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Bodyguards rescue Thabane from ABC chaos

  • as suspended Maliehe vows to fight Thabane “until he accepts defeat”
  • says ABC members want a new leader

Pascalinah Kabi

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane had to be rescued by his bodyguards from rowdy members of his troubled All Basotho Convention (ABC) at the party’s sabbatical conference in Quthing on Friday.

The bodyguards were forced to step in and forcefully eject from the conference room party members who heckled Dr Thabane after he took to the podium and pleaded with them to allow ABC deputy chairperson Kemiso Mosenene to chair the proceedings in place of chairperson Motlohi Maliehe.

The outspoken Mr Maliehe was on Thursday suspended from his position for 12 months by the ABC’s national executive committee after he declined to appear before a disciplinary hearing in connection with his blistering public attack on the First Lady, Maesaiah Thabane, in May this year.

But the battle lines have been drawn after Mr Maliehe told the Sunday Express that he would defy the suspension and promised to tackle Dr Thabane head-on until the latter accepted defeat and stepped down as party leader.

The ABC however, suspended half of Mr Maliehe’s suspension, meaning that he will actively be suspended from active involvement in the party leadership including chairing party meetings and conferences for six months.

Mr Maliehe, who was recently fired from his post as Tourism minister, said he was only informed of his suspension on Friday when he was already at the Quthing conference.

“During its 22 August 2018 sitting of which you were called before the disciplinary committee but did not come, the National Executive Committee (NEC) decided to suspend you for 12 months in your capacity as the party chairperson and that you will not be involved in any leadership roles of the party for this period.

“Six months has however, been suspended on condition that you will behave in accordance with the ABC constitution while at the same time working harmoniously with the NEC,” ABC secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele stated in a letter to Mr Maliehe dated 23 August 2018.

Mr Ntsekele further informed Mr Maliehe that the NEC had decided that the latter must publicly apologise to the ABC and he must do so in partnership with the NEC.

The suspension did not however, deter some ABC members from demanding that Mr Maliehe be allowed to chair Friday’s conference.

The heckling began immediately after the opening prayer and an audio clip of the heckling has since gone viral on social media with some members of the ABC suggesting that it was a clear indication that the ABC leader must step down from his position.

“The heckling was initially and mainly aimed at Mosenene and Ntate Thabane suffered the same fate when he rose to the podium in an attempt to calm party members who demanded that Ntate Maliehe chairs the meeting. He (Dr Thabane) tried his best to diffuse the situation until he lost his cool and shouted “hee lona bashanyana hee” (loosely translated as Hey you boys),” a source who attended the conference said.

“The masses however, continued to shout, demanding that Ntate Maliehe chairs the meeting and the commotion continued until Ntate Thabane’s bodyguards intervened and removed the hecklers one by one from the hall. Afterwards the noise subsided and eventually Ntate Mosenene chaired the meeting.

“I have never ever seen the ABC members shouting at the leader like that before. He has always been respected and this was the first time we witnessed our leader being undermined like that,” another source said.

Another source said that former Health minister and Mechachane legislator, Nyapane Kaya, was dragged like “a dog” from the crowd immediately after it became clear that he was part of a clique chanting “re bitselitsoe masaoana hee masaoana-sanoa” (loosely translated to mean: ‘we are gathered here for nonsense’).

Efforts to obtain comment from Mr Kaya were fruitless as his phone rang unanswered.

One of the women who were nearly assaulted by the bodyguards for heckling Dr Thabane claimed that the party’s NEC had not formally communicated issues surrounding Mr Maliehe with the party leadership structures.

“We wanted Maliehe to chair the meeting for several reasons. First of all, his beef (quarrel) is not with the party but with the First Lady and we do not understand why he must be punished for speaking his mind especially when thousands of ABC members share the same sentiments. Secondly, the NEC has not formally communicated issues surrounding Mr Maliehe and his suspension to us as constituency committees and constitutionally, that is flawed,” said the woman who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of further reprisals.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Ntsekele said the suspension letter to Mr Maliehe was delivered on Thursday.

“I am told that his (Mr Maliehe’s) office was closed at the time the delivery was being made to his constituency office on Thursday and it was therefore delivered on Friday,” Mr Ntsekele said.

However, Mr Ntsekele would not be drawn to discuss issues surrounding the heckling of Dr Thabane.

The infighting within the ABC comes barely a year after the party combined the seats it obtained in the 3 June 2017 elections with those of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) to form government.

Addressing the ABC leaders on Friday, Dr Thabane said the party was faced with challenges ranging from hatred, killings, greed, theft and corruption.

“We can only succeed in our quest as leaders and deliver as expected of us if we listen to the people who have voted us into power with great expectations that we will deliver on our promises.

“The conviction of the coalition government is that government can only deliver on its mandate if it draws such a mandate from the people and act only within the legal frameworks,” Dr Thabane said.

He further said he hoped the ABC would continue to grow to an extent where it won enough seats to govern on its own but this would not be possible if the challenges facing the party were not immediately addressed.

“Immediately after taking over as the government, we became so busy with past governance challenges including the lack of funding (to boost economic growth) and serious criminal offences that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ordered us to deal with. The previous government refused to implement those SADC decisions. I implemented all SADC decisions and a National Leaders Forum was held (on Friday),” Dr Thabane said.

He added: “On the issue of job creation, we have instructed all ministries to change the gears and directly deal with the private sector and investors in an effort to create more jobs. In addition, the cabinet recently established a sub-committee tasked with creating jobs and this committee will closely work with other cabinet sub-committees in order to realise its mandate.”

Meanwhile, Mr Maliehe said he was not aware of the suspension letter until 3 pm on Friday, an hour after he arrived in Quthing for the sabbatical conference.

“I went to the high table at around 12 midnight and sat there for two hours. The act of the ABC members of shouting at the leader when he tried to calm them down was a clear indication that ABC members want a new leader and they will vote for a person of their choice. It was also an indication that I have defeated Thabane and I am now going to fight him.

“I will not apologise until Thabane apologises to me for saying ‘ke buoa Mme’ (an insult directed at an individual’s mother). I did not insult the ABC or its leadership, my issue was with Liabiloe (Ms Thabane) who does not have a stake in the ABC leadership and government. I do not even know the constituency she falls under and if this was not a witch-hunt against me, Liabiloe should have reported me to her sub-branch which will take up her issue with the constituency committee and the NEC. That process was never followed and instead they are suspending me for saying my mind about someone who does not even have a constituency,” Mr Maliehe said.

Mr Maliehe said processes of suspending him were flawed as the natural justice demands that an individual be given three chances before a decision is reached against him.

He said the NEC declined his request to have his issue discussed at the Quthing conference.

“The conference is the apex body of the party and the NEC ought to have listened when people demanded that the matter be discussed, a clear indication that they do not want me to stand for NEC elections in February. I am going to stand for elections, I am also going to continue with my leadership roles in the party and I am going to hold a rally on 2 September at Hololo. Thabane has lost and must accept defeat. It is time for him to go and let the ABC elect its own leader,” Mr Maliehe said.

Mr Maliehe’s troubles with the party’s NEC began after his attack on Ms Thabane while addressing a rally in Hololo constituency in the Butha-Buthe district in May this year.

At that rally, 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.

Mr Maliehe also 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.

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