Speaking truth to power

Speaking truth to power

MASERU – CRITICS say the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) is a patently biased organisation that is pursuing a partisan agenda in favour of the opposition.
That is nonsense, according to Mabusetsa Lenka Thamae, the programmes manager with TRC.

Ever since its formation in 1979, Thamae argues, the TRC has been a vital cog in the defence of democracy and human rights. It has consistently played its ‘watchdog role’ in speaking truth to power, irrespective of the government in power. That clear agenda, Thamae says, has not endeared the TRC to successive governments which have often accused the group of meddling in politics. “Our position has always been consistent since 1979. We have always been on the side of the downtrodden,” he says.
Thamae says because they speak truth to power, they have since realized that “those in power do not like a rebuke”. “We spoke against injustice in the last (coalition) government and continue to speak against injustice in the current government. We have spoken against the violation of human rights and still continue to do so.”

He says the TRC has not shied away from speaking out against torture and forced disappearances, irrespective of the government in power.
That, he says, serves as a firm rebuttal to charges that the TRC is a partisan organisation that is pushing a particular political agenda.
“Our track record shows we have always pointed at the issues; we will bequeath the same values that we live by and those values will be jealously guarded by those who will be leaders after us at the TRC.”

Thamae says he is deeply concerned by the current political situation in Lesotho which he says “is not conducive for the growth of democracy and good governance”.
“The current situation does not create a culture of civilized exchange among the people,” he argues.

“Our politics have become so divisive and vindictive.” To take Lesotho forward, Thamae says Basotho must be allowed ‘free space’ to speak out against excesses by the government.
He wants a “culture that creates an exchange of ideas”.

Thamae says the stifling of free thought “is bad for democracy and the observance and protection of human rights”.
To fix the toxic nature of Lesotho’s politics, Thamae suggests what appears to be a radical solution — allow a new crop of leaders not drawn from the politics of the 1970s which he says was a “dark period for our country”. He says the entire political leadership in Lesotho appears to be tainted by the divisive politics of the 1970s that saw former Lesotho Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan wage a brutal crackdown on elements within the then opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP).
“Their politics is vindictive,” he says.

“We need a new crop of leadership that does not look back into the past. We should only look back into our past to learn lessons from history. We should look back in order to look forward.”But for Thamae, the problem with the current generation of political leadership is that it remains fixated on the past, with dire consequences for national healing and progress.
He argues that while it is true that Lesotho might be poor materially, “the greatest poverty lies in the leadership”.

“The current leadership is vindictive and divisive. There appears to be no agenda for nation-building, for reconstructing this society to give meaning to the politics of this nation.”
“We need a new crop of leadership whose purpose is to build a new Basotho society, to create and protect the values of democracy and entrench the rule of law.”
Thamae says Lesotho needs a new crop of leadership that will grow the economy in which “all of us are participants”.

“The new leadership should help us to look ahead and deliberately close our dark past. We should look at the next 50 years as years of hope. The last 50 years have created a society that is bitter, self-seeking and pursues a culture of revenge.”But more tellingly, Thamae says he thinks he should be allowed to have a strike at the country’s top job come the 2020 general elections. In fact, he says he sees himself one day fulfilling his life-long ambition to be Prime Minister of Lesotho.

But what gives him the confidence that he can make a difference on a job that has proven quite a daunting task over the years?
Thamae comes across as someone who is supremely confident, confidence that almost borders on the arrogance.

“I have never doubted that I will be the Prime Minister of Lesotho one day. I have always been a leader at various levels and have always championed the cause of the people,” he says.
Perhaps Thamae’s greatest claim to fame can be traced to his bruising battles he fought on behalf of villagers against the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
The titanic battles thrust him into the limelight as he took on this “Leviathan” and won.

“I have worked tirelessly with communities affected by the LHWP. I have worked closely with communities in their struggle and demands for the right to water and sanitation,” he says.
Thamae also says he worked closely with communities in the extractive industries such as mines “to demand justice and advocate for adequate and fair compensation for resettled villagers”.

Between 2006 and 2008, Thamae served as the president of the Lesotho Council of NGOs, a powerful umbrella body for civil society.
He says such experience will come in handy when he decides to run for higher office in the near future. He adds that the fact that he is not aloof but is a “people’s person” will also help in his drive to pursue higher office.

“I have eaten with the people, I have been in the cold with the people; I have cried together with the people.”
When some soldiers were arrested in 2015 on allegations of plotting a mutiny within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Thamae says the soldiers’ wives came to the TRC, “weeping in the corridor”.

“I cried with them and marched together with them.”
Thamae says while he now harbours serious political ambitions for the future, he once toyed with the idea of joining the priesthood after he finished his high school.
As a humble, quiet and disciplined young boy, the principal at his school felt that he would be well-suited for the priesthood, an almost fatal misreading of Thamae’s character.
And so he joined the seminary at Roma in 1986. He did not last.

“When I look back I do not think I had that call,” he says. “I only succumbed to the pressure of my role model, my teacher, and I went to the seminary.”
Although he had joined the seminary, deep down in his heart, Thamae wanted to pursue a career in the military. Unfortunately he was rejected, for reasons he says he still does not know.“I was already politically aware and was highly political when I was at the seminary between 1986 and 1988 when I dropped out.”
A year later Thamae enrolled at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to study English, Philosophy and Political Science.

After graduation he taught briefly at St Mary’s High School in Roma until July 1998 when he joined the TRC. He says what drove him to join TRC was the “pursuit of justice and protection of human rights” and the organisation’s position which was “internationalist”. “I also enjoyed the life of selflessness, the life of serving the poor and the vulnerable.”

Thamae was born on July 3, 1968 in Koma-Koma in Thaba-Tseka where boys “would eat together from one big dish”.
He says he cherishes his rural upbringing as it taught him a sense of community from a young age.Thamae holds a Masters degree in Public Administration and an Honours degree in International Relations from the University of the Free State in South Africa. He has also written extensively on issues of democracy and good governance.

Abel Chapatarongo

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