I’m no novice, says Mokhothu

I’m no novice, says Mokhothu

MASERU – IF there is anything that seems to weigh heavily on Mathibeli Mokhothu’s shoulders, it is the issue of his age.
At just 41 years old, Mokhothu is considered by his critics as a political greenhorn.
They see him as a political upstart who was only catapulted into a position of leadership, thanks to his mentor, former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
It was an appointment that seemed to rile some senior officials within the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC).

Their murmurs of discontent suggested that some sections of the party were not happy with Mokhothu’s sudden rise.
Critics say the DC almost committed ‘political euthanasia’ by electing into a position of leadership a novice while neglecting experienced politicians within the party.
Mokhothu, who is the deputy leader of the DC, says charges that he is a political novice are baseless and unfair.

As DC deputy leader he also remains within sniffing distance of the country’s top job in the event of an election in which Mosisili does not contest.
The issue of age is a matter that seems to irritate Mokhuthu whenever it is raised during the interview.
For him his relatively young age should not be seen as a liability but an asset.

In a robust defence of his political credentials, Mokhothu says he started his political career from the grassroots, starting with the sub-branches of the then Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in the late 1990s.

He rejects as nonsense charges that he is a political novice who only came into the national spotlight after he assumed the deputy leadership of the DC last year.
In any case, he argues, the world has moved on with younger politicians taking over the reins.
He cites the case of France’s Emmanuel Macron who assumed power when he was just 39.

Closer to home, he says Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, who is standing in the presidential elections next Monday is only 40, a year younger than himself.
He argues that he has always been ready to lead from as far back as 2003 when he first stood as a candidate in the LCD’s primary elections.
“I’m ready to lead if my people so command. I know they have confidence in me,” he says.
He says he is not ashamed by his stunning rise to the top.

“It was the national conference that elected me,” he says.
“The conference spoke and we all have to abide by the decisions of the conference.”
Mokhothu says when he was appointed into Cabinet as Minister of Gender in 2015, he was only 38.

He was even younger when he was elected into parliament in 2012 when he was just 34.
As a young politician, Mokhothu says he wants to see real transformation in the lives of the people.
But for that to happen, “we need sound policies that are geared towards growing the economy”.

“We need to build a national economy that will be enough to cater for all people,” he says.
Mokhothu says the biggest challenge for Lesotho is fighting poverty.
“It is critical that we have a government that is geared towards growing the economy. Once we do that all these other social ills will be dealt with in a decisive manner.”

To fix these problems, Mokhothu believes Lesotho needs a radical shake-up of how it manages its limited natural resources.
“The DC has its own vision on how to turn around the economy, with the country’s natural resources being used to benefit the citizens,” he says.
“We need to re-think our mining policy.”

Under the current deal, the government of Lesotho owns 25 percent of shares in some local mines with the remaining 75 percent in the hands of foreign investors.
He says the skewed ownership structure has impoverished Basotho for decades.
Mokhothu also wants to see Lesotho taking charge of its raw materials and other natural resources at the initial stages.

“At the present moment, we sell at the raw stage. Our wool, mohair and diamonds should not be sold as they are. We need to make sure they are sold as finished products. We need to set up factories to process the raw materials to bring better gains to the country.”
That is a tough call given the levels of animosity within Lesotho.

Mokhothu says if given a chance to speak to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, he would urge him to “help this country heal and open a new page”.
“He needs to chart a better Lesotho for every citizen,” he says.
Thabane must work towards growing the economy and ending the political discrimination in employment, he says.

Mokhothu however doubts that the Thabane-led coalition government has the political will nor drive to steer Lesotho towards economic growth and prosperity.
“They are there to feed themselves through selective tenders,” he says.
He alleges that the government had parcelled out to its cronies tenders worth M150 million in just a single year.

“That’s unheard of. They have created a platform to loot by picking their own people with whom they have shares in private companies,” he says.
If this continues, Mokhothu says Lesotho will soon join the list of “failed states” in Africa.
While that might be a bit melodramatic, Mokhothu is adamant that the country is on a path to ruination.

He cites what he says are the relentless attacks on institutions of the state.
“The police, the judiciary, parliament and the office of the Ombudsman are all under attack,” he says.
To Mokhothu, the government will not rest until it captures these institutions and packs them with their own pliable individuals, which will be a threat to our democratic state.
When it was put to Mokhothu that his own government under which he served during Mosisili’s tenure did far worse things during its last term, he says the difference was that the human rights violations were not “state sponsored”.

“We never officialised the killings,” he argues. “But this government has officialised these killings through the police.”
“People are being tortured and killed at the hands of the police following an order by the Prime Minister to beat up suspects. This is unheard of in a democratic state.”
He says until the government explains what happened to Lipolelo Thabane and ’Makarabo Mojakhomo, charges that the DC-led government committed gross human rights violations will remain hollow.
Lipolelo, Thabane’s estranged wife, was shot and killed just days before Thabane was inaugurated as Prime Minister last year while Mojakhomo disappeared without trace at the police headquarters in May.

“What are they doing themselves?” he asks.
He says the killing of Maaparankoe Mahao was an accident that should not have happened.
“There was no order that Mahao should be killed.”

Asked how he would rate Mosisili’s performance over his long 14-year tenure as premier, Mokhothu offers an eloquent defence of his mentor.
It is clear from the responses that he remains fiercely loyal to Mosisili.
“He developed the education sector in a manner that cannot be compared to any other leader,” he says.

He says the book rental scheme which made books accessible to all children despite the size of the pocket of the parent was Mosisili’s idea.
He also built roads and bridges and introduced the feeding scheme for primary school children.
Political commentators say it is such social programmes that made Mosisili the “poster boy” of Lesotho’s politics.

However, they say despite doing well in improving a lot of the poor, Mosisili’s biggest weakness was his failure to read the proverbial ‘writing on the wall’ indicating that his time was up.
They say his failure to hand over power to a successor was his biggest weakness.
That is not so, according to Mokhothu.

He says Lesotho is “not the United States”.
“Lesotho is a poor country and as long as the man elected by the people is doing well, there should be no need for him to go.”
He argues “the old man (Mosisili) is still healthy and can continue to serve his people”.

Mokhothu was born on March 20, 1977 in Thaba-Chitja Ha-Potso in Quthing to a father who was a mine worker.
While his father was away in the mines, the task of raising the children, all seven of them, was left in the hands of their mother.
Yet from a very young age, he became aware of his political environment and the struggle for a democratic Lesotho.

His family was fiercely pro-Basotho Congress Party (BCP) under Dr Ntsu Mokhele.
He remembers his father asking him to read for him the BCP newsletter and the party’s Constitution.
Occasionally he would read to him the Bible.

“As I read, my father would engage me in debates asking me what I had understood from the reading.”
The impact was huge. That reading of BCP materials began to shape his ideological understanding of the politics of Lesotho and the people’s struggle for social justice.
“I understood the philosophy of the BCP and came to appreciate the ideology of the congress party and its tenets. I began to understand that the BCP was a party that was set up to help and liberate the poor.”

Mokhothu is a qualified school teacher. He holds a Bachelor of Education degree from the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

Staff Reporter

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