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Mafisa: from national villain to hero

ALTHOUGH advocate Sekara Mafisa left Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with a public image of a dishonest figure, the legacy he leaves as the retiring Ombudsman is a testimony of hope for the institutionalisation of democracy.  

Following the victory of the newly formed Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) splinter party, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in1998, the first chairperson of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) advocate Sekara Mafisa was together with his team accused of favouring the LCD.

This perception was pushed so hard by politicians that even the highly educated people found Mafisa responsible for the 1998 political turmoil.

In order to ascertain the alleged fraud and irregularities architectured by Mafisa and his team made up of Letjea Qhobela and Morie Khaebana, a ten member investigation group otherwise known as Langa Commission was set under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community.  Having reviewed the statutes, the Langa Commission identified a list of conditions under which election fraud would be possible under Lesotho’s electoral laws.

Although the Commission did not mention any evidence of electoral irregularities, it found it difficult to pronounce that “Mafisa did committed no fraud”.

Another Commission, led by Justice Leon regretted that “the Langa Commission did not content itself with reporting whether or not the alleged fraud had been proved”.

This left many people wondering whether the 1998 elections were rigged or not. 

Despite the difficulty in confirming or rejecting the claims of fraud, the commission recommended a rerun of the vote and the dismissal of Mafisa and his  team because it “seemed rightly or wrongly the community confidence in the IEC has been eroded”.

At a farewell dinner, Mafisa said they (the outgoing IEC) had done nothing to deserve such embarrassment but they had accepted to leave if that was what would bring peace to Lesotho’s politics.

He also urged politicians to make their own contribution to the attainment of peace in Lesotho.

Given another opportunity as the country’s Ombudsman, Mafisa has done exceptionally well to correct the injustices performed by public enterprises and institutions.

Cases where school principals had taken unfair decisions affecting teachers were been reversed by the astute Ombudsman.

Although in terms of the law, the Ombudsman could not review decisions of the cabinet,   the Ombudsman on several cases had come out clearly against members of Cabinet on their individual involvement in issues of injustice.

Many of the poor people in this country whose hope for justice had been shattered by the self-serving officials of public enterprises were helped by the Ombudsman.

When the Transformation Resource Centre led communities ill-treated by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) to call for the Ombudsman’s intervention, the unscrupulous officials of this authority had corrupted the whole system.

People were complaining and reporting to various government offices which by right should have brought LHDA officials to book but all those offices seemed to have been convinced that affected communities did not have a case. 

It was Mafisa who took time and committed resources to the painstaking inquiry into people’s complaints against the giant multinational project whose capitalist interests closed its eyes to the injustices inflicted on the poor.

LHDA had refused to compensate households resettled in urban areas.

The Ombudsman intervened and ruled that affected people should be compensated.

The popularity that the Office of the Ombudsman gained during the term of office of Mafisa has no doubt given hope to many skeptics that public institutions can and should nourish our democracy.

Because the ministries and public enterprises whose wrongs have been corrected by the Ombudsman are mandated to serve certain specific roles, they may in the exercise of their mandate, err and infringe on the rights of other people.

Therefore independent institutions are needed to look at how they perform their duties.

Mafisa has shown that democratic institutions should first demonstrate what they could do with little powers they have. 

One of the weaknesses of the office of the Ombudsman in Lesotho is that has extremely limited powers.

What Mafisa has done by using the very same limited power to help people reclaim their rights has created a platform for civil society to call for more powers to the institution.

Around 1998, any person who did not want to come out clearly on any public or even personal matter would be referred to as Mafisa because o oa meneka.

This labelling has been taken from politicians who are actually capable of creating false images about each other and about people who for any reason may appear to be not doing what they want.

 In 2010 as Mafisa retires from the office of the Ombudsman, ordinary members of the community say matters that need sober and just intervention e na e batla Mafisa

Mafisa has been lucky to find opportunity to demonstrate that he is not a dishonest citizen.

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