In an ominous development, Professor Nqosa Mahao has given All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane until next week to allow him and the rest of the party's national executive committee (NEC) into office or face a no confidence vote in parliament.
Yesterday, the Mahao faction made good on their threat and filed a motion of no confidence against the government. (See story on Page 2). The Mahao faction filed yesterday ahead of schedule because parliament is set to adjourn tomorrow until September for its winter break.
The former National University of Lesotho vice chancellor, who was elected ABC deputy leader at the party's 1-2 February 2019 elective conference, said he and the rest of the new NEC's patience had worn thin and they were not willing to wait longer to assume their rightful place in the party.
He said he had even held meetings with leaders of the ABC's coalition partners to inform them that "we have had enough and the sun is setting on him (Dr Thabane)".
Prof Mahao said this while addressing a weekend rally in Hlotse, Leribe. The ABC has been riven by infighting during the run-up to and after the February 2019 elective conference which saw Prof Mahao clinch the highly coveted post of deputy leader defeating Finance minister Moeketsi Majoro, Public Works and Transport Minister Prince Maliehe and former party chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe. As deputy leader, Prof Mahao became the frontrunner to succeed Dr Thabane in both party and government when the veteran leader eventually calls it a day.
Others who were elected into the new NEC are Dr Thabane's son-in-law, Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Tlali Mohapi (treasurer), Likhapha Masupha (secretary), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and 'Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).
But Prof Mahao and the rest of the 'new' NEC's election was subsequently challenged in the High Court by the trio of prominent ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe).
The trio filed a court application on 11 February 2019 seeking an order to nullify the outcome of the ABC's elective conference on the grounds that the polls were marred by "vote rigging".
Subsequent attempts to get the warring factions to the negotiating table have failed dismally as have meetings between Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao.
And on Sunday, Prof Mahao blamed the abortive talks to end the impasse on Dr Thabane who was recently quoted in one of the local weeklies as saying that Prof Mahao was not even a member of the ABC and did not deserve to be deputy leader ahead of more seasoned party stalwarts.
Prof Mahao said that they had lost patience after many failed attempts to engage Dr Thabane and the old NEC in talks to resolve the power struggle.
He said he had even held meetings with leaders and senior officials of the ABC's coalition partners over the weekend to inform them that the new NEC's patience with Dr Thabane had worn thin and if they were not allowed into office they would soon "kick this thing down".
"Yesterday (Saturday) I had a meeting with the leader of BNP (Chief Thesele Maseribane). This (Sunday) morning I met with a representative of the AD leader.
"I told them to tell Ntate Thabane that the sun is setting on him. We have lost our patience. We were having what they call in English 'the abused woman syndrome'. We are taking in kicks and all sorts of abuse from these people (old NEC). They have fired parliamentarians for allegedly affiliating with the new ABC's NEC. Lately they are plotting our assassinations. They are inviting the security forces to enter politics and luckily these are resisting the invitation.
"Is it not a mere yesterday when we toppled an (Pakalitha Mosisili-led) administration that was going around snatching Basotho and dumping some of them in dams?
"Today, just because ABC supporters do not want them in the executive committee anymore, they (old NEC) want to commit similar crimes. We will kick this thing down. We will kick it.
"We will not let them fool us any longer. Some of us have already lost our loved ones. We will not let that happen again. I told those (coalition) leaders to tell Ntate Thabane that this is the last week for him to let the new committee into the office or else we are kicking this thing down. We did not think that we would reach this point. We tried to be patient but we have had enough," Prof Mahao said.
His "kicking this thing down" statement fuelled speculation that the new NEC planned to form a new break-away party in the event that they did not get their way. The speculation was further fuelled by the presence of hundreds of supporters who turned up for the Hlotse rally with flags which were slightly different from the normal ABC flags. Unlike the conventional ABC party flag that has an image of the sun, some of the Mahao supporters turned up with flags which had a star just like the Ghana flag.
Prof Mahao however, denied that they would form a new party, saying they did not need to since they had been voted into office by ABC members at the February conference. He said it was the old NEC who lost the party elections "who had a motive" for forming a splinter party. Incoming ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, also told this publication that the unusual flag was no indication that the new NEC was planning to form a new party.
He said those who turned up for the rally with the unusual flag had since apologised to them and their apology had been accepted.
"The people who had those flags called me and apologised. They said that they had ordered the normal ABC flags only to realise at the rally that they had been given different ones which had a star instead of the sun. They apologised and we have no reason to doubt their explanation," Mr Hlaele said.
Senior members of the Mahao faction, namely, spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa and chairperson Samuel Rapapa subsequently told this publication that Prof Mahao's "kicking this thing down" statement meant that they would table a no confidence motion in parliament against the Thabane administration if they did not get their way within a week.
"There is a plan among us legislators to table a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister and his government if he does not let the new NEC into office by the end of the week. We are allowed by law to pass a vote of no confidence against the prime minister and his government," Mr Rapapa told the Lesotho Times.
Meanwhile, Prof Mahao used the Hlotse rally to reach out to former deputy leader Tlali Khasu. He invited Mr Khasu to re-join the party, saying the circumstances were different now that his executive had been voted into office.
Mr Khasu left the ABC on 17 September 2016 after being suspended for three months for allegedly castigating Dr Thabane during a radio programme.
This was after his spirited attempts to challenge the suspension in the courts of law proved futile as the High Court upheld the decision.
Mr Khasu subsequently formed the True Reconciliation Unity (TRU) in January 2017 together with another former ABC stalwart, Pitso Maisa. The TRU performed dismally in the June 2017 snap elections, failing to win a single seat.
And on Sunday, Prof Mahao invited Mr Khasu back saying unlike the old NEC, they would protect all party officials and ensure they were not fired after "discussions held in bedrooms".
"We are a committee which builds and does not destroy. We recognise the importance of all individuals in building the party. We do not get people fired based on discussions held in bedrooms," Prof Mahao said in the Hlotse constituency whose legislator, Mr Keketso Sello, is one of the three who filed a court challenge against the election of the new NEC. Mr Sello was expectedly not at the rally.
Speaking at the same rally, former Hlotse ABC legislator, Sello Maphalla, called on Mr Sello to apologise to his constituency for allegedly betraying them by siding with the old NEC.
"We would like to apologise to the electorate. He (Mr Sello) will have to answer to the electorate for the sin he has committed. We apologise on behalf of the Hlotse constituency. He has wronged us," said Mr Maphalla.