Fixing a chaotic city

Fixing a chaotic city

MASERU – If there is one thing that keeps Habofanoe Lehana wide awake at night, it is how he intends to fix the unplanned settlements that are dotted throughout the capital Maseru. What first strikes any first-time visitor to Maseru is the unplanned nature of the city and the degree to which people have been allowed, over the years, to build their housing structures wherever they want.

The unplanned settlements in Maseru have bred absolute chaos and lawlessness in some villages dotted around the capital city. But this has not always been the case, according to Lehana, who is the Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship. Up until the early 1990s, Maseru was a relatively model city with a degree of order and careful planning, he says.

“There used to be some order,” Lehana insists. “The unplanned settlements were not so much.” It is that order that Lehana wants to bring back to Maseru. “It is a task that is keeping me awake at night. I am always thinking, is this task ever going to get finished?”

“If I had not done it before I would have given up,” he says. Lehana is a former physical planner at the then Lands, Surveys and Physical Planning (LSPP), Lesotho’s town and country planning authority. He says back then, they had a clear plan on how Maseru and other settlements were to develop, only for greedy politicians to throw spanners into their plans.

Lehana also worked at the Maseru City Council (MCC) as the Chief Physical Planner. His main task was to develop a national settlement policy and work on the town planning and building permit legislation. Yet despite their heroic efforts to bring order to Maseru and other settlements in Lesotho, Lehana says too often their work was undone by greedy politicians who sat on some of their proposals. “There was a clear lack of political will,” he says.

“We had detailed plans, but if the politicians don’t have a major interest in implementing them then they would gather dust on the shelves.” Lehana says during his stint at Maseru City Council they developed a clear plan to modernise the city by developing two local plans. One of the plans, the Maseru West district plan, would have seen the development of upmarket residential flats right in the city. The plan ran for a half a kilometer radius from the CBD to the Maseru Golf Course in the west.

“We picked all the prime spots and had a development brief. We had proposed mixed development in terms of flats right in the city,” he says. The idea was to keep the city lights burning at night by ensuring the city is not emptied of people after work. “The city gets dead at night.” Lehana left the MCC in 1998 to join the Lesotho Housing and Land Development where he was the Director of Operations. He was in charge of land acquisition, overseeing the physical planning, marketing and land development for the corporation.

He says he was involved in “lots of negotiations to acquire land”. “Negotiation has always been one of my strongest points. I would interact with the public a lot. Whether happy or angry, I would make it my business that we sit down and talk,” he says. Lehana says he was drawn into politics after he noticed that those who were in power then were only interested in a “power retention” agenda and not improving the welfare of the people.

“Their focus was on staying in power and not delivering any services to the people. I thought I could assist my party (the All Basotho Convention) either as an MP or a supporter to strive for good governance,” he says. He says physical planning has always been his forte. “You cannot take care of your natural resources if you don’t know where they are, otherwise you could build on where they are,” he says. “I have always wanted to see the country well-structured and planned.”

Lehana admits that lots of mistakes were made in developing Maseru but he does not think we have “reached a point of no return”. “We can still rescue the situation. We need to look at large areas where we can start afresh and plan properly and have a functioning satellite city to Maseru,” he says. That sounds ambitious but Lehana believes it can be done as long as “we have enough land”. He says the government already has a plan to build 4 000 housing units in Linakotseng in Maseru. “We have to redevelop the city and upgrade it,” he says.

He believes once you have provided enough land, people will stop “engaging in informal settlements”. Lehana says he is already in the process of building a strong “development team” within his ministry to drive this agenda. He says he is determined to get things done even if it means he will have to “import town planners” from outside the country to ensure he has the right staff for the job. “We will have to strengthen the planning capacities in Maseru and at the national level. We need a co-ordinated and integrated approach to manage the city’s growth,” he says.

Lehana was appointed Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship in June last year. His ministry is in charge of land management and planning. Yet when he arrived at the ministry, he realised there was “a total collapse of all systems” that would help him manage the ministry. “You can’t manage a ministry with no systems,” he says. “Physical planning had almost collapsed.” The ministry has no qualified staff, the gadgets and computers “were non-existent”.

“So many things were done on an ad hoc basis. How the ministry worked with local authorities was also very blurred.” Even local councilors were not being empowered to handle local issues. “The result was that as a minister, you are being forced to deal with very petty issues that are happening at the local level,” he says.

“If you don’t, then things become very chaotic.” Lehana says he also wants to see local chiefs being capacitated so that they can deal with issues in their areas. “The chiefs felt they have a very thin budget and we still expect so much from them. Without proper support the chiefs cannot work properly. They need basic things such as stationery and transport.”

“The rampant petty crimes in the villages are mainly because we have failed to adequately support the chiefs.”

“We need to capacitate and support the chiefs. They live with the people. The police should come in as a last resort,” he says.

Lehana says the ministry will soon appoint a Director General who will be responsible for the decentralisation unit. The DG will also closely supervise senior staff. “By the next election, we should have fully devolved power to local authorities.” Lehana says the key to ensuring economic development for Lesotho lies in pushing for political stability in the country and that the rule of law should become the cornerstone of governance.

“We have immense potential,” he says. “If we can utilise the land in an intelligent way, we can be a nation that could easily feed itself.” He says Lesotho is paying the price for pursuing a brand of politics that has been “based on divide and rule”.

“Politicians wanted to use hatred and the demonisation of those in the opposition to stay in power.” Lehana says with the SADC-driven reforms he wants to see “politicians not being able to influence the disciplined forces to stay in power”.

“We also have a civil service that is really horrible,” he says. “They want to please those who gave them jobs.” Lehana says like every other mass movement, the ABC has had its own teething challenges.

“It’s a broad movement and you have all sorts of people with different views on issues. Our challenge is to narrow down our vision so that we have a focused vision,” he says. The battle for economic opportunities is largely because people have become so dependent on the government for survival. “That should not be the case,” he says. “We must get rid of the culture of tenderpreneurs. People must excel on their own without relying on the government.”

Lehana says “we must create equal opportunities for our people if we are to have a stable Lesotho”. Asked if he would endorse the opposition’s call for reconciliation to foster national cohesion, Lehana was uncharacteristically blunt. “That should never happen,” he says. “You don’t reconcile with criminals. Criminals will always be criminals unless you deal with them.” He believes the issue of reconciliation should only be entertained after following the due process of the law.

“They must tell us what they did and based on the law we can then follow a process of reconciliation. You may pardon criminals but you are likely to do more harm to people who have been aggrieved.” Lehana was born on March 13, 1960 in Mahlatsa Ha-Lehana in Berea district. His father, a staunch Basotho National Party (BNP) politician, worked as a clerk at a local grocery store. He would often engage in fierce debates with his father over the political situation in Lesotho at that time where the BNP was locked in a tussle for political supremacy against the Basotho Congress Party (BCP).

As he grew older, Lehana says “he couldn’t understand the hatred between the two parties”. “One of my uncles was a strong BCP member and the hate speech I would get from him about my father was beyond reasonable differences based on politics,” he says. He says he then realised at that point that “the political leadership often plays tricks with the electorate”. As a student leader at the National University of Lesotho, Lehana says they began to realise “certain undemocratic tendencies by (the then Prime Minister) Chief Leabua Jonathan”.

“We realised that we should fight for a truly democratic society in Lesotho and that politics was about how we take Lesotho forward rather than the politics that would manipulate Basotho”. Lehana was part of the group of student leaders who formed the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) together with current party leader Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane and NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao. At the NUL, Lehana had initially enrolled for a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting but later “got bored with figures” and switched to the social sciences where he studied politics, administration and governance.

After graduating from the NUL, Lehana worked briefly at the Ministry of the Interior, where the current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, was the Principal Secretary. His main task was to implement projects for political refugees who had mostly fled from South Africa during the liberation struggle. Lehana later enrolled for a post-graduate course in town and regional planning at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

Staff Reporter

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