The High Court will today hear a case in which ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi are seeking to block the holding of a special conference by a rival faction led by deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao.
The conference, slated for this Saturday, was called by the Mahao faction to deliberate on disciplinary measures to be taken against Dr Thabane, Mr Kabi and former secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele. The Mahao faction, whose election at the February 2019 elective conference has been upheld by the courts, is expected to try and use the special conference to expel the three from the ABC. It claims to have suspended them, with Dr Thabane being the last to have been suspended for "causing confusion and fanning sectarian tendencies within the ABC".
The conference also aims to tackle the infighting decisively in the wake of Dr Thabane's refusal to recognise Prof Mahao as his deputy.
The applicants are the ABC and the ABC's NEC while the respondents are the "expelled" Prof Mahao (deputy leader), Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).
The applicants want the court to bar the five "expelled" NEC members from holding the special conference under the ABC banner and further bar them from presenting themselves as members of the ABC's NEC.
The application was deposed by Mr Kabi and it was supported by Dr Thabane.
The applicants have asked that "the purported calling of the special conference of the ABC be declared unlawful, null and void and of no legal force and effect".
Messrs Thabane and Kabi want the court to halt the conference slated for 6 July 2019 and stop the Mahao group from presenting themselves as ABC members and using the party's regalia.
Mr Kabi states in his founding affidavit that Prof Mahao and his four colleagues were expelled from the ABC by Dr Thabane on 17 June and that the decision was "ratified" by the NEC which he claims sat on 26 June 2019.
He argues that on 24 June 2019 the respondents had unsuccessfully petitioned the High Court to nullify their "expulsion" by Dr Thabane. "The respondents remain dismissed from the party," charges Mr Kabi.
"Despite being unsuccessful in their attempt to have their dismissals suspended pending the finalisation of their application on 22 July, the respondents continue to hold and conduct themselves as members of the ABC. There has never been a request to hold a special conference by any constituency. When the official handover of office from the old to the current NEC was done on 26 June, there was nothing in the records to suggest that there has been such a request.
"I aver that the intended special conference called by respondents is unlawful in that it has not been called by the first applicant (ABC's NEC) which is charged to do so and the respondents decided to call the conference without following the constitution of the ABC and that it has not been sanctioned by the ABC but rather called by people who are not the members of ABC.
"The actions and conduct of the respondents in this regard, where they continue to hold themselves as members of ABC and its NEC for that matter, are prejudicial to the interests of the party. Their intention is obviously to sow confusion amongst the rank and file of ABC, running parallel structures that undermine the legitimate authority of the party. The respondents' intention is to always give directives that run parallel structures that undermine the legitimate authority of the party," Mr Kabi states.
Dr Thabane also deposed a supporting affidavit in which he "fully aligns" himself "with the contents of Mr Kabi's affidavit".
"I confirm that the outgoing and incoming NECs eventually met on 26 June 2019 and it was at that meeting that the handover of office was done.
"I confirm that following the judgement of this court delivered on 12 June (which confirmed the February ABC election of the new NEC), the new NEC had its first sitting on 26 June 2019 and not at any other date before then," Dr Thabane states, adding that there was no prior NEC sitting which called for a special conference.
ABC secretary general Mr Hlaele issued a circular on 14 June 2019 calling for the ABC special conference. He said that 50 out of the ABC's 80 constituencies had written to him demanding the special conference.
Three days later on 17 June 2019, Dr Thabane addressed a press conference, where he announced that he had expelled Prof Mahao, Messrs Hlaele, Rapapa, Masoetsa and Ms Doti from the party for insubordination. He then appointed Mr Kabi to take charge of party affairs.
However, the quintet resisted their expulsion, saying that Dr Thabane had no power to expel any party member.
On 26 June 2019 they launched an urgent High Court application to have Dr Thabane held in contempt of court for purporting to expel them despite the court's 12 June 2019 judgement declaring that they had been properly elected at the party's February 2019 elective conference.
The group also sought to have the purported expulsions revoked as well as to have Dr Thabane barred from making unilateral decisions and interfering with the work of the new NEC. However, the High Court did not grant their application but instead set 22 July 2019 as the date for hearing the case. In refusing to grant all the reliefs sought, the judges argued that the Mahao faction, whose election the court has legitimised, had not exhausted all internal processes before coming to court. The judges also commented that Dr Thabane had no powers to expel ABC members. It seems it is keeping with the spirit of those remarks that the Mahao faction aims to press ahead with the conference and formalise the expulsions of Messrs Thabane, Ntsekele and Mahao from the ABC. Unless of course the interdict application succeeds.
Dr Thabane and Mr Kabi argue that the quintet remain expelled from the party until the court rules otherwise on 22 July 2019.
Last Thursday the Mahao faction held a press conference at the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) where they announced the suspension of Dr Thabane and Mr Kabi for bringing the party into disrepute as the pursuit of "suspensions" and "expulsions" by either faction intensified.