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Thabane, Mahao in fresh talks

Pascalinah Kabi

ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is set to meet Professor Nqosa Mahao and the other members of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) who were ‘expelled’ last week as part of efforts to end the infighting which has left the party on the verge of a messy split which could also collapse the government.

The Wednesday meeting is said to have been organised by Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki at Dr Thabane’s behest.

However, Prof Mahao and his colleagues in the new NEC are skeptical of a deal being struck to end the infighting as they say that Dr Thabane “is not trustworthy” after he held a press conference to announce their expulsion from the party last Monday.

This Wednesday’s meeting will be held against the background of last week’s dramatic scenes which saw Dr Thabane convene an open air press conference on Monday to announce the “expulsions” from the ABC of deputy leader Prof Mahao, secretary general Lebohang Hlaele, chairperson Samuel Rapapa and deputy spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti. They were “expelled” for alleged insubordination stemming from their decision to continue holding countrywide rallies despite Dr Thabane’s express orders not to do so.

But the new NEC officials immediately hit back with a press conference of their own where they vehemently and unequivocally rejected the “expulsions”. They announced they would sue Dr Thabane for contempt of court as the premier was clearly out of line by disobeying a court order which recognised their February 2019 election as legitimate. Instead of purporting to expel them, they said Dr Thabane should have facilitated their assumption of office in line with the court judgement.

They subsequently lodged an urgent High Court application seeking to have the ABC leader declared in contempt of the 12 June 2019 judgement which confirmed them as the ABC’s legitimate NEC.

They went as far as asking the courts to jail Dr Thabane “for period determined by the honourable court” if he did not refrain from interfering with their activities as the duly elected NEC of the ABC.

However, the new NEC performed an about-turn on Thursday and said they would withdraw the application and lodge a fresh one because they felt they had been too harsh in asking the courts to jail the octogenarian leader.

The decision to file a new case and the scheduled meeting with Dr Thabane comes after a recent meeting between the warring old and new ABC’s NECs which was mediated by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) on Wednesday.

The CCL and the ABC’s coalition partners – the AD and Basotho National Party – have been mediating in the ABC power struggle in recent weeks but so far their efforts have not reconciled the two factions.

The new ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa recently told the Sunday Express that they were informed of Dr Thabane’s intention to meet them by Mr Moleleki.

“The new committee and the ABC leader are meeting on Wednesday as per his request,” Mr Masoetsa said.

“He (Dr Thabane) communicated with us through the deputy prime minister. We understand that he wants to forget that the expulsions ever happened and he wants us to see how best we can work together.”

Mr Masoetsa said they settled on the Wednesday date for the meeting with Dr Thabane after realising that tempers were still high amongst representatives of the two factions who attended last week’s meeting.

Mr Masoetsa was one of the people who represented the new NEC while the other faction was represented by the former secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele.

On Monday, Dr Thabane announced the ‘expulsions’ in the parking lot near the party’s Maseru offices after being locked out by the defiant new NEC.

The next day on Tuesday, security guards of the two factions pointed their guns at each other and came close to exchanging gunfire as the battle for control of the party’s office raged on.

Mr Masoetsa said Dr Thabane, who was recently in Mozambique, assured regional leaders of his commitment to healing the rift with the new NEC.

The ABC spokesperson however, said last week’s events had convinced them that Dr Thabane could be trusted and therefore they would not withdraw their court case against him until he withdrew his purported expulsions of the new NEC.

“How on earth could we withdraw the court case when the leader has not yet withdrawn his (Dr Thabane’s) decision to expel people from the party? We gathered from Mozambique, that he (Dr Thabane) was asked about this issue (expulsions and infighting) and he told the regional leaders that he knew nothing about the expulsion of the NEC members and he had not effected that decision. He told the regional leaders that he wants to meet with us on Wednesday.

“However, we are still going ahead with the (contempt of court) case because that person (Dr Thabane) is not trustworthy. He is the same person who called a press briefing to announce that he had expelled us from the party but in Mozambique he professed ignorance on the matter and said he never expelled people from the party. So how would you trust such a person,” Mr Masoetsa asked rhetorically.

On his part, Mr Hlaele said they withdrew the initial application they filed on Wednesday because they felt they had been too harsh on Dr Thabane by asking the court to jail him in the event that he did not refrain from interfering the operations of the new NEC.

“The initial case has been withdrawn. We were a little bit harsh. ‘Contempt’ is a very harsh word and a person found to be in contempt of court faces a jail term.

“In as much as we have these serious challenges caused by the leader of the party, we have not arrived at a position where we want him to go to jail. That is why we withdrew the case. We will come up with a new application which we will re-submit to the court,” Mr Hlaele said.

The new NEC will only re-submit a revised court application against Dr Thabane tomorrow after missing the Friday deadline.

Deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi, who had been tasked with supervising the new NEC’s affairs after last ‘expulsion’ of Mr Hlaele and others, said Dr Thabane had not informed him about the Wednesday meeting with Prof Mahao and fellow ‘expelled’ NEC officials. He however, said the rest of the new NEC would meet on Wednesday.

Dr Thabane arrived back in the country from Mozambique on Saturday where he attended the Africa-US Business Meeting. Sources in Mozambique told this publication that some of the regional leaders took the opportunity to quiz him on the infighting and ongoing instability in Lesotho.

Dr Thabane is said to have reassured the regional leaders of his commitment to resolving the power struggles in the ABC and the resultant instability.

It remains to be seen if the latest round of talks will resolve the infighting in the ABC after two previous attempts failed spectacularly. The first such talks were held in February but collapsed in March. Again in May, the two factions aborted a second attempt at resolving their differences leaving the High Court to rule in favour of Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC in a 13 judgement. The court dismissed an application that had been brought against the new NEC’s election but even that was not enough to end the infighting as shown by Dr Thabane’s purported expulsions of Prof Mahao and others.

Meanwhile an audio of a conversation of Dr Thabane and ABC member Phakiso Motaung, popularly known as Bishop Kobo-Tata, has been leaked. In that audio, Dr Thabane denies knowledge of the letters that were written to Prof Mahao and NEC members demanding that they ‘show cause’ why they should not be expelled from the ABC for undermining Dr Thabane’s authority. Dr Thabane’s denial is despite that the letters bear his signature and he subsequently held a press conference where he announced the expulsion of the NEC officials.

In response to Mr Motaung’s questions, Dr Thabane can be heard saying, “What kind of a letter? I don’t know anything. Are they saying who wrote it? I don’t know, I might have signed it because I sign so many letter…Have you seen the letter? I will look into those issues”.



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