The ‘thankless task’ of being MP

The ‘thankless task’ of being MP

MASERU – IT’S a thankless, frustrating job. What complicates his task as MP is that there are no resources that are availed by the government to get the job done.And so when a resident in his Khubetsoana constituency dies and the family has no money to buy a coffin, Likopo Mahase, is still expected to step in and help.
Even when their beloved one dies somewhere in South Africa, the community still expects him to “do something” to bring back their loved one home and give him a befitting send-off.
For Mahase, failure to be there in their time of mourning would be the ultimate act of committing political suicide.

And when the people in Khubetsoana are looking for jobs, they still approach him as their MP and expect that he will “do something” to give them a job in Lesotho’s already blotted civil service.
When there is an election he finds himself funding most of his own campaigns by printing T-shirts from his own pocket. He even provides transport for his supporters to attend political rallies.
“There are as many challenges of being an MP as you can imagine. The truth is this is not a church, you are not going to the chapel,” Mahase says.

“You need patience to deal with people and solve their problems. They don’t want to speak to your Personal Assistant at the constituency office, they want to talk to you directly.”
As an MP, Mahase says he has had to sacrifice personal interests to get his political career going.
“You have no time for personal business otherwise the politics will suffer. You just cannot serve two masters.”
Mahase says being an MP is an impossible job.

Yet he says he remains determined to serve his Khubetsoana constituency to fight rampant poverty and inequality.
Mahase, a soft-spoken yet staunch All Basotho Convention (ABC) cadre, was first elected MP for Khubetsoana in 2015.

He retained the constituency in last year’s general elections won by the ABC.
To fight poverty and inequality, Mahase wants to see a change in how the government approaches issues of development.

He believes the controversial wool and mohair regulations passed by the government earlier this year will address the rampant poverty in Lesotho.
Under the regulations, which were met with howls of protest from a section of farmers, it is now illegal for Basotho to sell their wool and mohair outside Lesotho.
Mahase says the farmers just could not see the bigger picture when they were complaining about the “draconian” regulations.
They will eventually come around, he says.

He says this resistance to new ideas is not new in Lesotho. He says when the late Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan wanted to introduce the Angora goats and Merrino sheep, the farmers fiercely resisted the move. “They wanted to keep their old Basotho sheep and goats,” he says.
It was only later when Basotho farmers realised the benefits that came with the new breed when they accepted the idea, he says.

Based on this historical analogy, Mahase insists it is only a matter of time before the farmers’ appreciate the government’s position to block wool and mohair exports to Port Elizabeth in South Africa. He says with the whole process being regulated and done in Lesotho, farmers will now be able to “know the quality of their wool and the country will grow economically”.
“There will be no transport costs to take the wool to Port Elizabeth. The benefits will translate to the farmers.”

Mahase says dragging Lesotho out of poverty will require that “we sit down as Basotho and ask, ‘what are we doing for people living in the mountains?’”
The MP rejected as untrue charges by some of his own ABC supporters that the party had sold out to the Chinese.
The allegation followed what appeared to be the growing frustration with the role of the Chinese in Lesotho’s economy.

There have been allegations that the Chinese were slowly pushing out locals from small businesses in the districts, a charge the government and the Chinese embassy in Maseru have rejected.
Others have even accused the government of parceling out pieces of land to the Chinese.
Mahase says it is not true that the Chinese were pushing a “new form of imperialism” in Lesotho instead he took a swipe at his own people who he accused of being “all talk and no action”.

“The problem with Basotho is that they want to talk but don’t want to produce. The fields are not being fully utilised. Not a single one is doing it in a very productive way,” he says.
“We are not producing enough and want to produce on a small-scale. Farming doesn’t have a Sunday or public holiday. How many farming projects, run by Basotho, have collapsed?”
He says as for the Chinese, their work ethic is outstanding.

Mahase says being the “big church that it is,” the ABC would obviously run into problems as it sought to accommodate the divergent voices and interests.
“Once the numbers began to grow, we knew it also meant more problems for the party,” he says.
“All these people have different ideas on how the party should be run. We need a good and strong National Executive Committee (NEC) to solve the day-to-day issues that arise within the party.”
Mahase says the party will need to “reinforce our structures in the NEC, the constituencies and branches”.

He however rejects charges that First Lady ’Maeasiah Thabane was at the centre of the crisis within the party as alleged by some party heavyweights.
“She is helping vulnerable people in the constituencies and she is within her rights to do so,” he says.
Mahase says the only problem is that there is too much hunger in Lesotho with people expecting goodies from the First Lady every time.
“People should not expect miracles from her. She is a First Lady and not a public servant. The government is not running a spaza shop.”
Mahase says he is painfully aware of Lesotho’s turbulent past and wants a shake-up of the security sector.

He blames politicians “who always drag the security sector into our politics”.
“We want the security sector to fight our battles,” he says. “We need to discipline ourselves as politicians for the betterment of the country.”
Mahase is however not too optimistic about the future of Lesotho in the short-term. The reforms will be a long drawn out process, he says.
Even then he thinks Lesotho’s security challenges will take a long time to be sorted out.
“To demolish a building you need just a day but to build will take you a year.”

He thinks the recruitment strategies employed by political parties that have seen security agents being recruited based on party affiliation will be very difficult to uproot.
“We use our powers to hire these young guys in the army, the police and NSS (National Security Service) who are affiliated to political parties. You don’t bite the hand that is giving you food.”
Mahase says until those accused of human rights violations are arraigned before the courts of law and charged, there will be no reconciliation in Lesotho.
“We need to speak and find why they were doing what they did. We need to know who sent them. South Africa tried the issue of reconciliation without justice and they are still crying since 1994. They need justice.”

Mahase was born on July 15, 1969 in Seforong in Quthing district. Like other young boys in Lesotho then, he would herd the family’s cattle and go to the fields.
“There was no other way of life; it was non-negotiable,” he says.
He also did not consider that kind of life a punishing routine; that is how all boys lived in the village in the early 1970s until he moved to Maseru in the early 1980s. He says that upbringing set him on a firm footing in life.

His family was fiercely pro-Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) led by Dr Ntsu Mokhehle who was involved in a mortal tussle for political dominance with the then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan. Following the re-introduction of democracy in Lesotho in 1993, Mahase says he continued to vote for the BCP, impressed by its commitment to wage an armed struggle to re-assert democracy.

Disillusionment however quickly set in after he watched his beloved BCP tear itself apart through splits.
There was also a serious disconnect between what the party stood for in exile and what was happening on the ground when the BCP leaders came back home to Lesotho.
Fed up with the internal squabbles within the BCP, Mahase quit the party and joined the ABC at its formation in 2006.
He has served as an MP since 2015.

Staff Reporter

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