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ABC leaders in near fist-fight

…as Maliehe defies Thabane and party’s National Executive Committee

Pascalinah Kabi

THERE was chaos at the ALL Basotho Convention (ABC)’s leadership conference in Berea on Friday night and legislators almost came to blows after the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) barred its chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe, from chairing the meeting.

ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane attended the leadership conference at the Palace Hotel in Berea along with the party’s NEC, legislators, councilors and constituency chairpersons and secretaries.

The conference, which spilled into the early hours of yesterday, was convened to prepare for the party’s special conference scheduled for the 24th of this month in Quthing.

The outspoken ABC chairperson, Mr Maliehe, who has already ruffled feathers with his blistering public attack on the First Lady, Maesaiah Thabane in May this year, was once again in the eye of the storm at the Friday conference.

It was his refusal to heed the NEC’s decision to bar him from chairing the Friday conference that sparked angry exchanges among the legislators which almost degenerated into fisticuffs between outspoken former Health Minister Nyapane Kaya and Malimong constituency legislator Leshoboro Mohlajoa.

Mr Maliehe also took his fight with party colleagues to a new level by defying Dr Thabane’s directive that he should not chair the Friday conference. Dr Thabane made the call after NEC members voted overwhelming to bar Mr Maliehe from chairing the proceedings.

In two separate interviews, Mr Maliehe and ABC secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele yesterday confirmed that the party’s NEC decided that Mr Maliehe should not chair the Friday meeting because of his pending appearance before the disciplinary committee.

Mr Maliehe, who also serves as Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture, will soon appear before a disciplinary committee over his public attack on Ms Thabane.

Mr Maliehe grabbed the headlines in May this year when he launched a blistering attack on Ms Thabane while addressing a rally in Hololo constituency.

Mr Maliehe said Ms Thabane was fomenting chaos in the party and in the government through “constant meddling” in the work of ministers and officials. He demanded that the First Lady stops meddling in state affairs forthwith or risk derailing the government.

The ABC chairperson accused the First Lady of derailing the government by seeking to control ministers and how they should perform their duties. He further accused Ms Thabane of violating the constitution and “abetting corruption” by instigating the removal of ministers who refused to comply with her demands.

It was against the background of his impending appearance before the disciplinary committee that the ABC’s NEC held a closed meeting on Friday and decided that Mr Maliehe should not chair the conference.

Mr Maliehe, Dr Thabane and ABC spokesperson Tefo Mapesela were not part of the NEC meeting which decided that the former should not chair the conference.

According to party sources, all hell broke loose when Mr Ntsekele communicated the decision to Mr Maliehe. The sources said that Mr Ntsekele whispered to Mr Maliehe who responded by standing up and shouting that he would still chair the conference despite the NEC decision.

“Mr Maliehe stood up and shouted, ‘I am going to chair this meeting’ and everyone was shocked,” said one source.

Another source added that immediately after Mr Maliehe’s outburst, he, Mr Ntsekele and other NEC members, walked out of the conference hall into another room where they discussed the issue of Mr Maliehe at length.

“Ntate Ntsekele said to Ntate Maliehe, ‘like I said earlier Mr chairperson, the committee has taken a decision that you are not going to chair this meeting because of your pending appearance before the disciplinary committee’.

“Ntate Maliehe replied by saying, ‘I am going to chair this meeting. How does a committee decide without my presence? That was not a committee decision but the decision of the Linakeli (a secret meeting),” the source said.

At this point, Mr Ntsekele immediately telephoned Dr Thabane who was not initially at the hotel to report what had just transpired.

Dr Thabane reportedly arrived at the hotel within 30 minutes of Mr Ntsekele’s call and immediately gathered the entire NEC in a closed meeting where he asked them to vote for or against barring Mr Maliehe from chairing the conference.

“Fourteen people voted in favour of barring Mr Maliehe while Ntate Maliehe stood on his own. Ntate Thabane then said it was clear that Ntate Maliehe should not chair the meeting but Ntate Maliehe said, ‘my leader, I am going to chair this meeting’,” the source said.

And when they returned to the conference hall, Mr Maliehe and his deputy, Kemiso Mosenene, reportedly headed straight to the podium to chair the conference.

Another source said Mr Ntsekele stepped in and asked for a volunteer to give an opening prayer before calling Dr Thabane to the stage to officially open the conference.

“Immediately after the leader (Dr Thabane’s) speech, both the chairperson and his deputy went to the podium and grabbed microphones ready to chair the meeting.

“Immediately after Ntate Maliehe said ‘La Chaba’ (the ABC slogan), Ntate Potlako Thabane (ABC member and son to Dr Thabane) disconnected his microphone and allowed Ntate Mosenene to use the cordless one. That didn’t deter Ntate Maliehe from saying his mind and this resulted in the chairperson of the ABC legislators’ caucus Fako Moshoeshoe calling an urgent meeting outside.

“All the legislators, except for Mosenene and Dr Thabane went into that meeting and sparks flew in that room. Immediately after the Mabote legislator (Fako Moshoeshoe) said it was prudent for the legislators to behave and not utter any word in the leadership conference, Kaya lost his temper and told him ‘we are not your boys.”

The source said Mr Kaya’s statement was met with harsh response from the Malimong constituency legislator Leshoboro Mohlajoa whose attempts to beat up the former were stopped by other party members.

“It took almost an hour to convince Ntate Maliehe to let the issue (of the chairing of the conference) go and that’s when we went back to the leadership conference chaired by Ntate Mosenene,” the source said.

Yesterday, Mr Mosenene refused to discuss the fracas at the Friday conference, saying “the ABC has one method of communication and that is through the secretary general, even on this matter in which I’m personally involved”.

For his part, Mr Maliehe said the decision to sideline him was a blessing in disguise because he regarded that move as a political gain on his part. He also vowed that he would not appear before any disciplinary committee, saying his case should be dealt with by the party conference on 24 August.

“I can confirm that I was sidelined. The NEC told me that they decided that I should not chair the Friday meeting because I am going to appear before the disciplinary committee. I disputed that decision because that I was never informed of the meeting that took that decision. I was not part of that meeting therefore I don’t recognise that meeting. It wasn’t a NEC decision but that of a secret meeting,” Mr Maliehe said.

He said he also informed the NEC that the ABC constitution did not have any provisions requiring its members to respond to show-cause letters, adding he only responded to the letter that was served on him “in the hope that the NEC will learn the proper ways of running the party but it clearly shows that they learnt nothing”.

“The ABC constitution clearly talks of a hierarchy of sub-branch, constituency, disciplinary committee, NEC and a conference for the purposes of disciplining someone. Now the NEC is hauling me before its sub-committee after I had already appeared before it through the show-cause letter. But I am not going to appear before such a committee. My issues will be dealt by the 24th August conference.

“As an individual I was not prejudiced but that (decision to bar him from chairing the Friday conference) worked in my favour because I gained politically. Hundreds of people who attended the conference now know the truth. They now know that I have always been telling the truth about the leadership of this party,” Mr Maliehe said without elaborating.

Mr Maliehe however, pleaded with the ABC supporters to remain calm, saying peaceful negotiations were the best way of solving differences within the party.

In a separate interview, Mr Ntsekele said Mr Maliehe went as far as defying the party leader, Dr Thabane.

“The NEC took the decision that the deputy chairperson should chair the conference but the chairperson (Mr Maliehe) refused and he was adamant that he is going to chair it. He (Mr Maliehe) went as far as defying the party leader, Ntate Thabane, and I had to step in and temporarily chair the meeting because it is my duty as a secretary general to protect this party. I had to safeguard the reputation of this party,” Mr Ntsekele said.

He added: “The leader and the chairperson did not agree on this matter and I had to step in and take over the leadership role. I don’t want to go into further details of what happened.”

Meanwhile, Dr Thabane warned the conference that the ABC would not achieve its dream of garnering the overwhelming parliamentary majority that it needs to govern alone if the divisions in the party were not addressed.

The ABC is currently in a four-party coalition government along with the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

“It is my dream to live to see to the ABC grow to win enough parliamentary seats that will allow it to singlehandedly govern this country but that can only remain a dream. The ABC is faced with many challenges and we need to put an end to hatred, killings, theft and corruption,” Dr Thabane said.

He said the party’s NEC had already taken the necessary steps to mend fences with all those who felt aggrieved and Mr Maliehe’s issue was also being dealt with.

“We are handling the matter surrounding the chairperson with care and the NEC has since delegated the matter to the disciplinary committee and the expectation is that the chairperson will soon appear before the disciplinary committee,” Dr Thabane said.

Turning to government business, Dr Thabane said he had instructed each cabinet minister to submit a clear work plan detailing how they intend to fulfil their mandate.

He said he made the instruction fully aware that the party supporters were not happy with the performance of the government.

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