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How the RFP won the election



MASERU – THE Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) had set off like a jet in the first few months of its launch. Its membership book was swelling fast, rallies were packed and social media was abuzz.

The Moruo slogan had caught on, especially in urban areas where the party was most visible with its regalia and car stickers.

Sam Matekane’s helicopter which many had grown accustomed to be seen as a mere rich man’s toy had somehow become one of the party’s main symbols.

The Matekane brand was the wind in the RFP’s quick sail. The party didn’t have to remind anyone who Matekane was.

His reputation as a successful businessman preceded him.

As other parties scurried for a reaction to the new kid on the block, the RFP mopped supporters across the country.

Even before spelling out its policies, the party was benefiting from the power of newness.

The old parties, blamed for every ill by angry and disappointed voters, were reeling.

It seemed the Democratic Congress (DC) and the All Basotho Convention (ABC) were finally paying their bills for years of presiding over governments that failed to deal with the scourges of poverty, unemployment and corruption.

They were being hung by their rope. Hoist by their own petard.

Five years earlier, the ABC had swiftly squandered its goodwill and mandate with reckless policies and internal leadership feuds. The DC, having joined the coalition three years earlier, was being damaged by the association and its legacy.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP), which had appeared to be on the rise months earlier, was losing its shine to the RFP.

It wasn’t part of the old political guard but the newness and appeal had gone with it.

To outsiders, it looked like the RFP was on course to bring Lesotho’s political establishment to its knees. Yet inside the party, frustration was setting in.

The membership was not growing fast enough to reach the numbers required to prevail in the election.

As the initial euphoria petered membership numbers plateaued and the party looked like it had reached its limit. Numbers were still trickling in from the districts but not as fast as the leadership wanted.

By August 2, eight weeks before the election, the RFP had 139 000 members. The DC, which the RFP considered its main rival, still had around 345 000 on its books.

There were also several unknowns about the numbers and the level of the DC’s popularity.

The RFP could not tell if the recent survey by Afrobarometer that predicted a DC win still held.

The survey showed that the DC would win 42 percent of the vote with the ABC coming a distant second at 21 percent. The BAP was projected to be third with eight percent while the Movement for Economic Change, Alliance of

Democrats and Lesotho Congress for Democracy were tied at six percent.

Although it was widely accepted that the ABC was bleeding support, there was scant evidence that its people were crossing to the RFP.

The RFP leadership could not definitively claim that it was the main beneficiary of the exodus from the ABC.

It might as well have been recruiting new voters not previously aligned to any party. Perhaps the BAP still had the momentum and ABC supporters were still trooping to it. Whatever the explanation, it quickly became clear to the RFP that it was not growing fast enough and 139 000 was not enough to win the election.

At the same time, the leadership privately admitted to its bungling of the primaries that had damaged the party’s reputation. Pockets of animosity had emerged after the party used interviews to sideline some candidates that had fairly won the primaries.

Matekane had also angered some of the initial supporters by insulating his party’s top leadership from primaries.
Something had to be done.

What followed was something unprecedented in Lesotho’s politics and election campaign. It explains the RFP’s spectacular victory a fortnight ago.

For the past two weeks, thepost has been piecing together the key elements of the RFP’s election-winning strategy. It has had interviews with key players in the campaign and combed through the party’s campaign strategy documents.

Most of those documents were and are still highly classified, only distributed to a few leaders of the party to avoid straying into opponents’ hands. The interviews were conducted on the condition of anonymity.

The documents and interviews illustrate how the RFP made the drastic changes that would help it win the election. The party decided to run a data-driven campaign.

The first step of that strategy was a detailed analysis of the voting patterns in all 80 constituencies.

And that is where the expertise of Shikamo Political Advisory and Campaign Services (Shikamo), the RFP’s political and campaign strategy firm, came in.

Shikamo, managed by a Harvard alumni, advised the RFP on a strategy that would not only grow membership across the districts but also get the members to show up on the polling day.

At that time the RFP had an average 1 700 members per constituency. The analyses revealed that if the voter turnout remained at the 2017 level of 580 000 (46 percent) of the registered 1 250 000 voters, the RFP would need an average 3 600 votes per constituency to win.

The party, the campaign strategists advised, had to answer three critical questions. The first was how many supporters it had and which areas it considered strongholds.

The second was how the membership compared to the number of registered voters. The third question was how support in each constituency compared to the voting patterns in the 2017 and 2015 elections.

Although the RFP downplayed the potential damage of the fiasco in the primaries, documents show that the party took it as one of the main risks to its campaign. The other two main challenges were the party’s inability to access its strength across the country and the perception, supported by the Afrobarometer survey, that the DC would win.

The average of 3 600 votes per constituency became the magic number to strive for.

The party was banking on having a turnout higher than 46 percent and making sure that there was higher voter registration in areas it had strong support.

The strategy, according to documents, was to not only get members but to ensure they are registered and would vote.

How to communicate this mission to district campaign teams and leaders without getting it leaked to competitors was a huge concern for Matekane, his inner circle and the consultants.

A two-day training workshop was organised for the campaign teams from all constituencies.

The workshop focused on membership recruitment and campaign strategies. In the workshop each campaign team was given constituencies to focus on, the campaign methods to use and the target number of members to recruit by the end of September.

Curiously, none of those campaign strategies included traditional rallies at the local level.

The teams were instructed to focus on small intimate events that directly touch the lives of voters.

In the five Butha-Buthe constituencies, for instance, the campaign teams were instructed to use car rallies, youth activities, blood donor days, door-to-door campaigns and community cleaning activities. Other teams held mental wellness days, school debates and cultural days. Those activities were replicated in other districts with variations and additions.

In Leribe the party added visits to churches, hospitals and funerals. They also spiced up things with fun walks, celebrations of Women’s Day and games.

Berea was to be blitzed with concerts as well as soccer and netball matches.

In rural constituencies like Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing the party started by building and training the campaign teams.

And when they went to the villages the teams focused on pitsos (community gathering), taxi ranks, the elderly, herd boys, funerals, soccer tournaments, horse racing and field races.

Each member of a constituency team had a target of members to recruit by mid-September.

Matekane was also leading from the front. He accepted a punishing eight-week campaign schedule.

For five days every week, Matekane would hop on to his chopper to have marathon meetings with district committees and campaign teams.

He would rest one day and hold a star rally on either Saturday or Sunday in the district after the meetings.

Back in Maseru, Matekane is said to have become obsessed with the numbers from the districts.

One member of the campaign teams tells thepost that the team at the party’s command centre in Maseru became accustomed to hearing of Matekane aggressively demanding numbers.

“He would always ask about the numbers. He would say ‘I want my numbers’,” said the official who spent most of the last weeks preceding the election at the command centre.

Another official said Matekane insisted on daily reports of the new members recruited.

Matekane’s meetings with the district campaign teams debunk the perception by many of his rivals that the RFP didn’t have local structures.

While it might have been true that the district teams were not de facto constituency committees in the traditional sense, they still represented some sort of structures the party could use to manage its campaign.

It is those teams the party used to recruit members and organise star rallies in the districts.

Documents show that the RFP had a comprehensive eight-week social media campaign strategy to promote Matekane, candidates, fight negative publicity, and coordinate responses to threats to the party.

The strategy also included counter-attacking the RFP’s rivals. Rallies were streamed live on social media where the party interacted directly with the audience.

To get the social media campaign right the RFP trained 30 people to run its Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp platforms.

Radio was used to promote the party and its candidates.

Where the party pushed the counter narratives depended on the context. For instance, the party would use community radio stations if the threats were at town or district levels.

Local national radio stations and South Africa’s Lesedi FM were used to counter narratives and falsehoods in the highlands.

By September 26 the RFP’s membership had grown by 148 percent, from 139 000 to 346 000. That is close to the 350 000 that the DC had on its books.

The campaign however did not end because the party shifted gears to encourage members to vote.

Then October 8, a day after the election, the numbers started streaming in from the polling stations. As the team at the command centre watched the results’ dashboard the numbers aligned with their predictions.

The RFP won 36 of the 42 constituencies it had marked as “definite wins” and 18 of the 28 predicted as “might wins”.

It prevailed in only two of the ten classified under “Will not win”. The RFP had won by growing numbers and getting them to vote on polling day.

To appreciate why the RFP’s victory was not a small feat you have to look at the number of people who cast their ballots.

The 37 percent voter turnout could have resulted in a massive disaster for the party.

The party had already predicted in August that a turnout of less than 48 percent would mean a defeat. This was because new parties generally win when more people vote.

The only difference in this election is that the new party, RFP, got the majority of its members to vote.

If we assume that all those who voted for the RFP were its members this means 52 percent of its membership cast their ballots for the party.

Based on the same assumption, only 32 percent of the DC’s 350 000 members voted for the party. The RFP’s spokesperson, Mokhethi Shelile, is still reluctant to reveal much detail about how the party won the election.

“It was just a well-oiled campaign machine led by a capable leader and a dedicated team,” Shelile said this week.

He however admits that Shikamo “helped with the numbers”.

“They helped us to push for the numbers and with the insights of what those numbers meant. But they were working with a leader whose brand was already popular and with an organised team.”

There was indeed public anger against the ABC and the DC.

Granted, the ABC shot itself in the foot by failing to deliver on its promises, failing to manage government affairs and mishandling internal politics.

True, the RFP rode on the Matekane brand and the general hunger for change among the voters.

Yet all those issues, strong as they seem, might not have been enough to hand victory to the RFP.

It was a data-driven and well-organised campaign that delivered the RFP’s victory. Of course, those two cost money to achieve.

And the RFP had deep pockets.

Lesotho’s election campaign will never be the same again.

Shakeman Mugari


SR mob attacks journalist



MASERU – TŠENOLO FM presenter, Abiel Sebolai, was allegedly beaten and injured by a mob of Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) supporters on Saturday.

Sebolai said the mob, which he suspected was drunk, attacked him with fists, sticks and stones.

He said the group was enraged after he tried to take pictures of their cars which belonged to the Ministry of Local Government

Sebolai told thepost that he had gone to Thaba-Tseka with the Thaba-Moea MP, Puseletso Lejone Paulose, on a work trip when he spotted a group of people clad in SR regalia riding in the government vehicle, hoisting beer bottles.

“We were in Mantšonyane when I saw the Local Government vehicle full of men and women with bottles of beer in their hands,” Sebolai said.

“I saw that the majority were wearing Socialist Revolutionaries regalia.”

He wanted to talk about the abuse of government vehicles on his programme the next day.

“I then took out my phone to capture a few pictures and a video,” he said.

He said just as he started taking pictures, the vehicle made a U-turn and approached him.

“The driver came to me and asked me what I was doing with my phone,” he said.

He said he told the driver that there was nothing wrong with taking pictures as a journalist.

“The person I was with reprimanded him and he attempted to walk away only to turn back and punch me.”

“After the first punch, I retaliated by throwing a punch too. I managed to hit him hard and he fell.”

He said the group then jumped off the car and started assaulting him with stones and sticks.

Sebolai said he tried to flee but was stopped by the “stones that were coming to me like rain until I was hit and fell”.

“What nearly took my life was a stone that was thrown while I was falling. It hit me on the forehead and from then I went blind.”

“They were insulting me so much.”

Sebolai said he was helped by a Good Samaritan who risked his life to drag him into his vehicle.

“From there I was taken to the clinic in Lesobeng before an ambulance took me to Mantšonyane Hospital.”

“I went to the Mantšonyane police station where I found the same Local Government vehicle parked,” he said.

“I am told that the Local Government Minister instructed it to be impounded and my assailants arrested.”

He complained that he was injured while doing his work “but the Ministry (of Communications) and MISA are silent about my attack”.

The SR spokesman, Thabo Shao, told thepost that they received a report about the incident and the party does not “condone that behaviour”.

“I hear arrests are not yet made, those people should be arrested,” he said.

The MISA director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, said the board will soon meet to discuss the matter and call the victim before issuing a statement.

“We are going to work it out and then issue a condemnation,” Ntsukunyane said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Infighting rocks BNP



MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) has become the latest party to be rocked by infighting triggered by its dismal performance in the October election.

As the party grapples to come to terms with its thumping defeat bigwigs have been pelting each other with blame for the poor performance.

So intense is the internal feuding that the party is now said to be on the verge of implosion.

In the tug of war is the party’s secretary general, Moeketsi Hanyane, who this week fired a salvo at party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe.

Hanyane told a press conference on Tuesday that Mofomobe should accept the blame for leading the party to its worst election defeat in history.

He said instead of taking responsibility as a leader, Mofomobe is blaming him for the dismissal performance.

Mofomobe has however fired back, accusing Hanyane of being rebellious.

“It has been a while since I have been shouldering the blame for the general election’s poor results,” Hanyane said, adding that Mofomobe has been instigating his supporters to insult him.

He said the party did not perform well because it didn’t have money to campaign.

He said the BNP did not get its share of the political campaign funding from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) because it failed to account for what it received in the 2015 election.

Out of the M175 000 that the BNP was supposed to get from the IEC, it got only M15 000 as campaign funds, Hanyane said.

He also said those in the past BNP national executive committee, of which Mofomobe was a member, did not account for the campaign funding received in 2017.

“As a result, our party failed to secure M111 000.”

Hanyane said because of the financial problems the party used rentals from its BNP Centre to fund the rallies in Maputsoe, Quthing, Mafeteng and Teya-Teyaneng.

He said this was the first time since 1993 that the party could not afford to print campaign regalia.

Hanyane also said the national executive committee is chaotic under Mofomobe’s leadership.

“They accuse other members of sabotage, which shows a lack of cooperation in the party.”

Mofomobe, Hanyane added, spent more time mocking other party leaders instead of advancing the BNP’s values and policies.

He said instead of pleading with members of other parties to vote for the BNP, Mofomobe called them “idiots beyond redemption”.

No wonder, Hanyane said, people turned against the party.

He said Mofomobe was not ashamed to use valuable campaign time to mock leaders who own aeroplanes.

“He said their aeroplanes were made of cardboxes, and that was his campaign message,” he said.


He also said the BNP supporters were put off by Mofomobe’s close relations with

Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu.

“That issue did not sit well with some party supporters and followers in constituencies,” Hanyane said.

He said Mofomobe angered the chiefs and the church, the party’s traditional pillars.

“The chiefs regarded our party as one of the parties that were fighting them and the church too, those are the pillars of the party.”

He said Mofomobe should “go back and apologise to the chiefs and the church for hurting them”.

“The leadership should also apologise to the members where they did wrong.”

Mofomobe however said Hanyane will face the music for organising a press conference without the national executive committee’s approval.

“The party will meet as soon as possible to take internal measures against the secretary general for doing what he did,” Mofomobe said.

He accused Hanyane of ignoring his orders.

“I told him to go on radio to campaign for the Stadium Area elections but he refused and I ended up going there myself,” Mofomobe said.

He said he will not hate Mokhothu without a valid reason.

“I will not hate him just because people want me to hate him,” he said.

He also stated that although they work well with Mokhothu he has his own reservations that include the DC’s support for Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been wallowing in remand prison for the past five years as he goes through trial for murder, attempted murders and treason charges.

The DC is on record pushing for the withdrawal of charges against Lt Gen Kamoli.

Mofomobe said he is not the first BNP leader to work with congress parties as Leabua Jonathan, the party founder, once worked with Basutoland Congress Party (BCP)’s Pokane Ramoreboli who he made justice minister.

Nkheli Liphoto 

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Rogue soldier loses bid to save job



MASERU – A soldier who insulted his superior for stopping him from joining a crowd that later killed a civilian during a drunken fit of anger at a bar has lost his bid to overturn his dismissal from the army.

The Court of Appeal last week ruled that army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, followed the law to the letter when he fired Private Lehlohonolo Alotsi.

The case was before the President of the Court of Appeal, Professor Kananelo Mosito, Justices Phillip Musonda and November Mtshiya.

The court found that on Christmas Day of 2018, Alotsi, together with nine other soldiers, was on patrol at the Ha-Peete Military Base.

They went to a local bar and ended up staying outside the barracks until after 10pm, which is the prescribed time for soldiers to be back inside the barracks. A fight broke out at the bar between the soldiers and some civilians.

The soldiers went back to the barracks and ordered their superior, one Corporal Thabi, to hand over some riffles to them. Corporal Thabi ordered them not to go but his orders were ignored.

Alotsi told the court that he did not go but admitted that he used abusive language against his superior. Thereafter there was a shootout at the bar leading to the death of a civilian. Some civilians were also injured in the shootout.

On New Year’s Eve Alotsi and his co-accused appeared before Presiding Officer, Major Lekoatsa, for summary trial relating to military offences they had committed at Ha-Peete. They all pleaded guilty to the charges laid against them.

Alotsi was charged with disobedience, acting in a disorderly manner, and using inappropriate language to a superior officer. Major Lekoatsa found him guilty and sentenced him to 80 days in detention.

He was also severely reprimanded. Major Lekoatsa told Alotsi that he had 14 days within which to appeal against the sentence.

Alotsi did not challenge both the conviction and sentence at that time and only did so when Lt Gen Letsoela wrote him a letter saying he should give reasons why he should not be fired.

It was during this time when he revealed that Major Lekoatsa had coerced him to confess even though he was not involved in committing the crimes, apart from disrespecting his superior.

In his letter to Lt Gen Letsoela, Alotsi apologised for being out of the barracks beyond 10pm, saying he did not do it intentionally.

“My intention was still to make it back on time but being human, I got carried away,” he pleaded.

“General Sir,” he continued, “here I give a full account of the truth.”

He told the army boss that there was a fight that broke out at a bar and he had no idea how it started and how it ended.

He said they ran back to the barracks to ask for guns to rescue one Private Ramarou.

“I, Pvt Alotsi, was never given a gun, the guns were given to Private Teolo and Private Khoaisanyane,” he said.

“Commander Lesotho Defence Staff, General Sir, I yet again implore you for mercy as I had been in an unwarranted exchange with Corporal Tlhabi, where it appears that I insulted him,” he pleaded.

“I am not a vulgar person at all. I am a soldier who respects a lot, I follow orders,” he said.

“Corporal Tlhabi was ordering me to not go back with the soldiers to go get Private Ramarou. I indeed stayed behind.”

“I deeply apologise, General, Sir.”

The court found that Lt Gen Letsoela has prerogative to fire any soldier or officer if in his judgment his continued service “is not in the best interests of the Defence Force” or the soldier “has been convicted of a civil or military offence”.

“Depending on the gravity of the offence, (the army commander), even in a situation where a soldier is pardoned, (may) still proceed to discharge him or her,” the court said.

“There is no dispute that the offences committed were serious and obviously offended the standing ethics of the force.”

Alotsi had taken the commander to the High Court saying he was being punished twice. The High Court dismissed his application, leading to this appeal.

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