- Defence Minister Lebona is the second to go in three weeks
- Sources claim that infighting in the ABC is taking its toll on the party and govt
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane’s four party coalition government has been rocked by a spate of resignations with the latest being that of Defence and National Security Minister, Sentje Lebona, who stepped down from his post with effect from 13 September this year.
Mr Lebona, a member of Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party is the second minister to resign in the space of three weeks. Another ABC stalwart, ‘Mamotsie Motsie, resigned from her post as Minister of Forestry and Land Reclamation on 22 August with some party sources saying her resignation was precipitated by her fall out with the First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane.
Ms Motsie however, denied the claims, saying she had resigned due to ill-health.
And on Friday, Mr Lebona also moved to dispel any rumours that he had been forced out of his position. The ABC legislator told the Sunday Express that his decision was in no way influenced by the infighting that has rocked the ABC in recent months. He said his decision to step down was not taken lightly as he had to “choose between his family and the ministerial post” he had held since July 2017.
Mr Lebona said while he wanted to dedicate more time to his family, he would however, continue to serve his party as a legislator in Mohale’s Hoek.
“I am going back to parliament as an ordinary Mohale’s Hoek member of parliament to serve my people.
“I didn’t take the decision to resign lightly. It was a long thought out decision because I needed to choose priorities in my life. At the end of the day I decided that my family needed my undivided attention,” Mr Lebona said.
Barely a year after its advent to power alongside the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho, the ABC has been rocked by factional fights and power struggles.
The infighting has already claimed the scalp of Butha-Buthe legislator Motlohi Maliehe who was fired from his post as Tourism minister last month for his brazen attack on the First Lady during a rally in his constituency in May this year.
Mr Maliehe accused Ms Thabane of 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.
Mr Maliehe has since been suspended from his post as party chair. He has however, vowed to defy the suspension and contest the national executive committee elections at the party conference slated for February next year.
Mr Maliehe, who also served as Forestry and Land Reclamation Minister, is the third ABC legislator to be fired from government since the advent of the four-party coalition in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections.
First to be fired were outspoken former Minister of Health Nyapane Kaya and Lehlohonolo Moramotse who until February this year served as Public Works and Transport Minister.
However, Mr Lebona said the infighting within the ABC had nothing to do with his sudden resignation from his cabinet post.
“With all honesty and certainty, I can say that my decision to resign has not nothing to do with party or governance politics. Up to day, I enjoyed very cordial working relationship with my leader and Honourable Prime Minister and my fellow ministers.
“There was never a fallout. Trust me, there is nothing untoward to my resignation, it was purely based on the fact that I had to prioritise my commitments and I choose my family,” Mr Lebona said.
He further said he was leaving his cabinet post with a sense of pride and satisfaction due to his success in restoring public confidence in the army whose image had been tarnished over the years by its involvement in human rights abuses.
He said the job had not been without its challenges though.
“In any environment, there will always be hot and cold situations. It comes with the territory that some days are challenging while others are smooth sailing and my job as a minister was no different. But I am glad that against all odds, we managed to create a conducive working environment in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and the strained civilian-military relations were also addressed.
“One of the key achievements that I will look back on and smile with pride is that we managed to safely bring back exiled soldiers. We reintegrated them into the system and removed all restrictions against the suspected mutineers. The environment is now calm in the army and there was a smooth transition in terms of change of command earlier this year,” Mr Lebona said, adding that they also managed to iron out differences between the army, police, National Security Service (NSS) and Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS).
Mr Lebona said that he was also happy with the way that LDF commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela had gone about repairing the civilian-military relations which had become strained during the tenure of his predecessor Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
He said unlike Lt-Gen Kamoli, Lt-Gen Letsoela had shown that an army commander did not have to intimidate the masses.
The image of the army was soiled during the tenure of Lt-Gen Kamoli with reports of alleged human rights violations including the torture and murder of civilians as well as former army commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015.
The army-police relations were also strained during the Kamoli era and the highlight was the army raid of police stations during the attempted coup against Dr Thabane’s first government in August 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is currently in remand prison awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Press Attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala, has confirmed that Dr Thabane and His Majesty King Letsie III had accepted Mr Lebona’s resignation.
“It is true that he (Mr Lebona) has resigned and part of his letter states that his decision was based on purely personal reasons and was in no way indicative of any dissatisfaction with his role in the government,” Mr Thakalekoala said.
In his reply to Mr Lebona, Dr Thabane thanked him “for the service you rendered to the government and the people of Lesotho during your tenure as a minister”.
Dr Thabane has since appointed Police and Public Safety Minister, ‘Mampho Mokhele, as acting Defence and National Security Minister.