Tsatsanyane: a magnet for trouble?

Tsatsanyane: a magnet for trouble?

MASERU – Mokherane Tsatsanyane was only 10-years-old when his mother, ’Mamokherane Tsatsanyane, was arrested and thrown into Maseru Maximum Prison on a charge of high treason.
It was not just his mother who had been picked up; other relatives too who were aligned to the then main opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP) had also been arrested.
Their arrest came weeks after the BCP’s military wing, the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), made an audacious attempt to seize power from Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan.
The move was swiftly crushed.

And then came the mass arrests by the government that saw Tsatsanyane’s mother and many other BCP sympathisers being arrested.
The arrest of his mother, of all people, came as a massive blow to Tsatsanyane.
As a 10-year-old boy, he could not wrap his head around the fact that his mother posed any serious threat to the State.

He just could not understand why his mother, whom he saw as the most peaceful individual on earth, could be arrested while his father, whom he saw as a political “hot-head”, had been spared.
His mother was to spend the next 18 months in prison until Chief Leabua Jonathan was toppled in a military coup in January 1986.
“The detention of my mother made me a very bitter young boy,” he says. “I hated anyone who spoke about the Basotho National Party (BNP, Chief Jonathan’s ruling party).”
But it also sowed within his young, fertile mind seeds of political activism that have continued to grow till this day.

After his mother was released in early 1986, Tsatsanyane says he and his brother survived an attempted assassination after some soldiers, who were unhappy with the ouster of Chief Leabua Jonathan, pumped some bullets into his bedroom at the family’s home in Upper Thamae.
The Tsatsanyane family said they resolved never to fill up the bullet holes on the walls, as a vivid reminder of the immense sacrifices they made in the push for democracy and freedom in Lesotho.
He says they later learnt that the soldiers were accusing Tsatsanyane’s father, Chaltin Tsatsanyane, of working in cahoots with a “renegade” soldier, Colonel Sekhobe Letsie, to topple the Lesotho government.

He admits that his father held clandestine meetings with Sekhobe who he says was working with a faction of the army to topple the “dictatorial government” led by Chief Jonathan.
“My father was part of the whole thing and all I wanted then was to be a soldier to fight this government,” he says.
He says he genuinely believes that his father wanted to “help Lesotho become a stable democracy but every time he would be in trouble”.
Tsatsanyane says it was this realisation that they were fighting a beast in the form of the Jonathan regime that nudged him into politics.
“I wanted to change the whole concept of opposition politics in Lesotho.”

Tsatsanyane became active in politics in 1995 when he was just 21. He was elected the BCP youth chairperson of the then Boqate constituency in Maseru.
With the BCP in mortal decline following a spate of damaging splits, Tsatsanyane moved to the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party at its formation in 2006.
Tsatsanyane became head of Thomas Thabane’s close security unit when he was still an opposition leader, a task that soon brought him onto a collision course with the then government led by Pakalitha Mosisili.

In 2007, Tsatsanyane and five of his colleagues in the ABC fled the country after they were accused of stealing 28 guns from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), a charge he still insists was spurious.
He says they were never tried or convicted by the courts of law.
Tsatsanyane and his colleagues only managed to return home in 2009 following a “deal” they signed with the government. That two-year stint was not the last time he would experience life in exile.

In 2015, Tsatsanyane, now working as Thabane’s bodyguard and also MP after his official opposition security was withdrawn by the government of the day, again he fled Lesotho together with Thabane and other senior opposition leaders
Thabane claimed the then army commander Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli had attempted to usurp power on the night of August 30, 2014 and that his life was in danger.
Tsatsanyane says he was accused of leading the UTTA, which was said to be an “underground” military wing of the ABC.
Like his father, the straight-talking Tsatsanyane denies that he is a magnet for trouble. All that he wants to see is a prosperous and stable Lesotho that will rightfully take its place in the community of nations.

But to achieve that dream will take a generational shift “when this current generation of leaders is no longer there”.
“This country will only be stable once the generation of Mosisili and others go home. That is the only time we will have peace. They have all tried and they have all failed,” he says.
Tsatsanyane says the other problem is that we have political leaders “who have been active in politics for too long”.
We need to decontaminate our toxic politics, he says.

“All our issues can be traced to our past,” he says. “We need a new generation of leaders without these background issues (interfering with our politics).”
Tsatsanyane says he will stand for elections at the party’s elective conference in February next year. He is eyeing the party’s treasurer’s position.
The elective conference is however “tearing us apart”, he says.

The lack of unity within the ABC and the rise of “Johnny-come-latelys” is also miffing Tsatsanyane. He says does not know some of the characters vying for leadership positions within the party.
Tsatsanyane says he is particularly not happy with Professor Nqosa Mahao’s candidature for the deputy leader’s position arguing the “good professor” has no solid track record within the ABC.
He says Mahao has no “scars of the struggle that some of us have” and was until recently a member of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).
That in itself should disqualify the professor, he says.

The ABC is under growing pressure to start grooming a successor to Thabane, who is 79, a task Tsatsanyane says the party will find difficult to perform.
That is because Thabane’s political boots will be too big for anyone within the current crop of leaders within the ABC to fill.
“We currently don’t know who will fill his shoes. I also believe we don’t have anyone who can fill his shoes.”

He says he is praying that “Thabane stays on at the helm of the party for the next five years to allow us to groom a successor”.
“Mahao can’t be the leader; we need to give him at least 11 years to grow his base within the ABC. When we were exiled twice, we never knew Mahao but at least I can relate to my other comrades seeking the same position. These are my comrades.”

Once elected treasurer for the ABC, Tsatsanyane says he intends to use his business acumen acquired over decades, to build and strengthen the party.
He says it is a shame that after 11 years of existence, the ABC still does not have its own offices.
“We want to make drastic changes to the way the party is managed. The party must have its own building where we can rent out office space. We all cannot work in government. We need to start party projects to generate funds.”

Tsatsanyane’s colleagues in Parliament torched a storm two weeks ago after they demanded a 100 percent increase on their salaries. MPs currently earn a gross salary of around M30 000.
But Tsatsanyane says those who are complaining have no idea of some of the outrageous requests that come their way in their line of duty as MPs.
For instance, he says over the last three years when he became MP, he has buried at least 68 people in his constituency.
Each funeral costs around M7 000, he says.

“People do not understand what my role is as an MP. All they think is that you must be there to serve them. You must get them some jobs so that they eat. Everyone thinks you have money. And when we cry about our small salaries, people just do not understand.”

He says without his mechanical engineering business, he would not have managed to help people within his constituency.
“Thirty percent of my profits I plough back into my constituency. For me being a politician is a calling. I am happy when I help someone every day.”
Tsatsanyane says he is the only MP who has a constituency bus that he uses to ferry ABC supporters to rallies. He also uses the bus to ferry mourners within his constituency during funerals.

Staff Reporter

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