Makgothi heeds call of duty

Makgothi heeds call of duty

MASERU – When Lesotho army commander Lt Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo was gunned down in his office at the Ratjomose barracks in Maseru on September 5, there was pandemonium in Maseru. Amid the confusion, there was one voice that sought to reassure the nation and explain how the audacious plot was executed.

It was the voice of Lesego Makgothi, Lesotho’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister.
Eloquent, shrewd and smart, the 52-year-old Makgothi became the authoritative voice on the Lesotho crisis.
One time he would be fielding questions from international media, the next he would be addressing local journalists, all done with a degree of sophistication unseen in these shores for some time.

Although this was by all accounts unchartered waters, Makgothi was the “star of the show”, as he eloquently articulated the Lesotho government’s position on the crisis with aplomb. His position was that the Lesotho government was under siege from rogue elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and only a military intervention by SADC would save the country.

It was a persuasive message that quickly found takers within SADC.
The result was that SADC head of states unanimously agreed to send a standby force to stabilise Lesotho and help the new government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane implement the regional bloc’s recommendations.
Although Makgothi had entered Lesotho’s treacherous political arena a decade earlier in 2006 when the ABC was formed, he had largely remained an unknown quantity, politically, over the years.

His appointment after the June 3 election as foreign affairs minister might have come as a surprise to many Basotho.
Yet, those within the ABC party say he remained among some of the most respected cadres within the movement.
His rise to the helm of the key ministry was therefore no accident, they say..

Makgothi acknowledges that Lesotho has gone through turbulence over the last 50 years since its independence from the British in 1966.
He believes the SADC-driven reforms present a rare opportunity to fix what has been ailing this country over the past five decades.
Key among these reforms are the security and constitutional reforms.

“If we don’t get these two right, we will never be in a stable environment,” he says.
Makgothi believes the biggest problem for Lesotho has been its electoral model that is a recipe for political instability.
Lesotho uses a Mixed Member Proportional Representation electoral system.

Under the model, 80 MPs are directly elected in constituencies with the remaining 40 MPs being elected through the Proportional Representation (PR) system. He says experience has taught him that the mixed member electoral model “creates instability for parties in Parliament and the governing parties themselves”.

That is why we have had three coalition governments in the past five years since 2012, all with relative degrees of success.
That has had devastating consequences for issues of governance in Lesotho, particularly on the issue of political stability, he argues.
Makgothi believes part of the solution lies in copying the South African electoral model, lock stock and barrel, where they use a “100 percent PR system”.

“I personally would want Lesotho to adopt that model. It creates stability for parties in Parliament as well as stability within the parties themselves.”
“It is also cheaper to deal with. This is because if you lose a member in Parliament you don’t need to go for a by-election. You simply shift to the next in line on the party lists submitted to parliament.”

He argues that way, the “party will have full control over MPs in Parliament”.
Makgothi says he has already discussed this proposal informally with his colleagues within the ABC and their response has been very positive and encouraging.

He says he hopes he can persuade his colleagues in Parliament to adopt this proposal during the SADC reforms.
Makgothi is also clearly peeved by a provision in the current constitution that allows MPs to cross the floor.
He argues this provision is one of the biggest causes of political instability in Lesotho.

“When one crosses the floor it can be a critical move that can collapse a government. We will need to look at matters like this when we get to the reforms.” He thinks when an MP crosses the floor, “it must trigger a by-election to ensure there is stability”.
Makgothi argues it is unconscionable for any Prime Minister to want to serve more than two five-year terms.
“If a Prime Minister wants to serve for more than two terms, that creates instability,” he argues.

“Why would someone want to serve more than two terms? Political life is madness and insanity.”
He says the same reasoning should apply to MPs who must serve a maximum of four five-year terms and pave way for younger politicians to introduce new ideas.

“You must make way for others to come in.” He says his ABC party strongly believes that the SADC-driven reform process must be as inclusive as possible “with everybody who is supposed to be there being there”.
“That is why we are trying by all means to ensure that all those who are in self-imposed exile are back in the country,” he says.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and his deputy at the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Tšeliso Mokhosi, fled Lesotho three months ago claiming their lives were under threat.

They were later joined in exile by Democratic Congress deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, who also made similar allegations.
The Lesotho government however says it has no intention of harming its own citizens and has requested that they come back home, an offer that is still to be taken. Makgothi is also not too happy with the liberal approach that allows “too many political parties in Lesotho” which do not command any significant support on the ground.

He believes there is “something wrong for a country of 2 million people to have close to 30 political parties”.
The foreign affairs minister remains hopeful however that the SADC-driven reforms will usher in a period of stability for Lesotho.
He also believes the Lesotho army, which critics say has been the source of the country’s problems for decades, will need a total make-over to enable it to play a constructive role in a democratic society.

“The military needs to know its role. It must protect the constitution and abide by it.”
Critics accuse the Thabane-led administration of not being magnanimous in victory by vigorously chasing after former government ministers who served under former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.
Makgothi says that is not true.

He says the government is only committed in implementing SADC decisions.
“The Prime Minister is committed to enforce the SADC decisions and in enforcing these decisions it would appear as if we are chasing Ntate Mosisili’s people.” “That is why we started with beefing up the SADC oversight committee to be on the ground and act as an early warning mechanism so that in the long run we do not appear as if we are settling scores.”

Makgothi also waded into the political crisis unfolding in Zimbabwe saying the “transition was long overdue”.
He admitted the manner of the transition had however “raised eyebrows and questions” because the Zimbabwean “army was deep in this”.
“The army has fallen short of pronouncing this as a coup because we will never condone any democratically elected government being toppled by soldiers.”

He says Lesotho is waiting for directions from South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma who is the current SADC chairman.
But does Makgothi harbor any ambitions for higher office?
Any politician worth his salt would surely want a strike at the country’s top job, we ask.
And what we got was a caveat.

“I might have a change of heart in the next five years but right now I want to keep serving in this capacity as long as possible. Eventually I want to go into farming,” he says.
Makgothi was born on February 23, 1965 at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru.
He says he grew up in a “rough neighbourhood” of Thibela in Maseru.
His father died when he was eight.

He says the Makgothi family, particularly his grandfather, Dichwanyo, was very active within the ANC in Tshieamelo in Thaba-Patswa in South Africa.
Fed up with the injustices and brutal repression by the Afrikaners in the Free State, his grandfather sought refuge in Lesotho in the 1930s.
His father, Makgothi Magkothi, was also politically active in his own right and when the younger Makgothi was born, he was almost bathed every day in the politics of that dark era.

Magkothi says although he was young, he remembers vividly the repression of the early 1970s where he saw people being beaten and harassed for belonging to the Basotoland Congress Party (BCP), a party that was viscerally opposed to the then government led by Chief Leabua Jonathan.
Makgothi’s maternal grandfather, Paki Mofoka, and his grandmother, Mmakwadi Mofoka, staunch BCP activists, and his tough mother, Makehilwe Makgothi, also played instrumental roles in shaping his early political conscientisation.
He says the atrocities committed during the state of emergency by youths aligned to the BNP infuriated him as they ran counter to what he believed was just.

“I was not happy with what the regime was doing to its own people. In 1985, BNP youths ran rampage around towns, setting up roadblocks and beating people. The country was on the verge of lawlessness.”
That was how he found himself joining politics.

He was soon to go through a period of disillusionment particularly after his hero, Ntsu Mokhehle, left the BCP to form the LCD in 1997.
It was the ABC whose narrative of fighting hunger and poverty was persuasive enough to draw him back into politics in 2006.
Makgothi holds a Masters in Business Administration and Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from the Management College of Southern Africa in Durban, South Africa, an IT diploma from Rand Afrikaans University as well as a Diploma in Business Studies from National University of Lesotho.

Abel Chapatarongo

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