Nkaku Kabi: A bit of tyranny won’t hurt

Nkaku Kabi: A bit of tyranny won’t hurt

MASERU – TO achieve the democracy and good governance that Lesotho yearns for, some dictatorship may be necessary, at least according to Health Minister Nkaku Kabi.
The 45-year-old son of a man who was a champion of human rights and an official of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of South Africa says he grew up hating politics.
Now he is one of those holding the levers of power, and his suggestion to break the impasse over stalled multi-sector reforms is not to widen democratic space.
Rather, Kabi would advise Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to railroad the reforms by suspending the Constitution – a move thatwould bean anathema to democracy.
And it is democracy that is standing in the way of Kabi’s wishes.

“If we were not in a democracy, surely my leader would suspend the constitution and go on with the reforms with or without the participation of the opposition,” he tells thepost from his office.
The multi sector reforms, came at the recommendation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016 as the sub-regional body battles to play midwife to a democratic and prosperous Lesotho following decades of political turmoil, coups and alleged human rights violations.
The reforms are envisaged to transform the country’s Constitution and usher changes in the legislature, the judiciary, security, public service and media in hopes of fostering a sustainable democratic culture.

Opposition demands such as guarantees on the security of exiled Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, have largely stalled the process.
Suspending the constitution, according to Kabi, would allow the Prime Minister to “do what is right and just for the common man rather than follow the wrong path that is promoted by populist policy-makers for their own personal benefits.”

“To implement some decisions requires a little bit of dictatorship,” he says, hastening though to admit that the political outlook in Lesotho and SADC as a whole would make such a move unpopular. Kabi views the opposition as a stumbling block whose demands should be swept aside if the reforms are to gain any traction.
“I want to see us developing as a nation. I don’t believe in the unfortunate actions of politicians sabotaging the good plans of the government just because they want to be the ones ruling,” he says.
“But because we respect democracy, my leader and our coalition partners will exercise patience until everybody is willing to come to the table so that we discuss the future of this nation together,” he says, conceding that his preferred option to suspend the constitution is too controversial to work.

The next best option, according to Kabi, is for the ruling party and the opposition to reason together.
“I think it’s high time we sit around the table as politicians from all political parties and other leaders representing other groups in the country, so that we discuss and agree on how we want to shape the future of this nation,” he says.

Kabi is familiar with opposition territory. Now that he is in government, he says he understands the frustration that the governing party has to endure due to opposition demands.
“We did it when we were in opposition. I now feel how painful it is because I am now in government,” Kabi says.
A former school teacher, Kabi was not a fanatic of politics at a young age. Much of this had to do with his father’s activism.

His father, Nathaniel Oliver Kabi was a mineworker turned labour activist for the National Union of Mineworkers and then turned into a politician.
In and out of prison for his activism, Kabi senior’s family would suffer because there would be no financial income in the family, especially as he was the only breadwinner.

“I grew up hating politics because of these bad experiences. I suffered a lot. Sometimes there would be no money to pay for my school fees,” Kabi says, reminiscing on his upbringing.
“Months would go by without knowing the whereabouts of my father and we would only get to know that he had been arrested by the Boers in South Africa after his release,” he says.
His father was also a stalwart of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), whose leadership was exiled during the Basotho National Party (BNP) dictatorship as then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan suspended the constitution.

Kabi says he grew up witnessing the hostilities between his family and others who were members of the BNP. “Because of that I hated politics,” says the man who is now deep in the throes of politics. “I was shocked when I grew up and realised that I am actually a politician.”

His first real encounter with politics happened about a decade ago. As a teacher at Mohlalisi High School, Kabi questioned why teachers were not represented on the school board. He began pushing for representation and soon his peers elected him as their representative. After some time, he took on the grievances of students who were going hungry despite paying for food.
Following a students’ strike over food, Kabi took sides with the learners.

“I was with the students and the teachers were on the other side. I failed to understand why there was no food yet the students had paid for the food,” he says.
Kabi was arrested and put behind bars for leading the students’ strike as a teacher.
He subsequently lost his job and had to rely on his wife, who was a lecturer at the Lesotho College of Education (LCE).
Later he got another job, this time as a lecturer at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) where he met Malefetsane Nchaka – the current Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nchaka was dissatisfied with the university’s labour practices and soon he was leading the university’s labour union as its president.
He was arrested again and locked behind the bars.
“It was at this time that I realised that I was treading on my father’s footsteps. I realised for the first time that I was now deep into labour politics.”
Unfortunately for him, his wife Anna Pokothoane died a week after his release from police detention.

“My involvement in politics and my arrest had affected her deeply. She was bedridden for a week and one day she did not wake up,” he says.
“That was the most painful moment of my life. She was the person I loved more than anybody in the world.”
Kabi never married after that, but “I am a father of five kids, three biological and two adopted, you can say I lost my wife in 2010 and had no children.”

Kabi says he loves his children so much that he will always strive to provide for them.
“I am not like these other men who make babies and then run away. It is my responsibility to take care of all my children and make sure that they grow together,” he says.
A year later, in 2012, Kabi was single, jobless and broke.

He sojourned to South Africa where he got a job as a tractor driver at a farm owned by an acquaintance. This was despite his qualifications of a university lecturer.
After the harvest, to his surprise the farmer called him and signed him a cheque for M463 000 saying it was a thank you token – accompanied with an exhortation to go back home to farm.
With this, Kabi bought two second hand tractors from the same farmer and returned to Lesotho to plough the fields.

Local farmers in Mazenod up to Qeme, where he comes from, used to hire his tractors “and many of them paid in kind”.
“At the time I was not aware that the barter system was working more in benefit of these farmers than for me. Some would pay with a sheep and I would agree,” he says.
He was unaware that by so doing he had softened the hearts of his people and they duly repaid him in the 2017 elections when he won the Qeme constituency under the All Basotho Convention (ABC). Thabane later appointed him health minister.

“As a minister of health, I want to see people having access to health services even in hard to reach areas of the country.”
“With commitment and determination, we can develop this country.”
“I wish to see ministers going to work driving their own cars. Ministers should fuel the cars from their pockets and they should recharge their phones from their own pockets,” he says., adding: “Only landline calls from ministers’ offices should be billed for us.”
Kabi argues that the money saved from such things and others will contribute towards the serious problem of unemployment facing the youth.

Caswell Tlali

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