The battle for Mahobong

The battle for Mahobong

MASERU – SOME 120km north-east of Maseru lies Mahobong, a rural constituency in which villagers still scrounge for a living through subsistence farming.
Apart from a few “development” projects, there appears to be nothing much to write home about Mahobong.
A state-of-the-art tarred road that snakes down from Hlotse town, about 18km away, appears to be the only sign of modernity.
For some villagers, the horse remains the only trusted means of transport to take them deeper into the mountainous valleys.
Most villagers here still eke a living from tilling the soil.

Some have no access to electricity or clean water.
Promises by politicians that they would provide clean water and electricity have remained unfulfilled for decades.
The result, for most people, has been utter disillusionment with Lesotho’s politics.

It was this constituency that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane “invaded” last weekend in an attempt to sell his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party.
Thabane had to do so as Mahobong has remained fiercely loyal to Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party for the past two decades.
It was not a surprise that even as the ABC swept all constituencies in Leribe district in the last elections, the people of Mahobong remained a “stubborn lot” by voting for Thabane’s nemesis – Metsing.

Metsing crushed the ABC’s Fonane Sello to win the seat despite that Thabane had campaigned heavily against Metsing in the run-up to the election.
Metsing won 4 663 votes against Sello’s 3 354.
This is an “anomaly” that Thabane is now trying to fix, by selling his vision to the people of Mahobong in a rehearsal for the next elections in 2022.

Metsing has been an absent MP for Mahobong for the past year after he fled Lesotho into exile in South Africa claiming his life was in danger.
But thanks to SADC mediation, Metsing could finally return home on Sunday after the regional bloc guaranteed his personal safety.
There could be several reasons why Mahobong has been fiercely loyal to Metsing.

For a start, Metsing hails from the constituency and is therefore seen as a “son of the soil”.
The government’s social programmes, such as old age pensions and free primary school education, were introduced when his LCD was in power in the late 1990s until 2012 when the party split.
It is those programmes that made Metsing and his party the “darling of the masses” in rural constituencies.

Although the LCD is now a shadow of its former self after it lost power, there is still some residual thinking among villagers that it was the party that did so much for marginalised Basotho.
That perhaps explains why Metsing, in spite of the relentless propaganda against him, retains a significant electoral base within Mahobong.
And it would appear Thabane is alive to this residual support that Metsing still commands in his home constituency.

It was precisely for these reasons that the premier took the battle to Metsing’s constituency last weekend.
Thabane’s message was simple, yet persuasive – it is time to dump the LCD and Metsing and the government will in return provide key social services to the people of Mahobong.
It was a charming message that found lots of takers within Mahobong.

Thabane made it clear that he was not happy that his ABC lost to Metsing in last year’s elections.
“I am not happy with that and to you all Mahobong residents, make sure that this constituency is taken by the ABC next time,” Thabane said.
Thabane told the party faithful that he wants to fulfill his electoral pledge to start paying old age pensions when they reach 65. Currently the pension is only eligible to those over 70 years.
“I am working hard to fulfill the promises I made to Basotho,” he said. “I never promise Basotho development projects and then fail to deliver.”

Thabane said Leribe district needs water, electricity and roads. This was a message that was clearly couched for the people of Mahobong.
“I will work hard to bring change in service delivery because that is exactly what Basotho deserve, I will also make sure that jobs are created,” he added.
The unemployment rate in Lesotho currently stands at around 45 percent, according to government statistics.

Thabane was swept into power on the back of promises that he would provide jobs to thousands of unemployed graduates, a feat that is proving difficult in 15 months he has been in power.
Thabane promised to create 3 000 jobs at the new Ha-Belo textile factories in Butha-Buthe.
“After the full construction is done 14 500 Basotho will get jobs,” he said.

He also pledged to improve the health delivery services in Hlotse saying “Motebang Hospital will be the second referral hospital soon” after Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Maseru.
Thabane said the government will soon begin work on the 16km Mapholaneng to Polihali road next month.
He ordered the Minister of Water, Samonyane Ntsekele and Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to work hand-in-hand to solve the water crisis in Leribe district.

Thabane also threatened to unleash the army and police to patrol Lesotho’s borders with South Africa to stop stock theft.
It was a message that was met with raucous ululations from some women at the rally.

Nthole Seema, a resident of Mahobong, said he was quite pleased with the government because it is keeping its electoral promises.
“By addressing the issue of elderly people’s pensions, it is clear that the government is trying to fulfil its promises,” Seema said.
Seema also said he is just a few years away from the age of 65 and is looking forward to receiving a government pension.
“Most people of my age are unemployed therefore the age reduction will help us a lot,” he said.

He said the Prime Minister had also delivered on a key promise to some villages in Mahobong by connecting houses to the national electricity grid.
“We are still expecting other developments like water and roads in some villages but we are satisfied so far,” he said.
Seema said his only concern was what appeared to be the marginalisation of ABC youths when it comes to jobs.
“We are not happy because it is only the Alliance of Democrats youths who are getting jobs,” Seema said.

He said while the ABC was working together with other political parties in the coalition “that does not mean they should be put first, we should be equal”.
Seema admitted that de-campaigning Metsing was a big challenge “because he comes from this constituency”.
“We are trying everything in our power to win the constituency. Had they not collaborated with the DC (Democratic Congress), Mahobong would have been won by the ABC,” he said.
’Masontaha Kao, another resident, bemoaned the constituency’s poor state but said she was comforted by Thabane’s promises.

Kao also said it was gratifying that electricity is now being installed in Ha-Seetsa, one of the villages in Mahobong.
“The only thing left now is roads and water,” Kao said.
She said “the issue of old age pensions is very important to us because there are no jobs”.

She also said they travel long distances to get drinking water because there are a few taps in the constituency.
“We have always voted like other citizens.”
It’s time that we too are noticed, she said.

Agriculture Minister, ABC’s Mahala Molapo, from the neighbouring Thaba-Phatšoa constituency, said he was not happy with the pace of change in the whole of Leribe district.

“We have to join hands together as Leribe MPs to solve the challenges facing our district because we are aware that our government inherited low funds from the past government,” he said.
Molapo also said Leribe is the breadbasket of Lesotho and more should be done to boost agriculture in the district.

Nkheli Liphoto

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