitioner will not be able to access the medical services if he is remanded in custody. The petitioner’s life will be in danger in circumstances where he is unable to receive treatment for his medical condition,” Mr Thabane stated in his bizarre bail application.
The strange application was filed on 29 November 2021- a day before Mr Thabane was due to appear in the High Court to get a formal notice of the Crown’s intention to have him tried for the murder of Lipolelo Thabane.
Mr Thabane subsequently attended a pre-trial interview conducted by Assistant High Court Registrar, Tebello Mokhoema. He was then informed that he will stand trial alongside his current wife, ‘Maesaiah and several other suspects in March next year. Mr Thabane is expected to be formally charged and plead to the charges then.
It appears that he applied for bail out of the belief that he would be charged with murder when in fact, he had only been summoned for a pre-trial hearing to give him formal notice of the intention to try him.
Another official said if he had continued slagging it out with his opponents as party leader, it would have belied his contention for leniency from the courts on the basis that he is a “sickly old man”.