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Thabane loyalists in plot to replace him with Moleleki?

’Marafaele Mohloboli

SHARP divisions have resurfaced in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) amid claims by ABC sources that a faction loyal to the ABC leader and Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, is plotting with Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, to have Mr Moleleki take over from Dr Thabane.

The sources said the ABC faction is led by Dr Thabane’s close confidante, Water Minister, Samonyane Ntsekele. The sources further allege that Messrs Ntsekele, Metsing and Moleleki have also agreed on a blanket amnesty which will result in the withdrawal of charges against murder-accused First Lady, ’Maesaiah Thabane, and other high-profile criminal suspects like former army commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Tlali Kamoli.

So serious is the plot that the sources have said the schemers will this week meet South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s representatives to sell their idea for an amnesty and for Mr Moleleki to succeed Dr Thabane.

While Messrs Ntsekele and Metsing both denied the allegations, ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, said they were aware of the alleged plot and they have warned Mr Ramaphosa against entertaining the schemers and endorsing their plans for Dr Thabane’s successor and a blanket amnesty.

“We have heard about this meeting with President Ramaphosa’s representatives planned for some time this week and we have already cautioned Mr Ramaphosa that he should not be entertaining anyone because we should be ready to announce the name of our preferred candidate to succeed Ntate Thabane next week,” Mr Masoetsa told the Sunday Express yesterday.

“We are totally against a general amnesty for anyone because it will also include former army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli and other soldiers who stand accused of murder and other serious crimes. Their cases are an issue involving the Southern African Development Community (SADC which recommended their prosecution in 2016),” he added.

The 80-year-old Dr Thabane announced on 16 January 2020 that he was stepping down due to advanced age after more than 50 years in the civil service and active politics. While he cited his “waning stamina,” there is widespread belief that he has been pressured to go by his own party, the opposition as well as the non-governmental organisations. This after Dr Thabane and his wife, ’Maesaiah, were implicated by Police Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, in the 14 June 2017 murder of Dr Thabane’s former wife, Lipolelo. ’Maesaiah is currently out on bail after she was two weeks ago charged with the murder of Lipolelo and the attempted murder of Lipolelo’s friend, Thato Sibolla.

Although Dr Thabane did not announce a date, his impending departure is causing serious problems within the ABC where the party chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, has emerged as one of the three main contenders alongside ABC deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi and Ms Doti to succeed him.

Even then, some party stalwarts who are not members of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) including ministers, Dr Majoro (Finance), Prince Maliehe (Public Works) and Tefo Mapesela (Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation) are also said to be eyeing the top job.

But in a new development, ABC sources have said that Thabane loyalists are working on a deal to have Mr Moleleki, rather than an ABC candidate, take over from Dr Thabane.

Messrs Moleleki and Metsing have in the past supported a blanket amnesty for high profile people accused of serious crimes and human rights abuses during the previous Pakalitha Mosisili regime from 2015 to 2017. The ABC sources said that the Thabane loyalists have turned to Mr Moleleki in their desperation to secure an amnesty for Dr Thabane and ’Maesaiah after realising that it was highly unlikely that an ABC candidate of their choice would garner enough support from within the party to succeed Dr Thabane.  On the other hand, all the ABC candidates loyal to the party’s deputy leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao, have publicly stated their opposition to any amnesty for Dr Thabane and ’Maesaiah, saying they should stand trial to finality for the murder of Lipolelo.

The ABC has so far failed to agree on a successor and on Tuesday, ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, warned that the failure to speedily nominate a successor would open the door for Mr Moleleki to take over until such a time the ABC had put its house in order. Mr Hlaele however, said that Mr Moleleki was a “shrewd politician” who would be difficult to dislodge once he had tasted the trappings of power.

Yesterday, Mr Ntsekele denied that there was a planned meeting with the South Africans who were appointed by SADC as facilitators in regional efforts aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.

“I don’t know anything about such a meeting with President Ramaphosa’s representatives,” said Mr Ntsekele in a brief interview with the Sunday Express.

Deputy Prime Minister Moleleki’s mobile phone rang unanswered when the Sunday Express called him for comment on the alleged plot with the Thabane loyalists.

His AD party spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, said he was aware of a planned trip by Dr Thabane and Mr Moleleki to South Africa but he did not know what the agenda was.

“I’m not going to confirm or deny anything but just so that we are clear, it’s solely the responsibility of the ABC leader (Dr Thabane) to inform his national executive committee about his plans not my leader. I however, know that very soon Dr Thabane and Mr Moleleki will go on a trip to South Africa but I don’t who else is going and what the agenda is,” said Mr Litjobo yesterday.

Mr Metsing, who held talks with Dr Thabane last year over a possible deal to save Dr Thabane from a no confidence motion which had been filed against him  by ABC legislators loyal to Prof Mahao, yesterday said although he was not aware of the planned meeting with President Ramaphosa’s representatives, he would support any initiatives for a government of national unity (GNU and a truth and reconciliation commission.

“I do not know anything about this meeting (with President Ramaphosa’s representatives). The government has not approached me but you will recall that the last (Pakalitha Mosisili-led) coalition had already tabled a bill in parliament for a general amnesty.

“However, to cut a long story short I would not hesitate to use any vehicle availed to us to pursue and attain the truth and reconciliation commission. We are ready to work with them (Thabane faction).

“I have never killed anyone but like I always say, I believe that we have all played a part in destabilising this country and people should just ditch this ‘holier than thou’ approach and do the right thing. However, I know nothing about the specific meeting you are talking about,” Mr Metsing said.

His sentiments were echoed by the LCD spokesperson, Apesi Ratšele, who said while they were not aware of the planned meeting with President Ramaphosa’s representatives, “we (the LCD) have always advocated for a truth and reconciliation commission and we are ready to do anything that will help us attain it as we have never wavered about our stance”.

“So, we are ready to do everything and we can’t rule out the possibility of such a meeting (with President Ramaphosa’s representatives) this week,” said Mr Ratšele.

The talk of parachuting Mr Moleleki to the top job comes against the background of last week’s admissions by ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele that the party had so far failed to agree on a candidate to succeed Dr Thabane. Mr Hlaele also warned that failure to speedily nominate a successor would open the door for Mr Moleleki to take over until such a time the ABC had put its house in order.

“To be honest we haven’t reached a decision on that matter (of the successor),” Mr Hlaele told the Lesotho Times last Tuesday.

“We are in a process of massaging each other because it’s a very sensitive matter. With our background of infighting from last February up until now we need to massage each other.”

Mr Hlaele also backed Mr Rapapa to succeed Dr Thabane, saying by virtue of the latter being ABC chairperson, he should take over since the deputy leader, Prof Mahao ineligible as he was not a member of the National Assembly as pre the constitutional requirements for one to be prime minister.

“We feel very strongly that a final decision on the successor lies with the national executive committee of the ABC. However, we want the parliamentarians to have a buy-in. We don’t want them to make a decision but to have a buy-in so that at the end of the day everybody feels that they were part of the process. We (NEC) asked them (legislators) to throw in a name or names of a possible successor as proposals to the NEC. We already have our own names but once we have their names, we will be in a position to say who the best candidate is.

“But there’s a principle that guides us and that is the principle of hierarchy in the party. My understanding is simply that when the leader of the party goes, he is followed by the deputy who in this case is ineligible and so the chair is next in line. The (February 2019) conference of the ABC elected Rapapa as the chairperson and that means that the rank and file of ABC has confidence and trust in this man. Nobody can change that.

“As the NEC, our mandate is to run the ABC in between conferences and nobody else has that mandate except the ABC. Now in the NEC, Rapapa is the second in line and Rapapa must be trusted in that position of prime minister on behalf of the ABC members who have shown confidence and trust in him. If we bring in confusion and debates, we are bringing in our personal and selfish interests, not the interests of the party. The party has pronounced itself to say this is the man they want as chairperson. If Nqosa Mahao was in parliament there wouldn’t be a debate again, because he would be the second in charge and therefor qualify to succeed the leader.

“We will stick to the hierarchy of the party and that is a principle that you cannot undermine. You have to be guided by that principle because…we don’t want to set a bad precedent. I am the secretary general of the party- a person who is expected to advise the entire committee about the direction of the party. When the NEC sits next week, I will push for us to stick to the party hierarchy. We should maintain the correct principles,” said Mr Hlaele.

Mr Rapapa was the poster boy of the 2019 campaign by ABC legislators loyal to Prof Mahao to oust Dr Thabane in a no confidence motion which was filed in parliament at the height of the ABC power struggles last June.

The legislators had proposed Mr Rapapa to succeed Dr Thabane as caretaker Prime Minister but the motion is now dead in the water after it was made redundant by the latter’s decision to quit. He has since said he is more than ready to succeed Dr Thabane when the veteran leader finally steps down.

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