The incoming chairperson of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) Samuel Rapapa has accused the Acting Chief Justice, 'Maseforo Mahase, of being a stooge of unnamed senior government officials who have allegedly ordered her to delay finalising the case in which the February 2019 election of the new ABC's national executive committee (NEC) is being challenged by some ABC ministers.
Mr Rapapa this week told the Lesotho Times that the new NEC suspects that Justice Mahase is deliberately stalling the case because she has been promised the post of chief justice on a substantive basis once the government settles its protracted dispute with the suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara. He claimed that the acting chief justice has been holding clandestine meetings with the top government officials who have been dangling the prospect of making her substantive chief justice as a reward for her delaying the case and frustrating the new NEC.
The new NEC has also threatened mass protests against Justice Mahase over the lengthy delay in finalising the case which was brought to court in February by cabinet ministers Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency).
The Thomas Thabane-led ABC is the main partner in the governing coalition which also features 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).
The ABC has not known peace and stability in the aftermath of its 1 -- 2 February 2019 elective conference which ushered in a new NEC with the outgoing National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader.
But the new NEC has not been able to assume office due to fierce resistance from the old NEC who say Prof Mahao is a newcomer who should not be in the driving seat to succeed Dr Thabane when the latter eventually leaves office. Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC's election has also been challenged in the High Court by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane on the grounds that there was vote rigging at the party leadership contest.
In addition to the court battles, the two factions have also taken their war to party supporters, holding competing rallies on a weekly basis to argue their respective cases.
Over the weekend the new NEC held a rally in the Mohale's Hoek constituency where the ABC's Taung legislator, Selemo Mangobe, told supporters that they were preparing to stage protests against Justice Mahase for the long delay in finalising the case that was brought before her by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.
The delay in finalising the case has worked in favour of the old NEC who continue to cling to power by virtue of Justice Mahase's February order which allows them to remain in office until the case has been finalised.
Mr Mangobe told ABC supporters that "preparations (for the protest against Justice Mahase) are underway and once everything has been sorted out we will reveal the dates for the protests".
"We have to go there and show the courts that what is happening (the delay in finalising the case) is out of order and the courts must serve their purpose. Let us all get ready so that we can go and condemn 'Maseforo because this is uncalled for," added Mr Mangobe.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, the incoming chairperson of the ABC, Samuel Rapapa, said he had proposed the protests and if "people agree then the protests will be organised and the dates will be set".
"This case (against the election of the new NEC) was supposed to be treated as an urgent application because that is what it was when it was filed in February. But surprisingly, the case has been dragging for very dubious reasons. First it was Advocate Ranale Thoahlane who got 'sick'.
"I suspect that she (Justice Mahase) has been promised the post of Chief Justice on a permanent basis once the outstanding issues have been ironed out with the current Chief Justice," Mr Rapapa said.
He further said that Justice Mahase has been holding secret meetings with some "top people" in the government "who are influential and have the power to make decisions to appoint the Chief Justice".
"Immediately after the case failed to proceed last week some senior government officials arrived at the High Court in a cabinet vehicle and met with her (Justice Mahase). I cannot give you names but what I can tell you is that she has been having meetings with top people in the government who are very influential and have the power to make decisions," Mr Rapapa added.
Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane want the High Court to nullify the outcome of the ABC's February elections and order fresh polls within three months of the finalisation of their application.
In her 6 March 2019 court order, Acting Chief Justice, 'Maseforo Mahase gave the old and new ABC's NEC factions up to 19 March to resolve their differences failing which they would have to return to court on 20 March. Justice Mahase also said that she would hear the case from the 20th of March and deliver judgement on the 29th of March. But on the 20th of March the case failed to proceed as one of the respondents' lawyers, Advocate Ranale Thoahlane called in sick.
The case was then postponed to the 25th of March and again it failed to proceed on that day after Justice Mahase called in sick. She postponed the case to 2 April and again to 18 April 2019.
The frequent postponements have riled several members of the new NEC including Prof Mahao and incoming secretary general Lebohang Hlaele who last week called on the judiciary to stay out of politics and remain professional in the execution of their duties.
Prof Mahao further called on the politicians to stop interfering with the operations of the courts of law.
Mr Hlaele was even more scathing in his criticism of the judiciary and in particular, Justice Mahase, who he suggested had feigned illness so that she could delay hearing the case.
Mr Hlaele told supporters at last week's Maputsoe rally that Justice Mahase would call in sick just to drag the case.
This is not the first time that Justice Mahase has found herself in the eye of a storm over allegations of delaying court proceedings. On 29 January 2019, Justice Mahase was involved in heated exchanges with the audience who heckled her over her perceived tardiness in handling the ABC's Koko-Koro Constituency Committee's case against the disqualification of Prof Mahao from the party's leadership elections.
On that day, the visibly irate Justice Mahase threatened to eject the hecklers from the courtroom and proceed with the case with only the media in attendance.