Lesotho: ABC Implodes

The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (file photo).
17 February 2021

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) has virtually imploded.

One faction of the party insists its national executive committee (NEC) has resolved to recall Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro while the other rebuffs the claim as a "big fat lie".

The bitter factionalism within the ABC reached a crescendo this week with factional members exchanging fistfights at an NEC meeting on Monday over the Majoro recall issue.

But there is now a serious realignment of the factions with deputy party leader Nqosa Mahao, spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa and secretary general Lebohang Hlaele, who all once constituted a formidable faction against party leader Thomas Thabane, now at war amongst themselves.

The three convened countrywide rallies to rally party supporters after the chaos that engulfed the party's February 2019 elective conference at which Professor Mahao's elevation to deputy leader was rejected by Mr Thabane. They fought in unisom against Mr Thabane, even succeeding in engineering his ouster as premier. But all hell has now broken loose among them with Mr Masoetsa going as far as denigrating Prof Mahao as a "fool".

The factionalism in the ABC reached a crescendo at the Monday NEC meeting at which Mr Masoetsa insists a resolution was taken to recall Dr Majoro while Prof Mahao dismisses that claim as a "big fat lie". NEC officials from either camp exchanged blows as the meeting degenerated into a slanging fiasco.

After having fought in Prof Mahao's corner for much of the factional duration since 2019, Mr Hlaele is said to have now set his sights on becoming party leader and premier at the expense of Dr Majoro and Prof Mahao. That ambition is partly said to be at the core of the latest fights which have now split the ABC right through the middle.

Admission

After initially denying it, Prof Mahao, chairperson Samuel Rapapa and Mr Masoetsa have now all finally admitted that their party is split right down the middle as consistently reported by the Lesotho Times in previous editions.

The two NEC members, Sekhonyana Mosenene and Mohlophehi Mohobelo, exchanged blows as tempers flared over whether or not to vote on a proposal to recall Dr Majoro.

The Mahao and Hlaele factions subsequently issued conflicting statements regarding Dr Majoro's fate in the aftermath of the Monday meeting.

Mr Masoetsa, a close ally of Mr Hlaele, said the meeting ended with a resolution to recall Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro from his post. This after Dr Majoro allegedly unilaterally reshuffled his cabinet last Wednesday and fired some ministers without the knowledge and approval of the NEC.

Prof Mahao and his allies, who include chairperson Samuel Rapapa, have on the other hand dismissed Mr Masoetsa's claims saying no such decision was ever made. They insist that the premier remains firmly in his position.

Prof Mahao and his allies further accused Mr Hlaele and his allies of holding clandestine meetings at Mr Hlaele's house to plot Dr Majoro's ouster as well as "a hostile takeover" of the fractious lead governing coalition party.

The factions took the gloves off at the Monday meeting at Khali Hotel in Maseru. The meeting was convened to, among other things, discuss Dr Majoro's cabinet reshuffle last Wednesday.

Among others, Dr Majoro axed Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Keketso Rantšo, from her post as Labour and Employment minister. The premier also moved Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele Maseribane, from the Communications, Science and Technology ministry to the Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing portfolio.

Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa said the reshuffle had surprised and angered the ABC's NEC. They said Ms Rantšo and Chief 'Maseribane should not have been touched in the reshuffle.

They said the duo should not have been targeted because their parties were signatories to the April 2020 coalition agreement which gave birth to the current Majoro-led governing coalition after the May 2020 dissolution of the previous coalition headed by Mr Thabane.

Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa had told the Sunday Express that although Dr Majoro's decision could not be reversed, the party's NEC would nevertheless meet on Monday to discuss how best to manage its fractured relationship with the RCL and BNP.

But it has now emerged that their pronouncements and concerns are not unanimously shared by all NEC members including Prof Mahao, Mr Rapapa, deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi and deputy spokesperson 'Matebatso Doti.

Hlaele Camp

The Hlaele camp is anchored by Mr Masoetsa and deputy chairperson Chalane Phori.

Their differences came to the fore at the explosive Monday meeting where Mr Masoetsa insists the party resolved to "recall" and "redeploy" Dr Majoro as punishment for his "ill-advised and ill-timed" decision to fire Ms Rantšo and redeploy Chief 'Maseribane.

There was a previous, albeit unsuccessful attempt last December by Mr Thabane, who is now said to be working closely with his son in law Mr Hlaele, to have Dr Majoro ousted on the grounds he had lost the support of most party members and legislators due to his alleged dictatorial way of doing things.

However, the move did not succeed as it was rejected by the NEC and several ABC MPs who subsequently held a press conference in December 2020 to reaffirm their support for Dr Majoro.

Despite this, Messrs Hlaele, Masoetsa, and Mr Thabane are unrelenting in their bid to see the back of Dr Majoro. They are now using the Wednesday reshuffle to revive the bid to oust Dr Majoro. This is however despite the fact that Dr Majoro has the constitutional prerogative to appoint his cabinet and nowhere in the law is it stipulated that a prime minister is obliged to consult party officials before appointing his ministers. But Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa have repeatedly exhorted Dr Majoro to consult with their NEC when he appoints ministers and other senior officials including principal secretaries.

According to Mr Masoetsa, the NEC resolved to recall the premier at the Monday meeting. He said they would meet again "within seven days to finalise modalities of the premier's redeployment".

His claims have however been rejected by Prof Mahao, Mr Rapapa and others who described them as "big fat lies" by fellow NEC members bent on "staging a hostile takeover of the party".

Recall

Mr Masoetsa told the Lesotho Times the NEC had resolved to "recall and redeploy" Dr Majoro and they would meet within seven days to finalise the modalities of the premier's redeployment.

He said among other things, the meeting had also been called to correct "false statements" last December by Mr Rapapa that the NEC was fully behind Dr Majoro when this was no longer the case.

"We did not waste time at the meeting as we immediately corrected the fraudulent claims that the NEC supports Majoro.

"Rapapa is the one who made that fraudulent announcement on different radio stations and through voice clips. He was supported by Mahao but we didn't agree with them. This matter was discussed in the (Monday) meeting because it needed to be straightened out.

"We also agreed that Majoro should be redeployed. Modalities surrounding his redeployment will be finalised during our next meeting to be held within seven days.

"The decision was taken after initial disagreements as to whether or not we should vote on the matter. Some were saying we must vote while others were saying the voting should not go ahead. But a decision was eventually made that Majoro should be redeployed without voting. The meeting ended there. Within seven days, the secretary general (Hlaele) will arrange the next meeting to conclude the matter," Mr Masoetsa said. Mr Hlaele was not reachable on his mobile phone for comment.

Prof Mahao, Mr Rapapa and some NEC members vehemently rejected Mr Masoetsa's claims at a press conference at the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) offices in Maseru on Tuesday.

Mr Mosenene, deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi, treasurer Tlali Mohapi, deputy spokesperson 'Matebatso Doti, secretary responsible for taking minutes Likhapha Masupha and Mokhotlong constituency representative Thabo Sekonyela also attended the presser.

Big Fat Lie

"That is a big fat lie," Prof Mahao said of Mr Masoetsa's claims that they had resolved to recall Dr Majoro.

"The arguments (about recalling Majoro) went on until the leader (Thabane) said he was closing the (Monday) meeting. After the leader closed the meeting, the secretary general (Hlaele) who throughout the meeting kept on whispering in the leader's ear or passing pieces of paper, wrote yet another piece of paper and passed it on to the leader who had already indicated that he was closing the meeting.

"As the leader was about to read it, the house broke out in noise and complained about the secretary general repeatedly passing pieces of paper to the leader.

"The meeting ended and it was agreed that since the agenda had not been concluded, the next meeting will be called within seven days to conclude the agenda," Prof Mahao said.

He said after the meeting ended, Mr Thabane left the venue first. He was followed by other NEC members shortly afterwards. He said they later learnt that the Hlaele faction secretly reconvened and agreed to issue a false report saying Dr Majoro had been recalled. But Prof Mahao insisted that was not the case.

He accused Mr Hlaele of hosting a meeting of "eight men and a woman" at his Maseru home on the eve of the NEC meeting to plot a hostile takeover of the ABC.

"We are saying that reports that the NEC decided that the head of government Ntate Majoro must be recalled within seven days are not true. It is a big, fat lie. We want to assure ABC members that there is nothing of that sort which was decided by the NEC.

"What we cannot deny however, is that the eight men and a woman met at Lebohang Hlaele's house on Sunday, clearly preparing to stage a hostile takeover of the party. They may have decided that (Majoro's recall). But that is not the decision of the ABC's NEC to recall Majoro," Prof Mahao said.

He said it had become clear that the NEC was deeply divided. Because they did not have sufficient numbers, the Hlaele faction had attempted to rope in more people into the NEC to help them achieve their objective of removing Dr Majoro and taking over of the party, Prof Mahao, who is also Justice and Law minister said.

"The ABC constitution states that NEC must be made up of 30 members but there are currently 20 or 21 members.

"It (NEC) has split right down the middle and it is now an open secret that there are divisions.

"We know that they attempted to stage a hostile takeover. They (Hlaele faction) wanted to abduct the party.

"We know that on Friday, Messrs Lebohang Hlaele and Phori were in Butha-Buthe and that is where they forged a letter to increase their numbers in the NEC to enable them to just drag us along with them. So, these actions and the manner in which they wanted yesterday's (Monday) meeting to take their favoured direction, is clear evidence that they are abducting this party," Prof Mahao said.

However, Mr Masoetsa denied that they held a meeting to plot a takeover of the party.

Slanging Match

"They are lying. The NEC on Monday decided that Majoro must be recalled. Mahao was the first to say he would not vote. Kabi, Rapapa and others also started shouting saying they will not allow us to win.

"After the matter was extensively discussed, three members asked Thabane to lead the way and Thabane said Majoro must be redeployed. Mahao and (the ABC secretary responsible for taking minutes Masupha) Likhapha said they would not allow uneducated people to defeat them and that is when the physical fight erupted (between Mosenene and Mohobelo). Thabane is the one who said Majoro must be redeployed yet this Mahao fool says I said Majoro must be recalled within seven days.

"It is also a lie that there was a meeting at Hlaele's place on Sunday. Mahao is a liar.

"They even came into the Monday meeting with underhand tricks to make sure that we don't vote. They made a lot of noise hoping Thabane would sulk and walk out. They thought this would work to their advantage but it did not, Thabane did not walk out of that meeting. They also questioned the eligibility of the Berea district representative. This was his fifth NEC meeting yet on Monday they claimed that he was not an eligible NEC member and must therefore be expelled from the meeting. We told them that this is rubbish.

"On the issue of pieces of paper being passed to him, Thabane indicated that he was now an old man who needed to be given pieces of paper to constantly remind him of issues that he must talk to. There was nothing wrong with Hlaele giving him pieces of paper to remind him. The last piece of paper Hlaele passed to Thabane was to ask him to stop the meeting because of the commotion which had ensured. Hlaele said the NEC will be called within seven days to finish its agenda but this Koro-Koro fool (Mahao) is now saying I am the one who said that," Mr Masoetsa charged.

He also attacked Messrs Kabi, Masupha and others of previously residing in the Thabane faction and assisting the latter when Mr Masoetsa himself and others fought in Prof Mahao and his allies' corner to stop Mr Thabane from expelling them from the party in 2019.

He issued the reminder after Mr Kabi accused Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa of attempting to "breathe life into their political careers" by using Mr Thabane.

"It is important to pass a clear message to this other side (Hlaele camp) that we are no longer seeing eye-to-eye with. They are grown men and should stop using the leader (Thabane) for the wrong reasons," Mr Kabi said at the Tuesday press conference.

"The leader is now an old man. They must stand on their own and not use him as a lung to breathe through."

Rapapa

In a separate interview with this publication, Mr Rapapa also denied Mr Masoetsa's claims that they had resolved to recall Dr Majoro.

"Did he say how the decision was made? Does he say we voted on the matter? Don't tell me you have not studied Masoetsa's character well enough. Masoetsa likes to make his opinion appear as though it is the party position. Every time he speaks to the media, he makes it appear as though his own personal beliefs are those of the NEC.

"Just last week, the premier reshuffled cabinet and Masoetsa said the NEC had not been informed. When did the NEC meet in order for it to be informed on this decision because the NEC was only sitting for the first time on Monday after its last sitting on 29 December (2020)?"

Mr Rapapa insisted that Mr Thabane's proposal to recall Dr Majoro had been defeated in an NEC vote on 29 December 2020.

"Mahao chaired that meeting and we triumphed over them. They claimed they lost because they were not in that meeting. Masoetsa himself claimed that he was not part of the meeting but he is lying," Mr Rapapa said.

He said the motion to recall Dr Majoro was a closed matter as it had been conclusively dealt with at the December meeting. The Monday meeting was supposed to be a routine meeting. But the Hlaele faction had demanded a vote on whether or not to recall Dr Majoro.

"We refused to vote on the matter. It was then agreed to solicit Ntate Thabane's opinion as it was evident that the discussions were never going to be concluded.

"He (Thabane) was asked if he was aware that this issue had potential to split the party. He then said we must abandon the matter and not allow it to split the party. He said we should instead concentrate on the needs of the ordinary people in the constituencies. Immediately after he said that, Hlaele whispered in his ear, saying 'but Majoro must be redeployed'.

"At that point some members lost their tempers, saying they could not continue allowing Hlaele who had dethroned Thabane to now use him.

"There was commotion as some members supported the moves to recall Majoro while others said he must not be recalled.

"Ntate Hlaele then stood up and announced that a meeting (on Majoro's recall) will be held within seven days. It was then that Ntate Thabane said the (Monday) meeting could not go ahead under this (tense) climate. I then personally closed the meeting with a prayer," Mr Rapapa said, adding there was never a resolution to recall Dr Majoro.

He accused Mr Hlaele of behaving like the Biblical Jacob who usurped his brother Esau's inheritance by conniving with their mother Rebecca to deceive their mother into giving him the inheritance which was rightfully Esau's.

Possible split

Mr Rapapa nonetheless said the party had experienced similar disagreements before and would not split because of them.

Mr Masoetsa on the other hand said it was a blessing in disguise that Mr Rapapa had lost his bid to become the prime minister last March.

The NEC, including Prof Mahao, Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa had unanimously endorsed Mr Rapapa to succeed Mr Thabane as moves to oust the premier, amid allegations that he participated in the murder of his ex-wife Lipolelo, had gathered momentum. Mr Rapapa however lost to Dr Majoro by 26 votes to 18 in a poll of ABC MPs after it was decided that the matter should not be exclusively dealt with by the ABC NEC alone. Dr Majoro was then supported by other parties forming the current coalition.

But efforts to oust the premier have not receded with Dr Majoro himself once pronouncing that the bid to oust him began barely 48 hours after he took office. Messrs Thabane and Hlaele are said to have now closed ranks and are fighting hard to ensure Dr Majoro does not last until next year's elections. But their behavior is also seen imperiling the ABC as the party will remain focused on its internal mayhem instead of the nitty-gritty issues of governance and service delivery.

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