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PM hails renaming of roads after leaders

  • defends Chief Leabua Jonathan’s legacy

Pascalinah Kabi

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane says the renaming of the country’s major roads after some of the country’s past and serving leaders from different political parties and ideologies was a clear testament of the desire to achieve national reconciliation.

Dr Thabane said this during the recent motion and debate in parliament which culminated in the renaming of some of the major roads including the Main North I and Main South I Roads after former Prime Ministers, Chief Leabua Jonathan, and Dr Ntsu Mokhehle respectively.

Dr Thabane also used the occasion to defend Lesotho’s first Prime Minister, Chief Leabua Jonathan, saying he was a good administrator with unapparelled ability despite his lack of university education.

Other roads that were renamed are the Quthing to Qacha’s Nek Road which has been named after Chief Nehemiah Maseribane, the Mpiti to Sehlabathebe Road which has been named after Dr Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili and the Marakabei to Monontša Road which has been named after Dr Thabane himself.

Chief Nehemiah Maseribane served as Prime Minister of Basutoland (the former name of Lesotho) from 6 May 1965 to 7 July 1965. He was succeeded by the former Basotho National Party leader, Chief Leabua Jonathan, who served as the country’s first post-independence Prime Minister until he was deposed in military coup in 1986.

Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, the late leader of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) who served as Prime Minister from April 1993 to August 1994 and again from September 1994 to May 1998.

In his contributions to the recent motion to rename the major roads after Lesotho’s past and present leaders, Dr Thabane recalled his own time as a civil servant under various administrations, saying then public servants worked diligently to execute their mandate regardless of their own political affiliation and the administration they served under. He said things had since changed for the worse as the civil servants no longer diligently delivered services to the people who were after all their paymasters.

He further said the move to rename the roads after Lesotho’s former and current prime ministers was a clear testament of the desire to achieve national reconciliation.

“History has been made through this thing (of renaming the roads) and it is the biggest form of practical reconciliation of the Basotho nation,” Dr Thabane said.

“We are making history by putting our political indifferences aside and honouring past prime ministers. This proves that we are going somewhere as a country.

“We have embarked on a journey of reconciling this nation by honouring our leaders. Unlike many people in this house, I have worked as a civil servant under different administrations of different deceased prime ministers. I also worked as a principal secretary later in my career.

“I graduated from the National University of Lesotho just before Lesotho got its independence from the British and I was one of the graduates that were absorbed by Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan’s government.”

He said his mother gave him her blessings to go to work with Chief Leabua in his nationalist government despite the Thabane family’s congress leanings. Dr Thabane also defended Chief Leabua, saying the latter was a good administrator with unmatched ability despite his lack of university education.

“Chief Leabua would call me and say, ‘although you are not responsible for a certain ministry, I want you to go there because I have realised that you are clever even though you are from the congress movement’. That was his (Chief Leabua’s) language. He never asked me to prepare myself (for redeployment), he would simply tell me to immediately leave for another ministry to sort it out for reasons known only to him and I did exactly as he had ordered.

“I can publicly say here, that that man (Chief Leabua) was a very good administrator. I don’t care who says what, who hates or likes him but in his own way, he was a good administrator. He did not have that (university education) but he ran the country well and I will always swear that he was a very good Prime Minister.”

Dr Thabane also spoke about his time when the served in the Mokhehle administration, saying Dr Mokhehle sternly warned him against leaking the government secrets to anyone including his (Dr Thabane’s) father.

He said his time as a civil servant taught him valuable lessons about the importance of diligence and commitment to one’s work- culture which was slowly dying among the current crop of civil servants.

“The culture we learnt at that time was that when you in public administration, you are a public servant whose salary is paid by the people.

“We were taught that a public servant should always serve people diligently, be humble and listen to the people every time they walk in through the door. I wonder what went wrong. Something has seriously gone wrong because that culture is dying,” Dr Thabane said.

His defence of Chief Leabua is in sharp contrast to the strong condemnation of the late premier by the former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) party. Dr Mosisili penned a strongly worded letter last November criticising South Africa’s ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) for its decision to honour Chief Leabua for the role that he played in the liberation of South Africa.

The ANC resolved to honour Chief Leabua with the erection of his statue and a road named after him in the Free State province.

But in a strongly worded letter to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Dr Mosisili said “For 15 out of his 20 years in power Chief Leabua was a brutal, dictatorial and unconstitutional ruler, oppressing and killing his own people while masquerading as a gracious saviour for the victims of apartheid in Lesotho”.

“Bestowing an honour upon such a person is truly an affront to fundamental human values. A decision to build a statue of a former Prime Minister of Lesotho in South Africa and to name a road so close to our borders after him is bound to elicit varying opinions among Basotho. It is at best a highly controversial decision that needs proper and unfettered ventilation.

“Chief Jonathan declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ruled by decree after he lost elections in 1970. He subsequently unleashed a long and gruesome reign of terror in which thousands of innocent men, women and school children were killed. In his time Chief Jonathan dismantled all the pillars of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

“It would be an absolute trauma to see the statue of Chief Leabua Jonathan beside that of the highly esteemed Oliver Tambo; to say nothing about a road that is literally on the Lesotho border being named after him. This would, indeed, represent a very serious travesty of South Africa’s liberation struggle and a direct and totally unwarranted slap in the face for the people of Lesotho and democrats in South Africa and beyond,” part of the Dr Mosisili’s letter states.

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