JUSTICE Tšeliso Monapathi has postponed to 1 April 2020 the case in which Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) members have applied for the nullification of the 29 February 2020 “special conference” at which party leader Keketso Rantšo was “ousted”.
The postponement is to enable both the applicants and respondents to file all the papers relevant to the case.
The applicants’ lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele King’s Counsel and respondents’ lawyer, Advocate Nthati Pheko briefly met with Justice Monapathi in his chambers on Friday.
Shortly after that meeting, Adv Teele KC told the Sunday Express that Justice Monapathi had resolved to postpone the case to 1 April 2020 to give applicants and respondents enough time to prepare and file all the court papers relevant to the case.
Ms Rantšo, who is also Labour and Employment minister, was “replaced” by her long-time rival, Home Affairs principal secretary ‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie.
The applicants in the latest High Court bid are Michael Keele, ‘Mamahapela Letsie and Katleho Mohapi. They are secretaries of the RCL’s Hlotse, Matsieng and Mafeteng constituency committees respectively.
In their 6 March 2020 application, the trio demands that Ms Lemphane-Letsie and others who were “elected” to the party’s national executive committee (NEC) be held in contempt of court and jailed for holding the 29 February conference allegedly in contravention of an earlier court order barring the conference.
Others who were “elected” to the RCL’s NEC at the “special conference” are: former chairperson Mr Letsielo who became the deputy leader, Mr Bataung (treasurer), Mr Mlongeni (deputy chairperson), Mr Malibu (spokesperson), Mr Mokapane (deputy spokesperson) and Ms Mpopo (editor).
The conference was held despite an interim High Court order barring the party from holding an elective conference. The order was issued by Justice Keketso Moahloli on 20 February 2020 after Ms Rantšo petitioned the courts to block the elective conference which had been pencilled in for 15 February 2020 and subsequently postponed to 22 February 2020.
In a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times, Ms Lemphane-Letsie said the “special conference” which ousted Ms Rantšo was a totally different matter from the “elective conference” which the latter had successfully challenged in court. She said the 29 February 2020 event was not an elective conference but a special conference called after 22 of the RCL’s constituency committees passed votes of no confidence in the Rantšo-led NEC on 28 February 2020.
“There is a difference between an annual conference, an elective conference and a special conference, so definitely the matter brought before the court (by Ms Rantšo) is a totally different one altogether,” said Ms Lemphane-Letsie.
“It should be clear from the onset that there was an attempt to stop the conference which was scheduled for 22 February 2020. ‘M’e Keketso was granted her wish and the conference was stopped but afterwards there was a no confidence vote by 22 constituencies and this was unstoppable. The constituencies wanted to take over the party on the grounds that the current (NEC) committee had overstayed its tenure and they demanded a special conference.
“The last time there was an elective conference was on 11 February 2017- a day after we fetched our leader (Ms Rantšo) from exile and some members of that committee were then deployed to government leaving vacancies within the NEC which were never filled.
“The special conference then resolved to elect a new committee and I was elected in absentia. This means that the weekend conference was different from the elective one which was barred by the courts.”
However, Messrs Keele and Mohapi as well as Ms Letsie are having none of Ms Lemphane-Letsie’s explanation. They want the “newly-elected” NEC to be held in contempt of court for holding the special conference in contravention of the 20 February 2020 interim order.
The RCL, the NEC, Mr Lesane, Ms Lemphane-Letsie, Poeea Letsielo, Thulo Bataung, Motlatsi Mphulenyane, ‘Makatiso Mokone, Nyepetsi Mlongeni, Setjeo Malibo, Refiloe Mokapane, Liteboho Bale, Teboho Moletsane, ‘Mampolokeng Thelisi and Khotso Koele are first to 15th respondents respectively.
There has been a long-running power struggle in the RCL pitting Ms Rantšo against Ms Lemphane-Letsie. In 2018, Ms Rantšo attempted to suspend Ms Lemphane-Letsie but the latter responded by filing a court application challenging Ms Rantšo’s moves. The case is still pending before the High Court.
Last year, Ms Rantšo fell out with Retšelisitsoe Lesane who was then her private secretary, and also RCL Youth League president.
In her 20 February 2020 application, Ms Rantšo successfully argued that Mr Lesane had no authority to convene the party’s elective conference.
Similarly, in their 6 March 2020 application, Messrs Keele, Mohapi and Ms Letsie argue that the 29 February 2020 special conference should not have been held as there was already an interim order against it. They argue that the High Court is yet to determine whether or not Mr Lesane has the authority to call any conference on behalf of the RCL.
The applicants want the respondents jailed for contempt of court for calling the conference. They also want the “special conference” and its outcome to be nullified.
Mr Keele argues the conference was also held against the constitution in that a 30-day window period for calling a special conference was not followed.