Matete: 40 years in the trenches

Matete: 40 years in the trenches

Abel Chapatarongo

MASERU
HE has been out of the political limelight for the past three years.
But that period appears to have given RanthomengMatete enough space to think about the future and direction his country is taking.
For Matete that future does not look too bright unless something dramatic is done by those whom he calls “people of goodwill”.
In a candid yet measured interview at his home in Morija, about 40km south of Maseru this week, Matete unpacks what he sees as the biggest problems facing Lesotho.
He also delves into what he thinks must be done to reverse the “damage”.
“It appears the polarisation that characterised our politics in the run-up to independence (in 1966) has not yet thawed. It is resurfacing at a very alarming rate,” he says.
While he says he would not shift blame on any side, “so as not to stoke the fires”, Matete says he remains hopeful that all those “who are hands on should try and address this problem”.
“It will take a lot of honesty from all sides for success to be realised,” he says.
“If people are not interested in solutions and merely wish to have their own way then we would still have problems.”
Matete, a former secretary general of the Basotho National Party (BNP), says Lesotho has lost valuable time that should have been used for the development of the country.
Since it gained independence from Britain in 1966 Lesotho has gone through bouts of instability starting with the run up to independence in 1966 and culminating in the post electoral dispute of 1970.
The political quarrel would escalate into violent armed conflict in the 1970s and early 1980s with the opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP)’s ragtag army fighting to topple the then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan.
“We have lost valuable time (that should have been used) to develop this country. The moment is overdue when we should be holding hands to uplift this country from stagnation,” he says.
“Look at the joblessness, the declining economy, the hunger that characterises the country now. We need honesty for this country to be uplifted.”
Matete argues that “our socialisation was not correct” right from the inception of modern political parties.
“Right from the beginning manypeople did not understand the art of politics,” he says.
“We may differ in political opinions but at the end you are all driving the same boat and you must use it to reach your destination. This seems to be lacking despite the fact that we are a very literate society.”
Matete says to fill up this vacuum the churches and NGOs must play a key role in “re-socialising our people” on how they play their politics.
Between 1977 and 1986, Matete was close to the seat of power in Lesotho as he worked as a Press Officerand then senior private secretary in Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan’s office.
That gave him an opportunity to interact with a man who so much divides political opinion in Lesotho up to this day.
Historians from the BCP camp have often portrayed Jonathan as a full-bloodied dictator who did not countenance any opposition to his rule.
They charge that he was a man who exhibited undemocratic tendencies when he rejected the 1970 electoral outcome and ruled by decree.
But for those who were close to the BNP, Jonathan was no dictator.
Matete says while there have been attempts to demonise Jonathan he believes the former premier “was a simple man who wanted nothing but good for his country”.
“He was a very humane person who had a lot of sympathy towards people,” he says.
At one point, Matete says when incidents of torture were brought to Jonathan’s attention, he went out of his way to summon his security officials and ordered them to stop the incidents immediately.
“He did not know about it (the torture). He was a very humane person who found himself operating under very difficult circumstances.”
In the sphere of agriculture, Matete says Jonathan exerted himself vigorously “to ensure that every Mosotho had bread on the table”.
Matete looks back fondly at Jonathan’s Food Self-sufficiency Programme where “all farmers irrespective of political affiliation were assisted to produce food”.
“He always made sure that the programme was running well and to see that the work was being done he would spend the whole week out of office to supervise production.”
But somewhere along the line Matete says the programme was abandoned resulting in Lesotho requiring food handouts from international relief agencies.
He argues that the food self-sufficiency project which was quite successful during the 1980s was run without any coercion from the government.
Matete was a senior private secretary to the Prime Minister when Jonathan was toppled in a military coup in 1986.
He argues the events of 1986 must not be viewed in isolation but should be understood in their context.
He says the Prime Minister felt that Lesotho needed to make friends with other countries outside the traditional Western bloc so that the country could be truly non-aligned.
That decision to establish relations with Eastern countries such as the Soviet Union,Cuba,People’s Republic of China and others,infuriated Pretoria which felt that Lesotho was introducing Communism at its “door-step”.
The second reason was that Jonathan had not made it a secret that he was supporting liberation movements in Southern Africa such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC).
“South Africa was accusing Lesotho of harbouring guerrillas when in fact we were merely giving refuge to people of all political persuasions,” he says.
“Jonathan never made it a secret that he was in support of the SouthernAfrican liberation struggle. In 1984, South Africa got to the extent of coercing Lesotho to sign a security accord that would see Lesotho expelling ANC refugees.
“The Prime Minister (Jonathan) refused and that infuriated the South African government.”
Another point of dispute with South Africa was the latter’s attempt to rush Lesotho into signing the Lesotho Highlands Water Project before internal Lesotho consultations had been completed.
Matete says Jonathan’s obstinacy in refusing to play ball saw the South African government stepping up a campaign of destabilisation of Lesotho by “giving logistical support to elements within Lesotho”.
There was also a border blockade “so that Basotho could suffer and blame the Prime Minister”.
The result of such a campaign was that elements within the military “gobbled this propaganda that this man (Jonathan) was causing pain to the country and must be removed”.
Matete says the events of 1986 were not a bolt from the blue but were a result of a build-up orchestrated by the apartheid government in South Africa. He says he was detained at Maseru Police Headquarters for two months after the 1986 coup and subsequently expelled from the civil service.
He was then put on house arrest for a further two months together with Jonathan and three of his ministers.
When he looks backs at almost four decades of service in the government, Matete says he is happy that he has had an opportunity to serve his people in very senior positions.
“That is a source of gratification for me,” he says.
Perhaps his biggest satisfaction comes from serving in the Interim Political Authority (IPA) which drafted the current Mixed Member Proportional Model for elections for Lesotho.
The IPA was established by statute to prepare for fresh general elections after the disturbances that followed the elections of May 1998.
“To have served in that type of body as executive secretary means a lot to me. I was able to interact loyally with people of different political persuasions,” he says.
Between 2002 and 2012 Matete served as an MP for the BNP. He also served as Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs during the coalition government led by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
But is he still active in the BNP, the only party that he has known for decades?
“I have done my part to the best of my ability and it is only fair that other people especially the younger generation should be given a chance to show their worth,” he says.
Matete is the longest servingelected BNP secretary general after serving four consecutive terms.
Matete was born in Morija on December 28, 1949. His father was a civil servant during the colonial era, first as a tax collector and later as an interpreter in the colonial administration. He later served as a district commissioner.
Between 1964 and 1968 Matete attended Peka High School which was a hot-bed of political activity. The majority of students at Peka were fervent BCP supporters and I initially felt “isolated politically”.
“But it taught me tolerance,” he says.
“Living with the majority of people who are not in your political camp forces you to accept reality that there are people who are not the same as you. I left high school clear minded about political trends.”

FACT-FILE:

• Attended Botha-Bothe PEMS, Lithabaneng PEMS Maseru district, Loretto RCM, St Gerrard RCM, Mafeteng, between 1957 and 1963
• 1970-1974: University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS), majored in Government and Administration
• Declared persona non grata in South Africa because of student activism
• 1974-1975: Planning Officer in Central Planning and Development Office
• 1975-77: Assistant Secretary, and deputy director Ministry of Prisons, Information and Broadcasting
• 1977-86: Press Officer, and Senior Private Secretary to Prime Minister
• 1989: Hereditary Chief of Morija
• 1998-2002: Executive Secretary of the Interim Political Authority
• 2002-2012: MP for the BNP
• 2003 – April 2012: BNP secretary general
• April 2013 to September 2015: Principal Secretary Ministry of Home Affairs
. His father also served as secretary in the office of the then regent paramount chieftenessMantseboSeeiso,who held the throne for King Moshoeshoe II during his studies abroad

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