Adios Madam Minister

Adios Madam Minister

WE lost Honourable ‘Mamahele Hyacinth Radebe on 31 March 2018, after some long illness. We already miss her kind presence and reassuring voice. If we were to choose she would still be with us here in good health. In like this great granddaughter of Chief Lethole of the Makhoakoa (as she affectionately referred to herself), she would see her share of hardship, struggle, uncertainty, lack of offspring of her own as well as a loss of a husband to a tragic death.

Yet out of those circumstances came a steady, calm and cheerful confidence that life would bring good things. This was the backdrop from which she led her life of principle, compassion, pragmatism and enormous professional success. As soon as she retired from an illustrious civil service career, as head of Lesotho’s postal services, she went into active politics, heading north to her home constituency of Hololo to stand as a candidate for the All Basotho Convention (ABC).

Her moment as Minister of Tourism Environment and Culture arrived in 2012, following the formation of Lesotho’s first Coalition Government. It is in this capacity that we came to work together and forged a strong lifetime bond. As she showed what a minister should be, she also showed us what a human being should be. She carried herself with decency, attention to small kindnesses, and insatiable humour that also defined a good life. A relationship between a Minister and a Principal Secretary is not easy to manage. These are two people, each endowed with a heavy dose of power.

A minister has responsibility to exercise general direction and control over the ministry, while the Principal Secretary is exclusively empowered to provide control and direction over all resources — human and capital. It can, has been, and continues to date, to be a source of deep strife between these two centres of power. It is not a place for blind power mongers. It is a relationship that calls for mutual respect, mutual trust, cooperation, and civility. As our minister Radebe had all these qualities. She referred to all of us in the ministry, from myself as her chief advisor, and to all staff, as her colleagues, and treated us as such.

But she was much more than that: she was a leader, a counsellor, a mother and a friend. I learned a lot more from her on the mechanics of the civil service and on public policy, including how to navigate the throttling government bureaucracy to get work done. The education was more than what I had received from others I had worked with.

The first Coalition Government established the “Job Summit”, a platform through which government would catalyse job creation and investment promotion.

The tourism sector was identified as one of the key pillars of this policy ambition, and we were directed to actualise it. In response, the minister hit the ground running by championing a number of initiatives, which were geared towards repositioning this sector. In the end, among other things, a number of government-owned facilities, which had, hitherto, been rendered white elephants, were divested to the private sector through the development of rapid public-private partnership transactions. This resulted in increased capital investment, increased employment of Basotho as well as an upsurge in the number of tourists coming into Lesotho.

Our minister represented our country with dignity on the world stage and forged meaningful and mutually-beneficial relations on its behalf. Some of us cannot forget her charm that led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between our ministry and South-Africa’s Provinces of Kwazulu-Natal and Free-State, on Joint Cooperation on the Cableway Project, on the north-east of the country, along the Drakensberg. In our meeting with the South-African tourism officials she argued that the coming to life of the project, while it would promote tourism and strengthen trade between the two countries but would also “continue to accessorise our relationship”. She then cited the successful inscription of the Sehlaba-Thebe National Park, as a World Heritage site — a commendable work heavily supported by South-Africa — as a case in point for continued collaboration.

She fought hard to ensure that Lesotho’s voice was always heard in international platforms. The unfortunate truth about international relations is that it is always biased towards the bigger states. Our minister would not just stand by and accept this as a norm. She was a lead voice for the restructuring of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern-Africa (RETOSA), and successfully fought against what was manifesting as an oligarchy in charting the region’s tourism agenda.

She also strongly advocated for the establishment of an office within the SADC Secretariat which would be dedicated to the Arts and Crafts sector, arguing that this sector, as part of the global creative economy, has seen consistent growth and shown capacity to forge even stronger links with the tourism sector in the region.

She fretted over a lack of proper and coordinated management of the environment in Lesotho, and longed for the day this matter could be urgently attended to, as a collective government priority. In line with this vision, she made it her mission to personally submit Lesotho’s request before the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to help set up an Environmental Management Agency, a body to be tasked with responsibility for ensuring sustainable management of natural resources, protection of the environment, and for promulgating sound policies and practices.

She was an imperfect politician, for while politics can be divisive and partisan, she made it her habit to reach out to opponents, as and when it was necessary. She would find it effortless to befriend Keketso Rants’o, then of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), to request LCD colleague to stand in for her as Minister of Tourism while she was off duty. She sat down with her successor, a member of the Democratic Congress (DC), to decently provide guidance as part of hand over. This is a person who would not shy to complain during Parliament’s recess that she missed watching “Qoo’s antics” in parliament. She was in short, not mean-spirited.

Our minister was benevolent and altruistic. I cannot recall the number of members of her family and of community she was helping. It would be a sick relative, needy members of the community looking for clothing, food or shelter, a member of the party, a rural school, or a church in need. She always found a way to intervene for them. When a staff member was bereaved she would be the first one to arrive at the home to offer condolences, or if she is far away, she would not hesitate to commiserate by phone while apologising for not being there in person.

When our National Library team informed her of a plan to donate a “mobile home” to the Maseru Central Prison, for use as classrooms by inmates, she got excited and instructed: “Give them books and stationery as well.”

Our boss had a great sense of humour and possessed ability to laugh out loud into the horizon. When I arrived to help her settle her overrun hotel bill in Vienna, Austria, she joked that I nearly found her already washing dishes in the hotel kitchen, as settlement, quipping: “Here they make you pay even for a sachet of sugar.”

For many times she recounted how she was unfairly removed from the Board of the Post Bank, after it was discovered that she had joined the opposition ABC. The story centres around this particular Board Meeting in which she forgot to put her phone on silence. During the proceedings, her phone rang. Unfortunately for her, in the house full of LCD supporters, her ring tone was an ABC praise-song, which belted out, urging Thabane to take over Mosisili’s government! The house went silent while she frantically reached out to silence the goddam phone.

The following day she received a letter of dismissal from the Board. Her typical reaction: she took the letter, looked at it, laughed at it all the way to Hololo where she was going to register to stand as ABC candidate in a by-election in that constituency. The rest, as they say, is history.

We have been missing her for a while now due to ill health, and now death, but her magical effect on the lives of the many of us shall remain for eternity. While we are saddened by her passing on, we draw strength from the Holy Bible (Revelations 21:4) that, “… God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

We take these words to be true and are comforted that she is out of pain and home safe now with her husband, in heaven.

Thato Mohasoa served as Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism Environment and Culture, under Honourable Minister Mamahele Radebe. He writes in his personal capacity.

 

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