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 Thabane in bid to reassert authority over ABC

  • calls his first meeting with party structures

Pascalinah Kabi

FORMER Prime Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Thomas Thabane, is trying to reassert his waning authority over his party.

The wily politician convened a meeting of some of his key party structures at his Makhoakhoeng, Maseru, home on Wednesday.

The meeting was convened after Mr Thabane had earlier given his party a three-week ultimatum to inform him whether or not it still wanted him as leader.

Mr Thabane issued the ultimatum after complaining that he was not being consulted by his party’s national executive committee (NEC) about party affairs.  He also said party meetings were held in his absence. His remarks were immediately refuted by party secretary-general Lebohang Hlaele who said Mr Thabane was always invited to party events but chose to absent himself.

Instead of waiting for an answer to his three-week ultimatum, party sources said Mr Thabane had taken the initiative by summoning party structures to his house. They say that represented his effort to reassert his authority over the party instead of waiting for a reply to his ultimatum.

The significance of the Wednesday meeting, the first such to be convened by Mr Thabane, is that it proves he had elected to flex his muscle as party leader, officials said. It all means Mr Thabane is determined to stay as party leader and he is signalling he won’t be pushed out, his complaints about being mistreated by the party notwithstanding.

Some party insiders even said Mr Thabane wants to reclaim the premiership after he was forced out in May and replaced by Moeketsi Majoro.

Mr Thabane and his wife, Maesaiah, have not hidden their contempt for Dr Majoro. They are said to be engineering his ouster via a no confidence motion.

Party spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, had said the ABC would hold a special conference to choose Mr Thabane’s replacement as ABC leader.  But it now seems clear that Mr Thabane wants to stay on indefinitely.  The special conference issue also seems to have evaporated off the ABC agenda.

Mr Thabane’s threatened arrest over the murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo, has not happened despite earlier threats by police that he would be nabbed.  The absence of the criminal charges seem to be emboldening him to rejuvenate his political career.

According to his close allies, Mr Thabane is regretting his decision to have quit in May and he has been plotting his comeback behind the scenes.

After several low-profile meetings with his faction of the ABC and the Monyane Moleleki-led AD, Mr Thabane sprung up last week with a constituency meeting in his Abia seat.

He followed this up with the Wednesday meeting at his Makhoakhoeng home which was attended by Mr Hlaele, allegedly on behalf of the NEC, about 19 ABC MPs as well as the women’s and youth league committees were represented.

This was the first such meeting convened by Mr Thabane with all these party structures since his fallout-out with the NEC over its support for Professor Nqosa Mahao who was elected deputy leader in February 2019.

Mr Hlaele said the meeting was called to discuss Mr Thabane’s concerns about the break-down of his relations with the NEC and the party’s strategy to woo voters ahead of the 2022 elections.

Mr Thabane is also said to have laid down the law, telling the NEC to draw up a programme of action to rejuvenate the party ahead of the 2022 polls.

“He also wanted us to tell him if indeed there was truth to the allegations that the NEC was   not cooperating with the prime minister (Dr Majoro) on governance issues.

“He also requested that we kick start an ABC revival programme by visiting different constituencies across the countries. He was basically telling the NEC to draw up a programme which the party will follow when visiting constituencies (to reunite and drum up support for the party ahead of the 2022 polls).

“He is the party leader and what he says in his capacity as the party leader is the opinion of the NEC,” Mr Hlaele said. He added that the ABC would start holding countrywide rallies as soon as the government lifts the ban imposed on large political gatherings as part of measures to fight the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Mr Hlaele said he attended the Wednesday meeting on behalf of the NEC.

This could not be independently verified since the ABC remains deeply divided. Mr Hlaele himself is now said to be working with Mr Thabane to forestall Prof Mahao’s ascendancy and pave way for his (Mr Hlaele’s) own leadership ambitions.

Mr Hlaele said attendees of the meeting could have been more had it not been for the fact that other NEC officials and MPs had other pressing government and parliamentary business commitments on Wednesday.

The rest of the NEC including Prof Mahao, Mr Rapapa, Deputy Secretary General Nkaku Kabi, Mr Masoetsa and deputy spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti all missed the meeting.

Mr Hlaele said their absence was solely due to government commitments as they were performing their functions as cabinet ministers while Mr Masoetsa had been assigned by the party to meet with officials of the National Reforms Authority which is coordinating and spearheading the multi-sector reforms process.

“All NEC members and other parliamentarians who failed to attend sent their apologies for missing the meeting.

“Our ministers could not be part of the meeting because they were on government assignments in different districts while some MPs were held up in parliamentary committee meetings. Even though the attendance was not as big as we had expected, we had a fruitful discussion,” Mr Hlaele said.

ABC youth league spokesperson Mphonyane Lebesa echoed Mr Hlaele’s remarks, saying the youth league executive attended the Wednesday meeting along with the NEC, women’s league and MPs.

“The ABC leader and founder of this party called the NEC, MPs, women’s league and youth league committees to discuss the unity of the party. All the party structures were represented in that meeting. The NEC was represented by its secretary General Lebohang Hlaele, the youth league by its NEC representative Tšoloane Maphasa and six other members. The women’s league was represented by its chairperson, ‘Maleleka Lehohla,” Mr Lebesa said.

He said Mr Thabane was “deeply worried” by the infighting in the ABC and implored the party to “turn a new leaf and achieve peace and unity”.

He also backed Mr Thabane to lead the party to the 2022 elections.

“As the ABC founder and leader, Ntate Thabane tasked the NEC to come up with a plan of action with specific dates for his engagements with ABC members in the form of meetings and rallies.

“He will be preaching peace and unity in those engagements. As the founder and leader of the party, Ntate Thabane will be leading the party into a future of peace and unity,” Mr Lebesa said.

He said Mr Hlaele and the NEC would have to meet and draw up a programme of action as per Mr Thabane’s request.

Mr Hlaele said the NEC would soon meet and “prepare our response” to Mr Thabane’s demands.

On his part, Prof Mahao said he had not received a report on the Wednesday meeting.

“I have not been briefed about the Wednesday meeting but I can tell you that the ABC’s NEC and the parliamentary caucus had already met on Sunday and discussed peace and unity in the party. This is not something new, we fully are engaging in peace and unity talks,” Prof Mahao said.

Party insiders said the Wednesday meeting proved Mr Thabane wanted to cling to power and still had substantial influence.  All talk of a special conference to elect a new leader seems to have evaporated. Mr Thabane could thus remain at the helm till 2022.

Mr Hlaele is said to have fallen out with Prof Mahao and wants Mr Thabane to cling on, if only to forestall Prof Mahao. Mr Hlaele has denied the allegations.

Asked if Mr Thabane was planning to lead the ABC in the 2022 general elections, Mr Hlaele yesterday said, “I don’t know, ask him (Thabane)”.

Mr Rapapa who has made no secret of his desire to become ABC leader and prime minister, seems to have performed an about-turn.

He threw his weight behind Mr Thabane when asked if the latter should lead the party into the next elections.

“There is no need for us to discuss that matter (of choosing a new leader). Ntate Thabane remains the ABC leader and he will still be the leader by that time (of the 2022 elections). He will be the face of ABC. I will not support a move to expel him. He will resign when he wants to,” Mr Rapapa said yesterday.

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