Being an MP would enable me to do more for my community: Mahlala
FOR 15 years, businessman and philanthropist, Bothata Mahlala, was content with simply using his resources to fund charitable activities aimed at improving the lives of disadvantaged people in his rural community of Mount Moorosi, Quthing.
He would liaise with community leaders or glean information from media outlets about dilapidated schools needing an uplift, or about disadvantaged learners who could not afford to pay their fees. He would then set aside some funds to refurbish classroom blocks and pay school fees for some pupils.
But even with his best efforts, it soon became clear that simply dipping into his pockets was not enough to uplift the lives of people in his home area. After consultations over time with villagers in his home district, Mr Mahlala eventually decided the only way he could do more, in a more sustainable manner, would be to join politics. On Friday, he will be contesting the Mount Moorosi National Assembly seat on a Democratic Congress (DC) ticket.
“I grew up in poverty and it became a life mission to assist others who were less privileged,” Mr Mahlala said in a recent interview with the Sunday Express.
“For the past 15 years I’ve been helping my community, particularly by paying school fees for disadvantaged kids. I’ve also assisted some families by buying them food.
“But even with my best efforts and those of others, it was still evident that much more needed to be done. There were still so many people in need of help. In my engagements with my community, I came to understand that the socio-economic challenges were structural and required much more than just charity to fix them.
“There is need for policy frameworks at government level to tackle systemic poverty. Parliament has to come up with legislation to assist people in disadvantaged communities. The only way for this to happen, my people told me, was for me to get into politics. They kept saying if I contested elections and got into parliament, I would be able to influence decision-making for their benefit and for the good of Basotho as a whole.”
And so the businessman, whose interests range from wool and mohair farming to property development locally and in South Africa, will be a first time contestant in Friday’s polls.
If he wins, his priorities are clear.
“My priorities are to help create laws to improve the lives of ordinary people, especially those in rural areas. One of my first tasks would be to see to it that we have laws or policies to assist farmers with fertilisers and other agricultural inputs.
“Wool and mohair farming is big business in Lesotho and we have to help our people earn more from this sector. One of the ways this can be done is for the state to help farmers acquire high quality rams for breeding purposes.
“I will also work hard to ensure we pass laws making it mandatory for all our wool and mohair to be sold locally. As things stand, all our produce is taken to Port Elizabeth and auctioned there. Our farmers are losing a lot to the foreign brokers and they are also paying so much to transport their produce to Eastern Cape. We need to take back control of this sector. People who want to buy our produce should come to Lesotho. That way, we will be able to maximise revenue for our farmers and for the state.
“On the subject of education, we need to introduce free secondary education to go complement the free primary education policy which was introduced years ago by the founding DC leader, Pakalitha Mosisili.
“On social support, we need to increase pensions for the elderly and reduce the age at which one becomes eligible for such pensions. It doesn’t help much for us to say the pensionable age is 70 when the life expectancy in our country is 50. We need to reduce the pensionable age to enable our senior citizens to benefit while they are still alive,” Mr Mahala said.
He also expressed concern at the escalation of crime in the country. Of particular concern to him are the rampant killings of women and children. As a businessman, he knows too well the adverse impact crime can have on investment.
“I will also focus on initiatives to fight crime. We need to capacitate our security agencies in terms of skills and resources to enable them to tackle crime. Our high crime statistics could scare away investors,” he said.
Of the 65 plus parties on Lesotho’s political landscape, he has chosen to throw his lot with the Mathibeli Mokhothu-led DC.
“It was an easy decision to make,” Mr Mahlala said of his decision to contest the Mount Moorosi seat on a DC ticket.
“My ideology has always been congress because I grew up in a congress-supporting family. Although there are many congress-leaning parties in Lesotho, it was not difficult for me to choose the DC. I assessed all the parties and realised that the DC not only had vibrant policies and vibrant supporters, it has a young, dynamic and charismatic Ieader as well. I don’t think there is anyone like Ntate Mokhothu.”
He urged the electorate to go out in large numbers to give the DC a resounding victory which would enable it to govern alone. He said coalition governments were sometimes unworkable due to clashes among the governing partners. Hence a decisive victory for the DC would it give a free hand to aggressively implement its developmental agenda for the benefit of Basotho, he said.