Taking the bull by the horns!

Taking the bull by the horns!

MASERU – “IN periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
These words by former American President Harry Truman (1884 – 1972), aptly capture Principal Chief of Thaba-Bosiu Khoabane Theko’s deeds.
Even when faced with a powerful rival, Chief Theko is not the type to shrink, especially when he strongly believes his actions — no matter the risk — stand to benefit the wider society.
He has fought against both the military junta and a democratically elected government – all to ensure stability of the nation’s heritage.

His credentials were tested early in his reign. And he did not quiver. Security forces, under Major General Metsing Lekhanya at the head of the junta, forcibly took over power in 1986 before systematically stripping the late King Moshoeshoe II’s powers, whom he later forced into exile.

With the Constitution suspended and many of those in authority too afraid to speak out, the task fell on the courageous Chief Theko to take the military head on.
Chief Theko was just two years into his reign when the coup happened, but that didn’t stop him from seizing the bull by the horns. He leapt to the defence of the king, and criticised the military actions.
“I was furious with the army because they had committed perjury and treason at the same time,” Theko says.
Theko says the military junta produced documents with signatures of principal chiefs, including his, purportedly agreeing King Moshoeshoe II’s expulsion from the country.
“It was treason because of their detestable disloyalty against the King and perjury because they forged my signature,” he says.

At the time the army was a potent force both militarily and politically in the country. Few were willing to stand up to its whims — what with the kidnapping and murder of two ministers and their wives. Fear engulfed the nation, except a then young and inexperienced Theko.

Soon he was to become the face of the College of Chiefs in the war against the military junta.
The Royal Family also used Theko as their emissary in negotiations when the king was in London in exile.
He says it was because of his willingness to protect the people against abusers that the government suspended him from office.
“I did not fight them back but the people did,” Theko says.

“That suspension was reversed by the people who stood up and supported the family’s decision to appoint me as the chief of Thaba-Bosiu,” he says.
Theko was suspended together with the Principal Chief of Likhoele, Lerotholi Seeiso, Principal Chief of Koeneng ’Mantoetse Lesaoana Peete and Chieftainess ’Maqajela Lebona.
They were reinstated when Lesotho returned to democratic rule in 1993.

After the reintroduction of democracy, the government refused to reinstate King Moshoeshoe II despite the fact that that his son, King Letsie III, wanted to step down for him.
King Letsie III understood that he had just stood in for his father in his absence.

It is also against the Sesotho tradition for a son to inherit and use the inheritance while the father is still alive.
Theko found himself fighting alongside his king, this time against the democratically elected government, for correcting this customary anomaly.
The fight ended with King Letsie III dissolving Parliament as SADC intervened to restore the government and reinstate King Moshoeshoe II.

Theko was among the high powered delegation of the Royal House in talks with Nelson Mandela and other SADC Troika leaders negotiating the return of King Moshoeshoe II to his throne.
Subsequently, SADC told the then Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle not to interfere in issues of the Royal House because he lacked locus standi.
Appointment of a king is the preserve of the College of Chiefs, not prime ministers.

The reinstatement of King Mosheoshoe II came after Mandela hired expensive lawyers to interpret the spirit of the Lesotho constitution and the Basotho customs regarding the king and the College of Chiefs. “The government wanted to complicate this issue using the constitution,” he says.
Theko says with the passing of time it has been proven beyond doubt that Basotho are loyal to their king.
“You can see for yourself how popular King Letsie III is. He has a strong support base throughout the country,” he says.
“I cannot see any immediate threat.”

Lately, Chief Theko has found himself on the forefront, again fighting against the army as well as the government led by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. This was over the death of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) boss Maaparankoe Mahao. Mahao had been appointed by the King, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in August 2014, to replace Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as the army commander.

In response, the army raided police stations and Thabane’s official residence in actions Chief Theko described as treasonous.
Of all the principal chiefs, it is Chief Theko who stood up and led the people in calling for thorough investigations and prosecution of Mahao’s killers.
Theko also wanted treason investigations into high ranking soldiers after the raid of some police stations and Thabane’s official residence.
It came with risk.

He received some death threats, although it could not be said with certainty that they were from any soldiers.
“Every Mosotho should feel free in Lesotho and enjoy the Basotho heritage left to us by our ancestors,” Theko says.
“We must selflessly work for the people as chiefs irrespective of their political affiliation and we must not turn a blind eye to the abuse of power,” he says.
“It is the duty of a chief to call for action against wrongdoing and lead the people in correcting what is wrong.”

Theko says he cares little about accusations by “some overzealous” politicians who describe his actions as politically driven.
He says he will continue on his path “as long as what I am doing is not prejudicial to anybody of any political party”.

Ruling politicians have a tendency to accuse chiefs of meddling in politics when chiefs call on them to turn away from harmful acts, he says.
This is his new front: trying to build trust between chiefs and government officials.
He says he is working with the Minister of Local Government Habofanoe Lehana to end the animosity between the chiefs and community councils.
For Chief Theko, it seems the introduction of local government community councils was not fully understood and the roles of chiefs and elected political leaders at community levels were not fully comprehended.

“Chiefs have a role to play and the councils have their roles also. It is important to join hands and serve the people instead of fighting,” he says.
Theko says the chiefs also went to Botswana to study how the chiefs are working together with community councils and to learn how the local community governments can be improved.
“We also studied how Batswana chiefs hear cases at the village level and find lasting solutions when villagers quarrel,” he says.
Theko says if the old courts of chiefs could be returned to deal with minor differences in villages, the backlog in the magistracy can be history.
Theko learnt the art of leadership from several chiefs who mentored him in his tender age.

These mentors include his father Letsie Theko, his maternal grandfather, the area chief of Boithatelo Ha-Seeiso in Metolong, who raised him up provided a guiding light.
“The old man was a no nonsense man who did not spare the rod when a boy misbehaved,” Theko says.

He says elderly men of the chief’s court would invite him to sit among them as they discussed village issues and by so doing raised him to be the leader he now is.
During school holidays he would go to the home of the late Principal Chief of Leribe, Chief Bolokoe Motšoene, where he was further mentored.

During those times, Iketsetseng Primary School was Lesotho’s number one private school and Theko and King Letsie III who was then Prince Mohato were students there.
After obtaining the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) at the Christ the King High School in Roma, together with Chief Lerotholi of Likhoele, they were both sent to London for further studies. There, they studied public administration. Theko was crowned the Principal Chief of Thaba-Bosiu in 1988.

Caswell Tlali

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