Fresh headache for Thabane as split rocks governing party

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

IT never rains but pours for the two year-old Thomas Thabane administration. Already facing a no confidence motion spearheaded by his “expelled” All Basotho Convention (ABC) party deputy Professor Nqosa Mahao, Dr Thabane has yet another problem on his hands- this time from the fractious Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

This after the RCL, a junior partner in the four party coalition, yesterday resolved to expel its leader and Labour minister, Keketso Rantšo, for allegedly making unilateral decisions in contravention of the party’s constitution.

RCL deputy secretary general, Retšelisitsoe Lesane, yesterday told the Sunday Express that the RCL’s national executive committee (NEC) had resolved to expel Ms Rantšo. He said all NEC members, except the party’s deputy leader, Motloheloa Phooko, were in support of moves to oust Ms Rantšo.

“The RCL secretariat is unanimous in the decision to expel Mme Rantšo. I have just been asked to write the notices and letters on behalf of our secretary general (Ms Lemphane Letsie) because she is held up in her official duties as the principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Mme Rantšo only has Ntate Phooko in her camp and the rest of the committee is on board with the decision to expel her,” Mr Lesane said yesterday.

Ms Rantšo was initially “suspended” with effect from 14 August 2019. Shortly afterwards, Mr Lesane said the RCL’s NEC would not hesitate to recall Ms Rantšo from government if she resisted her suspension.

Ms Rantšo is a principal in the four party coalition alongside Prime Minister Thabane of the ABC, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki of the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Communications minister Thesele Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP).

While all the parties have experienced their share of internal upheavals, the power struggle between Dr Thabane and his deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao poses the greatest threat to the stability of the government. The Mahao faction has even filed a no confidence motion in parliament seeking to oust Dr Thabane.

Despite being the smallest member of the coalition by virtue of a single parliamentary seat obtained courtesy of the proportional representation system, the RCL has shown a large appetite for the destructive infighting. There was already a power struggle pitting Ms Rantšo against the party’s secretary general, ’Machabana Lemphane-Letsie. Last year, Ms Rantšo attempted to suspend Ms Lemphane-Letsie but the latter, who is also principal secretary in the Home Affairs ministry, responded by filing a court application challenging Ms Rantšo’s moves. The case is still pending before the High Court.

More recently, Ms Rantšo fell out with her private secretary, Mr Lesane, who is also the party’s deputy secretary general. Ms Rantšo had begun moves to fire Mr Lesane for alleged incompetence but as the infighting intensified, a faction of the RCL’s NEC recently announced Ms Rantšo’s suspension from her post as party leader. She was suspended for alleged dictatorial tendencies and the consequent failure to consult the NEC in decision-making.

According to the suspension letter dated 14 August 2019 and signed by Mr Lesane, Ms Rantšo allegedly violated provisions of the RCL’s constitution by repeatedly making unilateral decisions and even calling a special conference without engaging the NEC.

“The national executive committee has reached a decision to suspend you as the party leader,” Mr Lesane wrote, adding that Mr Phooko, had been appointed to act as leader for the duration of Ms Rantšo’s suspension.

“This decision (suspension) was made following several failed attempts to get you to work with the committee (NEC). You have even failed to show up at meetings where you were invited.”

Mr Lesane also said the NEC had cancelled the special conference that Ms Rantšo had scheduled for 7 September 2019, saying she had not followed procedure when calling for it.

It is not clear why the letter was not written by Ms Lemphane-Letsie in her capacity as party secretary general.

Yesterday, Ms Lemphane-Letsie said she was “held up somewhere” and could not comment on the issue. Asked if she could be contacted later on, she said she did not know when she would be free to talk.

However, Mr Lesane yesterday said the RCL had resolved to go beyond suspending Ms Rantšo to expel her from the party. He said all NEC members, except Mr Phooko, were in support of moves to oust Ms Rantšo. He would not say when they would begin moves to recall Ms Rantšo from government.

In an earlier interview with the Sunday Express on Thursday, Mr Lesane said that Ms Rantšo had not responded to her suspension or taken any legal action against the NEC for suspending her. He said all they had done was to notify her coalition partners but warned that they would not hesitate to recall her from government if she resisted or challenged the suspension.

“She (Ms Rantšo) has not made an internal appeal against the suspension. Nor has she served the committee (RCL’s NEC) with court papers showing that she has sought the intervention of the courts. That means that she has accepted the suspension. But should she push us, we will go as far as recalling her as the coalition partner. She has assumed that position on behalf of the party and she can be recalled if it is no longer in the party’s interests for her to continue holding the post,” Mr Lesane said.

He said apart from the coalition principals (Dr Thabane, Dr Moleleki and Chief Maseribane), the RCL’s NEC had also informed Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) about Ms Rantšo’s suspension.

“The committee is just taking things easy for now by informing all stakeholders. We expect compliance from her (Ms Rantšo). We can recall her from government but we would not want to go that far because presently we feel that everything is under control,” Mr Lesane said.

Despite initially agreeing to an appointment with this publication, Ms Rantšo later declined to comment on her suspension. She referred all questions to the party’s youth league deputy secretary general, Itumeleng Ntja, who said the suspension was invalid because it was “decided by NEC members who did not have the authority to make such decisions”.

Ms Ntja said Mr Lesane was a mere youth league secretary general who did not have the authority to sign or even write to the party leader.

She said that Ms Rantšo was still the party leader and Mr Phooko was still her deputy.

“Ms Rantšo is still the party leader and the meeting to suspend her was not known to the leader and her deputy. We have been informed that there were only five of the NEC members at the meeting and that means they did not make a quorum and that makes their decision invalid,” Ms Ntja said. She however, did not say how many NEC are required to make a quorum.

“In any case, he (Mr Lesane) has gone beyond his mandate by writing letters and circulars. He is the youth league secretary general. He has not been elected to the deputy secretary general post in the NEC. In any case, the NEC has the secretary general who could have communicated the NEC’s decisions if they were valid,” Ms Ntja said.

Mr Phooko yesterday echoed Ms Ntja’s sentiments, saying Ms Rantšo’s “expulsion” was null and void because the leader or the deputy leader did not chair the NEC meeting which expelled Ms Rantšo.

“Those people who claim to have expelled the leader are just mere committee members and their decision means nothing if their meetings were not chaired by the leader or the deputy leader. They are not considered to be a committee without the leader and the deputy so whatever decision they claim to have made is not conclusive. We still have Mme Rantšo as our leader and I remain her deputy,” Mr Phooko said.

It remains to be seen how Dr Thabane will deal with the RCL infighting when he is informed of the “expulsion” of Ms Rantšo. Ms Rantšo is a coalition principal and was appointed to cabinet by virtue of the single constituency seat the RCL hold. The fact that it is a proportional representation seat means it belongs to the party and can be given to someone else if the “expulsion” holds.

Over the years, governing coalitions have failed to last beyond two years into their five year terms. The first Thomas Thabane administration which featured the ABC alongside Mothejoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the BNP collapsed in 2014 after only two years.

Its demise was confirmed by the February 2015 snap elections which ushered in the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition, which also fell by the wayside in March 2017.

This followed a breakdown in the relationship between Dr Mosisili and his then deputy leader in the Democratic Congress (DC), Monyane Moleleki, who had masterminded a vote of no confidence in his boss before walking away to form the AD, now in bed with Dr Thabane, Mr Maseribane and Ms Rantšo.

And now with the current coalition having celebrated its second anniversary in June this year, the signs of strife are intensifying. Apart from the well-publicised fallout between Dr Thabane and his party deputy, Prof Mahao which has seen the latter’s faction file a no confidence motion against the premier, the AD, the second biggest member of the coalition, has not been spared the infighting.

AD spokesperson Thuso Litjobo and the party’s secretary general Mahali Phamotse have been at loggerheads for more than a year. Four months ago Mr Litjobo lambasted Dr Phamotse for allegedly sabotaging the party and the governing coalition.

Infighting has also flared up in the BNP between aspirants for the deputy leader’s post, current spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, and the incumbent, Chief Joang Molapo.

Chief Molapo and Mr Mofomobe are vying for the post of the BNP’s deputy leader at the party’s elective conference to be held on a date that is yet to be announced.

Chief Molapo, who is the current BNP deputy leader, was the first to let rip at his campaign rally in Hlotse, Leribe in April, describing Mr Mofomobe as an immature and unpredictable politician who was given to posturing on social media and radio instead of focusing on his responsibilities as a party official and government official. Chief Molapo said Dr Thabane was in fact “a merciful prime minister” for not having disciplined Mr Mofomobe, who is also the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, for his alleged errant behaviour.

Mr Mofomobe would not have any of this and subsequently hit back by ridiculing Chief Molapo as “an infidel” and lover of the congress parties and in particular Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader, Mothejoa Metsing.

Mr Mofomobe later apologised for the attacks.





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