Prime Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane should be immediately recalled from his government and party posts, the Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief, Khoabane Theko, has demanded.
The outspoken Chief Theko, who is also the senate chief whip, said the ruling ABC should convene a special conference to recall Dr Thabane whom he accuses of ceding control of both the party and the governing coalition government to his wife, 'Maesaiah Thabane.
The governing coalition was formed in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap national elections and includes Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications minister Thesele Maseribane's Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour minister Keketso Rantšo's Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
In an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Chief Theko said there was an urgent need to recall Dr Thabane after he "allowed his wife to usurp control of the party and government."
The Prime Minister has on the other hand rejected Chief Theko's criticism, saying through his spokesman, Thabo Thakalekoala, that the respected senate chief whip was completely offside.
Chief Theko said the First Lady's alleged usurpation of power had bred the infighting in the ABC and the resultant instability in the government where the ABC is the main partner.
The ABC has become a theatre of conflict between two warring national executive committee (NEC) factions ever since the party's 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference. A new NEC which features National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader, was elected in February. However, the old NEC which reportedly enjoys the support of Dr Thabane and the First Lady has dug in and refused to hand over power allegedly because the February polls were characterised by vote rigging.
In addition, some of the old NEC members have insisted that they cannot allow Prof Mahao to take up his new post and be the frontrunner to succeed Dr Thabane in both party and government. They say this is because Prof Mahao is a relative newcomer having joined the party in 2015 whereas they are veterans who formed the ABC in 2006.
There are widely held perceptions that left to his own devices, Dr Thabane would easily have no problems in accepting Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC. However, critics like Chief Theko believe that the First Lady is calling the shots and is steadfastly opposed to the advent of Prof Mahao and his colleagues.
The incoming ABC chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, this week told the Lesotho Times that the ABC supporters must read books such as The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe "which speaks about the role played by former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace in the fall of her husband from power".
"This and other books are very important and I would advise ABC followers to read them. They are all important because they are talking about corruption within governments. Our airplane which is the ABC will crash because our leader is distracted by those who are close to him and he cannot steer the wheel. If we are not careful we are heading for a disaster. These people should let those who are elected by ABC members to assume office and help the leader," Mr Rapapa said.
This view of the First Lady's allegedly negative influence in the party and government is also shared by Chief Theko who said that he would not hesitate to step down from the chieftaincy if the people of Thaba-Bosiu were to complain about his wife interfering in his official duties.
"If my own wife causes confusion and instability in the government that I am leading in Thaba-Bosiu, the people of Thaba-Bosiu should recall me. That way my wife would have been removed from power and the problem solved.
"I don't understand why people are beating about the bush instead of working hard to improve this country and its people," Chief Theko said, adding the only solution to the ongoing power struggle was for the ABC to recall Dr Thabane.
"Honestly speaking, the only way is for him to step down. The ABC people are wasting their time and energy by trying to deal with this matter by other means.
"What they must do is to call a special conference and resolve that Ntate Thabane should step down. He wants to play God with this government through his wife. The ABC are wasting time because this might even lead to the collapse of the government because if he (Dr Thabane) loses the majority in the ABC, he might call for fresh elections and find that he cannot form government."
Chief Theko said politicians had "deliberately and carelessly" caused the instability that had seen the country hold snap elections virtually every two years in 2012, 2015 and 2017.
He further said the Thabane administration was worse than previous governments due to Ms Thabane's alleged meddling in the affairs of the state.
"Ntate Thabane worked in the government administration from a young age, as a clerk in the Senate and he ascended the ladder. He knows every aspect of governance but now he could not care less about the real issues affecting the people. It is all about him and his wife."
Chief Theko said he met Dr Thabane to discuss the instability in the ABC but his advice fell on deaf ears.
"I went with the Likhoele Principal Chief (Lerotholi Seeiso) to meet him. He was intransigent and he would not barge because we wanted him to call for talks with Ntate Mahao.
"I even talked with him even before the ABC elections when I realised there were divisions among the four individuals (Prof Mahao, outgoing chairperson Motlohi Maliehe, Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Public Works Minister Prince Maliehe) who all wanted to be deputy leader. I advised that he (Dr Thabane) calls the four and say to them, 'look guys, you are going to destroy this party and my leadership if you continue to operate like this'.
"I am very disappointed with how he (Dr Thabane) is handling issues. We spoke to him but he poured cold water on us and said he will solve the issues politically. I suspect politically means through rallies. He is testing his support but what if he fails? You can tell that the numbers at both factions' rallies are equal all the time. He (Dr Thabane) does not have the majority in parliament or in the constituencies.
"I would have loved to see them (Thabane and Mahao) work together but there is so much mistrust between them and Ntate Thabane is to blame for he is the cause of that mistrust. I predict the collapse of his (Thabane) government."
He said Dr Thabane's alleged indecisiveness comes at the time when the world is witnessing mass actions which have compelled long-serving African rulers to resign. He urged the ABC to emulate Zimbabweans and Algerians who forced their leaders out of office.
"We saw it in Algeria, we saw it in Zimbabwe and in other countries where leaders were intransigent and not really serving the people. You can't play with governance like this. For a person who has been in government for the longest period, he (Dr Thabane) should know better," Chief Theko said.
Recent street protests prompted long-serving 82 year-old Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign. President Mugabe was forced to resign in 2017. Sudan's Omal Al Bashir is the latest dictator to fall after nationwide protests.
However, Dr Thabane's Press Attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala, said Dr Thabane was not going anywhere. Mr Thakalekoala said it was wrong for Chief Theko to mix ABC party issues with those of government.
He said the government deserved credit for overseeing infrastructure developments in road construction and resolving other challenges including the recently-ended teachers' strike.
"I challenge Chief Khoabane to explain in which areas the prime minister has failed to deliver. There are so many achievements by the four party government but we are not telling the nation our achievements. I don't blame Chief Khoabane for saying that because there might be many issues that he is not aware of because the government is not telling the nation what it is doing.
"It is time we pulled up our socks as the government to ensure that all the information relating to service delivery is communicated to the people. That will motivate the nation but when we are quiet, we will get comments like those from Chief Theko.
"So I don't think Ntate Thabane should be recalled. Ntate Thabane is here to stay until this government completes its constitutional five year term. It is true that there will be mistakes in every administration but those mistakes don't warrant the recall of Ntate Thabane. What yardsticks are we using to say he has failed? We should not mix ABC and government issues because those are two separate issues," Mr Thakalekoala said.
Chief Theko spoke as Prof Mahao appeared to be digging his heels, calling on Dr Thabane to unconditionally allow the new NEC into office without any further delays (see stories on pages 4 and 7).