Lesotho: ABC Splits

The Lesotho flag.

The long-running infighting within the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) finally reached its zenith this week with deputy leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao, breaking away to form a new party called the New Dawn.

Prof Mahao yesterday confirmed the formation of the new party in an interview with the Lesotho Times. He said the new party had been tentatively named New Dawn.

He said he and other unnamed ABC legislators had on Tuesday decided to form a new party because they were "tired of the incessant infighting in the ABC".

"For now, I will not give you the exact number of MPs who have defected as this is an ongoing, unfolding history," Prof Mahao told this publication.

He however, inadvertently let the cat out of the bag at a later stage when he said that, "if you lose almost half of your MPs, that's a very dramatic thing which requires a lot of counseling and therapy".

If his claims of the numbers who have defected prove to be true, this could spell the death-knell for the current Moeketsi Majoro-led governing coalition anchored by the ABC and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu's Democratic Congress (DC) party.

DC secretary general Tšitso Cheba yesterday conceded that the ABC split could have "serious implications for the stability" of his party's governing coalition with the ABC.

Prof Mahao said they had abandoned ship upon realising that ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele had "delivered the ABC back to Makhoakhoeng". Makhoakhoeng is the home of ABC leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

There is no love lost between Mr Thabane and Prof Mahao after the former premier fiercely fought to prevent the former National University of Lesotho (NUL) vice chancellor from becoming deputy leader after the party's 2019 elective conference.

Mr Hlaele routinely disparaged Mr Thabane, his father-in-law, while he was still a loyal ally of Prof Mahao after their election as secretary-general and deputy leader respectively at the 2019 leadership conference.

They both toured the country to mobilise against Mr Thabane who they eventually forced out of power in May 2020. They were instrumental in negotiating a deal with the DC to form the current coalition which ushered in the ABC's Thetsane legislator, Dr Major, as premier in place of Mr Thabane.

But they have since fallen out and Mr Hlaele is now back with his father-in-law. The two are united in their determination to thwart Prof Mahao.

Prof Mahao also accused Prime Minister Majoro of undoing previous efforts to "save" the current government from Mr Thabane and his allies by "taking it back to Makhoakhoeng".

Prof Mahao alleged that Dr Majoro had connived with the Thabane faction to plot his expulsion from the ABC. The plot was allegedly hatched at a meeting at Mr Thabane's Makhoakhoeng home a fortnight ago, as correctly reported by the Lesotho Times last week.

The Lesotho Times first reported that an insidious plot was hatched to suspend and expel Prof Mahao from the ABC at the Makhoakhoeng meeting.

Dr Majoro, Messrs Thabane and Hlaele were all present at the meeting which is said to have been disguised as a traditional feast to avoid falling foul of public health regulations which bar political gatherings. But authoritative ABC sources said it was a precursor to a spirited effort to sabotage Prof Mahao's leadership ambitions.

Also present at the meeting were national executive committee (NEC) members Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson), Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), members of parliament and other Thabane loyalists.

Prof Mahao and his allies who include chairperson Samuel Rapapa and Mokhotlong legislator Tefo Mapesela were absent from the event.

Mr Mapesela, who publicly professed his support for Prof Mahao to take over as ABC leader, was last week dismissed from his post as Agriculture, Marketing and Food Security minister.

Although no reasons were given for his dismissal, government and ABC sources said the outspoken Mr Mapesela's dismissal was the result of his freshly strained relationship with Dr Majoro after he declared that the premier had no chance of ever leading the ABC.

Mr Mapesela had also launched a blistering attack on Dr Majoro and other senior ABC officials who attended the Makhoakhoeng feast, accusing them of taking the governance reins back to Mr Thabane and his once powerful wife, 'Maesaiah Thabane, whom Mr Mapesela derisively describes as 'Malinkoana.

This is the first publicly known event, at which Dr Majoro, who was also despised by Mr Thabane and has been blasted on several occasions by his predecessor, had visited the former premier's home since succeeding him in May 2020.

Like Mr Hlaele, Dr Majoro is said to harbour ambitions of eventually taking over the ABC leadership to buttress his position as prime minister.

It now appears Christmas has come a whole lot earlier for Messrs Thabane, Hlaele and Dr Majoro after Prof Mahao decided to jump ship to form his own party.

Explaining the reasons for forming the new party to this publication, Prof Mahao yesterday said, "we are tired of the infighting in the ABC, there is no letting go of the fights".

"That is point number one. Point number two is that we tried to save the government from Makhoakhoeng domination and all that Makhoakhoeng represents.

"But Ntate Majoro has since delivered the government back to Makhoakhoeng. You know that we spent two years fighting against the turning of this party into a family arrangement and we had succeeded in rescuing the party from that. Then Hlaele took it (ABC) back to his family.

"We had thought the government was safe, then Ntate Majoro took it back to Makhoakhoeng. So, we had to walk out and start the new phase of the struggle," Prof Mahao said.

He said a decision was taken at Mr Thabane's Makhoakhoeng home to expel him from the party. He added that he found it strange that Dr Majoro had allegedly connived with the Thabane faction to plot his ouster shortly after he had saved him from being recalled from his post by that same faction.

"A decision was taken at Makhoakhoeng to expel me from the ABC and apparently the Prime Minister's faction connived in that yet I saved him by supporting him when the very same people wanted to topple him.

"The main support and mainstay of his (Majoro) government was actually the MPs who were associated with the so-called Likatana (the Mahao loyalists) but then he (Majoro) went and made a deal with those people that I must be sorted out.

"In other words, when they failed to remove him (Majoro), they then decided to remove the one who was protecting him. Very strange thing, isn't it? And it says that politicians have no honour at all. You cannot turn the sword against the people who are protecting you by conniving with your previous enemies," Prof Mahao said.

He said the decision to form a new party was taken at a Tuesday meeting of disgruntled ABC MPs.

"We have a number of tentative names. Although it has not been approved by the collective, we are thinking of calling the party, New Dawn.

"We initially tested the waters with the video clips that Mapesela made to see how the public was going to respond. Yesterday (Tuesday) we formally met and took a formal decision that we better strike while the iron is still hot. So, the formal decision (to form the party) was made yesterday (Tuesday)".

He said they were working on the logistics and they were likely to call a press conference next week to speak about the new party.

"We are sorting out the logistics. The constitution will probably take another week (to write). We have formed task teams that are working on various aspects. We are in the process of registering the party but we are already recruiting members.

"There is a committee that is now deploying people to all of the country's 11 urban centres. From there, they will go into the constituencies. We are also looking at different (party logo) designs and they will be debated and decided on," Prof Mahao said.

Asked whether he was going to resign from government, Prof Mahao said he was not going anywhere just yet.

"I am still in office working hard. I have just come from parliament where one of the key bills, the Witness Protection Bill of 2021, was being tabled by the portfolio committee (on Law and Public Safety).

"The appointment to a ministerial post has nothing to do with one's political affiliation. A person is appointed by His Majesty (King Letsie III). His Majesty has not relieved me of my duties.

"In the same vein, I don't need to resign from the ABC. That is their problem. I am waiting for them. I was just telling Rapapa that I am going to call all of the people who have ABC regalia to bring it here. We are not going to burn the regalia like Mapesela is doing, we will donate it as a consolation to the ABC.

"We will donate it to them to the ABC because their souls are burdened with this loss. If you lose almost half of your MPs, that's a very dramatic thing and it requires a lot of counseling and therapy.

"You can't underestimate the rebellion of the mass of our people and the disappointment with the existing establishment parties and the urge to look for a new home with a vision. We are already being overwhelmed by the responses from the grassroots, both here and in South Africa before we have even publicly announced ourselves," Prof Mahao said.

He said the formation of the new party was likely to have far-reaching implications on the present government as there were going to be "movements like in a game of chess".

"The present (government) would necessarily have to be reconfigured to take into account the existing reality and the new balance of forces," he said enigmatically.

DC secretary general Cheba said the ABC split had potentially far-reaching implications for the stability of the current coalition on the eve of its first anniversary.

"Our standpoint is that we formed government with the ABC by negotiating with its national executive committee (NEC) until an agreement was reached. We consider what is happening now (the ABC split) a family affair which we will not involve ourselves in. But it definitely shakes the foundation of our government.

"At the time we signed a coalition agreement and formed government, 52 ABC MPs signed for the formation of the coalition government. The foundation of this government was based on the number of seats - 52 for the ABC and 27 for the DC. There are indications that there are ABC MPs who are thinking of forming a new party due to their internal fights.

"This means that the ABC numbers will go down," Mr Cheba said, adding time would soon tell how this would affect the government.

Prof Mahao's announcement of the new party confirmed the rumours that had been doing the rounds this week after the outspoken Mr Mapesela was filmed burning ABC regalia emblazoned with Mr Thabane's images.

Mr Mapesela said due to "reservations" he has with the way some stories were reported in this publication, he would only speak to the Lesotho Times when he was ready.

He however, told one of the local radio stations that he had ditched the ABC because "it is destroying the Lesotho nation.

"It (ABC) never ceases fighting. There is never a time when it will cease fighting".

He said he was not influenced by bitterness at his dismissal from cabinet as he had always spoken his mind even when he was still in office.

"I fight when I am a minister and even when I am not one. I fought 'Malinkoana (derogatory name for 'Maesaiah Thabane) and Ntate (Alliance of Democrats leader Monyane) Moleleki. I fought this one (Majoro) over his decisions.

"I am saying this one in reference to the current prime minister. You can call him in a manner that you love if he is your father but he is not my father. Tell him I said that," Mr Mapesela said on radio this week.

Meanwhile, Mr Hlaele said the ABC was "disappointed" to have lost its deputy leader.

"We are disappointed to have lost the deputy leader of the party but the most embarrassing thing was to learn earlier today that he (Mahao) has been working on the formation of this new party for quite some time now while still serving in the ABC's NEC.

"It is most embarrassing that while we were still working together towards the unity and stability of this party, he was plotting to form a new party from within. However, we wish him and all those who have left with him all the best even though I have heard that the owner of the party (Mapesela) has expelled him.

"Twelve hours have not lapsed since the announcement of the new party and they are already expelling each other. The ABC is embarrassed that there are already internal squabbles in the new party," Mr Hlaele said.

He also accused Prof Mahao of repeatedly attempting to stage a hostile takeover of the ABC while he was still the deputy leader.

"He has attempted to stage a hostile takeover on several occasions. He turned himself into the leader of this party while there was still a lawful leader in place. His actions and statements were those of a person who regarded himself as the leader of this party. He was in a hurry to become the leader of the party; he wants to lead everywhere he goes, even in the new party, he went there because he is in a hurry to lead.

"He is right that I took back the control of the ABC from him and handed it back to the rightful person who was elected to lead this party. I have handed over control of the party to the rightful leader and that leader resides at Makhoakhoeng," Mr Hlaele said yesterday.

Messrs Rapapa, Kabi, Masoetsa and deputy secretary 'Matebatso Doti were not reachable on their mobile phones for comment.

The decision to form a splinter party is the culmination of the protracted infighting within the ABC ever since Prof Mahao's election to the deputy leader's post in February 2019. Mr Thabane rejected the election. The infighting had spilled into the courts, with several cases that were adjudicated in favour of the Mahao faction. The Mahao faction had itself splintered when Mr Hlaele re-embraced Mr Thabane.

Prof Mahao's exit from the ABC might advantage Prime Minister Majoro in his own quest to take over the leadership of the lead coalition government party.

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