The Professor Nqosa Mahao-led faction of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) has upheld the suspension of party leader and Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, and other senior ABC officials from the party for six years, ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa has said.
Mr Masoetsa, a Mahao loyalist, said they took the decision after Dr Thabane and his backers allegedly spurned their (Mahao faction)'s reconciliation overtures and instead convened a meeting at Dr Thabane's State House residence where they resolved to use violence and intimidation to force the Mahao camp out of the party.
His allegations were however, denied by the spokesperson of the rival faction, Sentle Rabale, who said Dr Thabane and his allies would never endanger anyone's life or use force to hound them out of the party.
The ABC- the biggest party in the governing coalition which also includes the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL)-has been rocked by bitter infighting which began after Dr Thabane and some senior party officials rejected Prof Mahao's February 2019 election to the deputy leader's post. They rejected his candidature and eventual election on the grounds that he was a newcomer who should not have been elected have been elected ahead of seasoned party stalwarts.
Last week, Prof Mahao and his allies scored a major victory in their battle with Dr Thabane for control of the party after High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Monapathi, overturned their 17 June 2019 expulsions from the fractious ruling party by Dr Thabane.
Justice Tšeliso Monapathi ruled that the ABC constitution did not give Dr Thabane any powers to expel any member of the ABC or to make unilateral decisions without involving the party's national executive committee (NEC).
The net effect of the judgement is to restore Prof Mahao and his co-applicants, Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and 'Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson) to the party posts they won at the ABC's February 2019 elective conference.
It nullifies Dr Thabane's appointments of Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro (in place of Prof Mahao), Kemiso Mosenene (in place of Mr Rapapa), Sentle Rabale (in place of Mr Masoetsa) and Joel Mohale in place of Ms Doti.
It also gives Prof Mahao and his allies a free hand to act against Dr Thabane as they deem fit. Immediately after last week's court victory, Prof Mahao and his allies announced that they were willing to make peace with Dr Thabane.
This was despite that they convened a special ABC conference in September 2019 which suspended Dr Thabane and others from the party for six years for "uncomely behaviour" and sowing divisions within the party.
"If the other side wants unity, they will accept the verdict. The ball is in their court. For our part, we will reach out to them for the benefit of the unity of ABC," Prof Mahao said in his address to supporters who thronged the courtroom for the verdict last Tuesday.
Prof Mahao repeated his message of reconciliation the next day, telling journalists in Maseru that he and his allies still respected Dr Thabane as the ABC leader even if he was suspended from the party in September 2019.
"Ntate Thabane remains the leader until a call to replace him is made. At the moment, I am just holding the fort as you will recall that sometime in September, the ABC special conference resolved to suspend him pending a disciplinary hearing which will either confirm or remove him from his post. But for now he remains the ABC leader.
"We would rather focus our energies on uniting the ABC. We hope they (Dr Thabane and his allies) have made peace with the court's decision and they will respond favourably to our continued call for negotiations to prevent the demise of this party," Prof Mahao said.
Despite Prof Mahao and his allies' magnanimity in victory, the infighting which threatens to permanently split the ABC and collapse the government showed no signs of abating after Messrs Kabi, Phori and Majoro announced that they would only allow Prof Mahao and others back into the party as ordinary members.
This infuriated the Mahao camp and this week, they said they were left with no choice but to uphold Dr Thabane and his allies' suspension after the premier and his backers rejected their peace overtures and instead allegedly plotted violence to hound them out of the party. According to Mr Masoetsa, at that same State House meeting, the other faction also resolved to call for their own ABC conference to decide the fate of the Mahao camp.
"They (Dr Thabane and his allies) are not ready to accept the court's decision and have therefore sworn to make things difficult for us. We now know that peace and unity are a far-fetched idea which we will never attain. We have even seen that they have called an ABC conference but we are going to stop that," Mr Masoetsa told the Lesotho Times this week.
"They have no right to call a party conference because the courts ruled against them. They do not have the authority and we have even removed Mr Kabi from the National Reforms Authority and replaced him with Mr Hlaele as he is the lawful ABC secretary general. Since we see that they are not ready to work with us we have therefore upheld the suspension of Dr Thabane as the party leader. He remains suspended along with Messrs Kabi, (former secretary general) Samonyane Ntsekele and Motseki Lefera."
ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele echoed Mr Masoetsa, telling the Lesotho Times that "we have exhausted all avenues meant to bring peace to the ABC".
"Our counterparts have poured cold water on us and we therefore have no option but to invoke the 7 September 2019 conference resolutions of suspending the party leader and others. This means that they are rebels in the party. Their call for a conference in January 2020 is not valid and should be ignored by party members," said Mr Hlaele.
He also said that they learnt that their rivals met at the State House in the aftermath of last Tuesday's court judgement and resolved to use violence against the Mahao faction to force them out of the party.
"They agreed use violence to make us suffer. They agreed that there would rather be a bloodbath than for them to leave the party. It should be us who should suffer and they would assign some people on a mission to burn our houses and cars," said Mr Hlaele, a son-in-law to Dr Thabane. He is married to the premier's daughter, Advocate 'Mabatšoeneng Hlaele.
However, the Mahao faction's allegations were dismissed by Mr Rabale who said although they met at State House last Thursday, the meeting did not discuss the use of violence to force their rivals out of the party.
"There was a meeting at State House which I attended but there were never any discussions about torturing the other faction, burning their houses and cars. These are just unfounded allegations aimed at diverting people from the real issues in the party," Mr Rabale said without elaborating.
He said they equally wanted peace and unity in the ABC "but the sad thing is you see people (Mahao faction) doing things contrary to their utterances".
"There is no way we can achieve peace and reconciliation if we don't meet each other half way," Mr Rabale said.