New ABC’s NEC seizes control of party offices
- Ntsekele brands move “a declaration of war”
THE newly elected national executive committee (NEC) of All Basotho Convention (ABC) has seized control of the party offices from the old NEC after changing the door locks to gain entry.
This follows the old NEC’s alleged refusal to hand over the keys to the party’s Metcash Building offices in Maseru.
The development, which comes hot on the heels of last Wednesday’s High Court judgement which cleared the way for the new NEC’s assumption of office, suggests that the war for the control of the ruling party is far from over. Another development which points to a continuing battle for the heart and soul of the party is the dispatch of letters allegedly from party leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to the senior members of the new NEC demanding that they “show cause why” they should not be expelled from the party for alleged insubordination.
Incoming deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao and the rest of the new NEC won the long-drawn case against their 1-2 February 2019 election in the High Court on Wednesday. High Court judges Justices Thamsanqa Nomngcongo (presiding judge), Moroke Mokhesi and Sakoane Sakoane dismissed an application that had been brought against their election by prominent ABC legislators, Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung constituency), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe) who had argued that the February party polls must be nullified on the grounds that they were marred by “massive vote rigging”.
The ABC, the ABC’s new NEC, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN), Prof Mahao and other elected candidates in the ABC polls had been cited as the first to 44th respondents in the lawsuit.
However, Justices Nomngcongo, Mokhesi and Sakoane dismissed the trio’s application, ruling that the alleged vote rigging would not have changed the outcome of the elections.
Delivering the judgement before a packed courtroom, Justice Sakoane said the trio’s case “lacked merit” and the court would not allow the applicants to submit new evidence, not initially included in the papers they submitted to court.
“We are not satisfied with the submissions that the applicants have provided alleging that the irregularities affected the outcome of the elections,” Justice Sakoane said.
“We decline to accept the oral evidence which the applicants presented to court yet it was not part of their founding papers. The application does not have merit and therefore should be dismissed. The persons who were announced by Lesotho Council of NGOs (the independent elections conductor) as the winners of the elections are declared as the NEC of the ABC. The interim interdict (barring the elected NEC from assuming office) is discharged. The applicants should pay the LCN the costs of the suit while the rest of the respondents should pay their own costs.”
Shortly after the delivery of the verdict on Wednesday, jubilant and overzealous supporters marched from the court to the party’s Metcash Building offices in the central business district with the aim of evicting the old NEC. They eventually gave up the attempt.
But on Friday, the new NEC seized control of the party offices from the old NEC after changing the door locks to gain entry.
New spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa said they were forced to resort to the drastic action after being told that outgoing secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele had allegedly said he would not hand over the keys to the party offices.
Mr Masoetsa said they proceeded to change the locks to the doors after gaining permission from the owners of the building.
He said they were informed that Mr Ntsekele had told staff at the ABC office that the new NEC would only get the keys to the office “over his dead body”.
“But we are now in the office. We used forced to gain access to the office because Ntsekele is refusing to give us keys to the office.
“The High Court ruled in our favour and said that we are the legitimate committee so my coming into the office cannot be unlawful. It does not matter how I gained access to the office but what remains is that I have gained access to the office and that is the end of the story,” Mr Masoetsa said.
He however, said they did not know what the party assets were and they were therefore not in a position to ascertain if all the assets were in good order.
On his part, Mr Ntsekele refuted allegations that he had refused to hand over the office keys to the incoming NEC.
“That is just a fabricated story because I don’t keep the keys to myself. People just love making up stories. There are staff members who keep the office keys and they can be picked from the staff anytime they want. I talked to Ntate Hlaele and told him that that the keys can be picked from the staff members.
“This (ABC infighting) is a political flame which has fired up everyone to engage in dramatic actions. I am told that they broke into the office and I am really surprised by their actions. What does this really mean in a deeper sense?
“I interpret this to mean that this is war. I can sense war coming from them because there is no way peaceful actions can be conducted in this manner,” Mr Ntsekele said.
He said that the workers at the party offices got worried about their safety upon hearing that supporters of the Mahao faction would crowd the office on Friday morning. He said the workers immediately called him and he granted them leave of absence for their own safety.
“But when Ntate Hlaele needed to use the office keys (on Thursday), I asked Ntate Jimisi to come to the office and we went there under police protection. Ntate Jimisi opened the office and Ntate Hlaele used the official stamp to stamp some of the documents. He (Hlaele) has documents that were stamped at the office,” he said, adding that the stamped documents were delivered to the High Court and police among others.
Mr Ntsekele said he was disappointed with the latest actions of the Mahao faction because he had expected them to handle issues in a peaceful manner.
“However, I am still hopeful that the official handover will be done on Monday as we had agreed with them. I am done as secretary general and I have to handover the administration of the office no matter what. These issues (infighting) should be handled by someone else, not me,” Mr Ntsekele said.
Shortly after Wednesday’s High Court ruling, Prof Mahao told the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication that the new NEC’s immediate and more important task was to engage the old NEC in talks to reconcile the feuding ABC factions.
“The court judgement gives us the legitimacy we have always known we deserve and we can start to operate as the official NEC as the court has transferred the instruments of power to us. We shall be able to interact with the rest of the world as the authentic NEC of the ABC because until now the instruments of power had been vested in the other (old NEC) group.
“Our next move is to reach out to our comrades on the other side to try to rebuild the unity of the party.
“Just this morning (last Wednesday) we met with the ABC’s partners in government (the Basotho National Party and the Alliance of Democrats) and discussed the need for reconciliation in the ABC. We asked them to be mediators on that course. The indefinite closure of parliament has also provided us with an opportunity to sort out our internal affairs and hopefully in a week or thereafter, we will be able to sort our differences,” Prof Mahao said.
But his hopes for reconciliation may have been dealt a mortal blow by the latest stand-off between the two factions over access to the party offices.
Another development which could scuttle the reconciliation efforts is the dispatch of letters allegedly from Dr Thabane to Prof Mahao and other senior members of the new NEC demanding that they “show cause why” they should not be expelled from the party for alleged insubordination. (See story on page 5).