Bathed in the politics of struggle

Bathed in the politics of struggle

MASERU – A BUNCH of criminals.
That is Joang Molapo’s withering assessment of the last coalition government led by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
It is a strong sentiment that vividly captures Molapo’s utter contempt for a regime that he says was guilty of perpetrating with impunity serious human rights violations.

He then lists a litany of crimes he says were committed with the tacit endorsement of those at the highest levels of government.
He speaks of the Lesotho army’s stubborn refusal to subject itself to civilian authority, the Bidvest financial scandal, the senseless murder of Mokalekale Khetheng and the ghastly murder of civilians, with their bodies being thrown into Mohale Dam.
It is an argument that he delivers with remarkable eloquence and clarity.

For Molapo, it was the “culture and ethos” from the highest levels of the government that fueled the rot.
He says that culture had to be dismantled.
And so when voters’ trooped to the polling booths in the last general election on June 3, they had a choice either to vote for the status quo or boot out a repressive political system that had outlived its usefulness.

They chose the latter.
Molapo says the last election “was therefore less a popularity contest between political parties but was more of a referendum for the Congress parties”.
The voters, fed up with decades of Mosisili-led rule, gave the congress parties a bloody nose at the polls. To the voters, Mosisili had simply gone way past his sell-by date.

From the shell of the Mosisili-led government rose the new coalition under which Molapo is now serving as Minister of Public Works, a job he was shuffled to from the more glamorous Ministry of Communications last month.
Molapo also serves as the deputy leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), a party that is trying to reclaim its hegemony on the Lesotho political scene following decades of constant decline.

At 52, Molapo, a suave politician who is a brilliant communicator, represents the future of Lesotho. He is among a new generation of leaders who say they want to haul the country from decades of economic sterility.
He admits though that the challenges are monumental.

Youth unemployment and the lack of economic opportunities is breeding “a very destructive political culture” in Lesotho.
“We have a poorly developed culture for the politics of reconciliation and the politics of consensus,” he says.
Molapo is probably speaking from experience. His father, Mooki Molapo, was a distinguished diplomat and politician who served Lesotho in various capacities since independence.

As a staunch BNP cadre, the elder Molapo was in the thick of the action during a difficult period of political upheaval in Lesotho during the 1970s and 1980s. The young Joang witnessed some of the conflicts first hand.
“As Basotho we are not good at accommodating each other,” he says.

That has resulted in national discord and sometimes violent conflict in the last five decades since independence from the British in 1966.
Molapo says “we can only fix this country if we are willing to take some very difficult decisions”.

He wants to see massive long-term investments in agriculture. He argues that is the key to unlocking Lesotho’s vast economic potential.
“We need to understand what we are going to grow and why and develop value chains around those products,” he says.
Molapo says unfortunately, politicians have too often looked at “short-term” interventions to win elections.

“Everyone thinks we are going to have an election next week and people are scared to take decisions with long-term impacts.”
Such thinking must be binned if we are to take this country forward, he argues.
“These short-term interventions are never going to take us anywhere.”

Molapo also wants to see a massive shake-up in Lesotho’s education system to ensure that Basotho “who get out of tertiary institutions have the skills to function in the world”.

“We have to ensure that Basotho understand the value of science and technology, innovation and creativity. They must turn these things into businesses.” Molapo says the government is currently seized with discussions around these issues because Prime Minister Thomas Thabane “has a big vision of where he wants to take the country”.

He says Thabane is however only constrained by “the social, political and other issues” bedeviling this country.
Critics and the opposition have not taken kindly to the Thabane-led government accusing it of embarking on a retributive campaign against ministers and supporters of the former government.
Instead of pursuing reconciliation and forgiveness, the Thabane administration has not been magnanimous in victory by seeking to settle vendettas, they say.

That is nonsense, according to Molapo.
In fact, he is of the view that the call for reconciliation has not been a “genuine call” but smacks of crass hypocrisy.

He says Mosisili and his group from the “congress parties” had been in power since 1993 and never “did anything that talks to national reconciliation”.
“They lied to the people about everything they claim happened in the 1970s and 1980s. They fueled the conflict between the Congress and National party members. Only now when the numbers no longer support them are they beginning to talk of reconciliation.”

He thinks Mosisili and company are “not driven by a genuine desire for national reconciliation”. The Mosisili camp’s call for reconciliation is therefore merely a reflex action for political self-preservation.
In fact it smacks of political opportunism, Molapo says.

Molapo says he sees a genuine opportunity through the SADC-led reforms to “make Lesotho’s political dispensation more equitable”.
“The more equitable it will be, the more stable Lesotho will be.”

A stable Lesotho will mean that the government will have a chance to introduce long-term policies that will benefit the people.
Molapo admits that he was, proverbially speaking, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. As the son of a distinguished diplomat, Molapo grew up virtually shielded from the sea of poverty engulfing Lesotho.

When he was just 18 months old, his father was posted on a diplomatic mission as the Third Secretary at the Lesotho Embassy in Washington, in the United States. The family came back home briefly in 1970.
In 1971, his father was again off to New York after he was appointed Lesotho’s ambassador to the United Nations. While there, the young Molapo enrolled for primary school in New York.

Molapo says this was a very privileged upbringing.
While his age-mates were herding sheep and goats in Lesotho, the young Joang was rubbing shoulders with the children of the “who’s who” of this world.

It was an upbringing that obviously gave him a “head start” in life in shaping his vision and perspective in life.
Even though he came from a very active political family, his father insisted that he must first get a firm grounding in school before venturing into the cut-throat world of politics, advice he gladly heeded.

“He insisted that I should first get a career independent of politics,” he says.
Molapo graduated with a BSc Hon in Civil Engineering from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.

He had initially enrolled for a BSc degree in Mathematics and Physics as majors with Chemistry and Computer Science as minors at the National University of Lesotho but did not complete his studies when he left for the UK to study engineering.
“I had my career as an engineer and was able to come into politics when it was convenient for me,” he says.

But why would a successful engineer risk his career to delve into what is often murky waters of politics where big sharks lurk, ready to pounce?
“I love Lesotho,” is Molapo’s brief response. “I have had opportunities to live and work in the United States, the United Kingdom and in South Africa. I have also worked as an engineer in 20 other countries. I have done projects the length and breadth of the world, yet I am happiest when I am in Lesotho,” he says.

Abel Chapatarongo

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