ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) Deputy Spokesperson, 'Matebatso Doti has been shortlisted along with Party Chairperson Samuel Rapapa and Deputy Secretary General, Nkaku Kabi as candidates to succeed outgoing Prime Minister.
In this interview with the Lesotho Times' (LT) Senior Reporter Ntsebeng Motsoeli, Ms Doti shares her thoughts on the possibility of becoming the country's first female prime minister.
LT: You are one of the three candidates chosen by the ABC's NEC to take over from Minister Thomas Thabane. How do you feel about the nomination?
Doti: When I saw that I was nominated, I got a little scared because even though I know I have been working with the people in the grassroots, I did not think that among so many women I would be recognised for such an important post.
However, the ABC's 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference showed me that Basotho held me in high esteem because I got 700 plus votes to land the deputy spokesperson's post. I realised then that I have made an impact within the nation. Before that in the 2017 I got 6533 votes at the national elections, the second highest votes for any candidate. I was clearly up to something big but I paid a little attention to it then.
Before that in 2012 when the Prime Minister decided to separate the ministries of Health and of Social Welfare, I was made the first Social Development Minister and we hit the ground running. Unfortunately, we had to bow out when a new government was elected into power in 2015. When we got back to power in 2017, I was asked again to oversee the same ministry.
In 2017 we were worked hard to pass the policies that we had formulated in 2012 so that they could become acts of parliament. I tabled the Disability Equity Bill (aimed at providing for the rights and welfare of the disabled) in parliament for the first reading before I was fired in February 2019. Fortunately, I was in parliament's social cluster so I was able to push for the second and third readings of the bill and it will be passed into an act.
Again, when I left the Ministry of the Social Development, we were finalising the Older Persons Protection Bill.
LT: Are you up for the challenge of being prime minister? Where would you start and do you think are the priority ministries to work on?
Doti: During the period of our (ABC) power struggle, we had the opportunity to travel across the country to assess the wool and mohair crisis. We even went to the shedding to be in contact with the farmers and it was touching.
If I get the opportunity to lead the government, these are the people that I would interact with first to amend their relations with the government.
Another ministry that should be given attention is that of tourism seeing how that sector is contributing to the development of other nations.
Another of the first tasks would be to enhance water and electricity supply to cover all the people in Lesotho. It has always worried me that many Basotho do not have adequate water, many have no electricity, no jobs yet we have important natural resources which could be utilised to provide jobs. I have always been worried that even the smallest of shops are occupied by the Chinese and that we import everything that we consume.
We have the Maseru City Council yet our city is filthy. We have so many catchment programmes which are meant to improve the lives of Basotho yet they fail to change the lifestyles of the people. Those are the key issues to address. My priority is to improve the economic well-being of the people.
LT: What kind of a prime minister do we need and do you think you have the right attributes?
Doti: We need a people's prime minister. We need a person who is stern but easy to work with. We need someone who will make services easily accessible to the people so that they can improve their lives.
Our political leaders have a bad tendency of sitting in the boardroom and shutting off the very people who put them in power. We have no idea of the hardships that the people are confronted with on a daily basis. My priority would be the people out there. We need to focus on community development.
I am a woman of the people. I have a very big heart especially for the vulnerable people. I always open my home for my less privileged neighbours. Unfortunately, my big heart got me in trouble because one of my attackers was a young man from a family which had access to my home and he knew all the corners.
LT: How is the process of choosing Dr Thabane's successor progressing?
MD: On Monday we had a party caucus to discuss the nominees. This was the first time our national executive committee (NEC) was meeting our MPs and ideas were exchanged on how the MPs would handle the issue when it gets to parliament. More meetings will be held before then. I cannot share anything from the meeting.
LT: You have been nominated alongside the Mosalemane legislator, Samuel Rapapa who has been your ally during the ABC power struggle. How will this affect your relationship?
MD: We are comfortable with that and we are ready to support whoever wins.
LT: Do you think Lesotho is ready for a female prime minister.
MD: Basotho are ready for a female prime minister. They have said it over and over again. We have many male prime ministers and they have not done much for this nation. People are ready for change. If I were to succeed, the two years that are left of this tenure would be enough for me to showcase what women are capable of.
This the time for a female prime minister to open up opportunities for young women and girls. This is the time to capacitate a girl-child because there is life in a girl-child. Women are powerful and capable.
LT: Speaking of your 2018 attack by unknown assailants who almost killed you, do you think that government has done enough to ensure the protection of women and children?
Doti: The issue of the protection of women and children has not been given the seriousness that it deserves despite the presence of the Gender ministry. After my attack, the Ministry of Police and Public Safety provided me with security just for a week and then withdrew it without warning. I was left vulnerable.
This goes to show that those in power do not really care about the protection of women and children. As far as I am concerned, the protection of women and children is none-existent and those are the issues that I would fight for. I would take advantage of this period where the country is undergoing reform to reach out to as many Basotho as possible because this whole process would be useless if individuals are not reformed.
LT: What is your view of the justice system in Lesotho and what is the progress in the prosecution of your attackers?
Doti: I have no idea how far the justice system has gone with that issue even if it happened last July. This shows that the wheels of justice are extremely slow or at a standstill. It is all over the media that our justice system has serious problems. There is no transparency with the court cases and the politicians have polarised the whole system.
There is also this serious problem where judicial officers take orders from those in power even if those orders are unconstitutional just for job security. That is very unfair.
LT: What is your view of the murder allegations which have been levelled against the prime minister and his wife?
Doti: The law should apply equally to everyone. In fact, the leaders should set an example. The country should even introduce a system where people will be vetted before taking these high offices to avoid embarrassing incidents such as this one.
LT: There have been many failed attempts to unite the previously warring ABC factions and there are widespread beliefs that yours is just a "marriage of convenience" to possible save Dr Thabane from prosecution. What is the correct position?
Doti: The allegations are not true. I am one of those who tried to bring peace to the ABC since February 2019. I even sat Prof (Mahao) down and asked him what his problem was with Ntate Thabane. We agreed that I would try everything I could to get them to bury their differences so that things could go back to normal. Our differences affected the country and that had to be corrected.
I and others used all the strategies we could to build peace in the party because our fear was that our squabbles would contaminate the whole government. Unfortunately, they contaminated the government and we are all witness to that. There is no service delivery and no work is happening on the ground. We have dwelt much on the conflicts rather than serving the nation. If you look at the past two years, nothing has been done.