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Why ABC lost the elections

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MASERU – THE All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s thumping defeat in the election last week could have dealt the party a massive blow from which it might never recover.

The party is now down 200 000 votes and 40 seats. It did not win a single constituency.

Eight compensatory seats are all it has to show for its efforts.

So spectacular was the collapse that even the leader Nkaku Kabi did not win in his constituency. Other stalwarts also bit the dust.

Whichever way you look at it, the party faces an uncertain future. And it has only itself to blame for the remarkable demise.

Incessant internal squabbles were the biggest cause of its undoing. Having failed to manage its succession, the party embarked on a path to self-emolition.

Thomas Thabane, its founder and former leader, should take the blame for swinging the hammer that delivered the most fatal blows on the party.

He held on to power for too long and stubbornly refused to let internal democracy prevail when it was time to go.

Instead of taking the back seat in the race to replace him Thabane repeatedly interfered, pretending to be neutral but playing for one of the teams. His undemocratic tendencies put off even some of the party’s staunchest supporters.

By the time Kabi took over, the ABC was damaged goods. His spirited campaign in the weeks preceding the election could not turn the tide.

Thabane had created a monumental mess that was killing the party slowly.

His first mistake was to wage a war to block Nqosa Mahao’s election as his deputy leader. In so doing, he was tearing the ABC constitution and antagonising a significant bloc in the party.

Thabane refused to work with Mahao and resorted to political chicanery to frustrate him.

A frivolous court case was launched to nullify Mahao’s victory. Thabane might not have been the face of that lawsuit but he sure gave his blessing.

When that failed Thabane became belligerent and refused to work with Mahao.

Mahao eventually left to form the Basotho Action Party (BAP), taking with him a significant chunk of ABC supporters and MPs.

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro replaced Mahao but Thabane and his hawks immediately leapt on him. It became clear that Thabane was not holding on to power for his preferred candidate but for himself. He was the team he was fighting for.

Majoro was hounded out of the party but refused to let go of the premiership.

It was a decision that would haunt the party for months and eventually play a role in the party’s poor showing in the election.

Instead of extending the olive branch and mitigating the damage, Kabi and his supporters sharpened their knives against Majoro and his government.

When their ill-conceived move to topple Majoro’s government in parliament failed, Kabi and his executive pulled out the ABC from the government.

It was a pyrrhic victory because it did not change anything.

Majoro continued to rule with the remaining ABC MPs who were ministers and saw no incentive in toppling the government. The Democratic Congress (DC) also provided a buffer that insulated Majoro from Kabi’s manoeuvres.

As the elections approached Kabi realised the mistake of alienating Majoro.

Majoro refused to give him access to the state resources that could have oiled his campaign. Bereft of the means that come with being the incumbent, Kabi had to scrounge around.

He became so desperate that he received dirty money from the famo music gangs loathed by many because of their heinous crimes.

It didn’t help that he did not have any positives to point at to justify his pleas for a fresh mandate from the people. Under the ABC corruption and unemployment had worsened. Nepotism and cronyism were the order of the day.

Billions of state funds had been pilfered by civil servants under the ABC’s watch. Roads were poked with potholes and infrastructure crumbled.

Hunger had exacerbated to make a mockery of the ABC’s election promise to eradicate it. Basotho were living in fear because of violent crimes.

The police were not only corrupt but also poorly equipped to deal with the scourge of crime. The government was so broke that it failed to pay suppliers and delayed civil servants’ salaries.

The economic transformation the ABC fervently promised had failed to materialise.

To the angry voters, it did not matter that the bulk of the government’s financial troubles had been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that had shaken almost every economy in the world.

True, the company closures, especially in the textile industry, had emptied thousands onto the streets.

Granted, the lockdowns had affected the government’s revenues. True, Lesotho’s share of the Southern African Customs Union revenues was at its lowest in years.

Yet none of those explanations would have resonated with the voters who had long convinced themselves that the ABC was to blame for their economic problems.

Kabi was up against a perception that had been concretised.

It did not help that Kabi is not a gifted orator and lacks the charisma of Thabane in his prime. He might have schemed his way to the top but he could not talk his way into the voters’ hearts.

Kabi could not fill Thabane’s outsized boots. The lack of a clear campaign message only made things worse.

Without Thabane, his political godfather, to handhold him, Kabi was at sea. He struggled to find his voice and made schoolboy blunders.

His attempts to ingratiate himself with the dangerous famo gangs was political suicide.

Yet the voters might still have forgiven the ABC were it not for other monumental mistakes committed by its government.

One of the biggest bungles was the government’s inept handling of the wool and mohair industry.

They railroaded an ill-advised policy to localise the industry by giving Stone Shi, a Chinese national, the monopoly to buy wool and mohair from the farmers.

The decision would not have been as infuriating if Shi had played fair with the farmers.

The government however continued to force the farmers to sell their fibre to Shi even as it became clear that he was broke, his business model unworkable and scamming the poor farmers.

When the farmers resisted the injustice, the government set the police on them. Some of its ministers vowed to punish farmers who refused to sell to Shi.

By the time sense prevailed and the policy was reversed, thousands of farmers were on their knees. Their flocks had dissipated and bank accounts were empty.

To make up for its mistake the government settled some of Shi’s debts to the farmers. But the damage had been done. The rural voters were infuriated and itching to punish the ABC at the polls.

The legal troubles of Thabane and his wife only deepened the animosity towards the ABC. The two might be off the hook for the 2017 murder of Lipolelo Thabane but the case remains alive.

Thabane’s wife, Maesiah, was vile with both her character and mouth. She gave the impression she was running the government on Thabane’s behalf.

Whether this was a myth or lie, Thabane did nothing to refute it. She would harangue senior government officials and ministers for incompetence.

When she was not injecting herself into government and party matters, she was misusing her newfound status as the first lady.

She brawled with a woman at a local hospital. A waiter at a lodge was tongue lashed for delaying her drinks. A young man who mistakenly called Thabane was frog-marched to the State House to be whipped by Maesiah and her friends.

Within just a few months she had become the most hated woman in Lesotho and her husband suffered for it.

When Mahao broke away it looked like his party was the sanctuary that embittered ABC supporters were looking for. And for some months it looked as if the BAP was going to be the biggest beneficiary of the ABC fiasco.

Then out of the blue came Sam Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) and Lesotho’s political establishment went into a tailspin.

Kabi looked paralysed as the RFP grew. Unlike other political leaders, he didn’t seem to have jabs against the RFP. His party was reeling.

It’s still sliding and its death beckons.

Unless something dramatic happens over the next five years the ABC’s tombstone will read: “Here lies a party that contrived to kill itself. A party that squandered massive goodwill and buried itself”.

A mouthful but true all the same.

Staff Reporter

 

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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