Hlaele’s 40-year journey in trade unionism……………
MASERU – If there is anything that has come to define Lebohang Hlaele’s tenure as Minister of Law in the last 14 months, it is his extremely messy public fallout with Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara. His critics within the opposition, who are many, say Hlaele has not been ashamed to aggressively push a naked plot to oust Chief Justice Majara and replace her with a “pliant” judge.
They say Hlaele has been brazenly waging a vicious assault on the independence of the judiciary. They say he wants to capture the judiciary.
On one side is Hlaele and the government while on the other is Justice Majara and her sympathisers.
Fighting in the judge’s corner is a motley collection of international and local groups that have issued scathing statements against the coalition government for allegedly poking their noses into the affairs of the courts.
Critics say Hlaele’s “shooting from the hip” approach in dealing with his political rivals has not made things any better.
They say he has been too aggressive and very antagonistic in pushing his agenda.
That is nonsense, says Hlaele.
“I’m not after her,” he says. “It’s a perception that we want to get her out. All we want is to make sure there is rule of law.”
Hlaele insists the coalition government has no intention of undermining the judiciary either.
He says while the judiciary is independent, “administratively we have to ensure the rule of law is maintained”.
“The independence of any institution is not absolute.”
Hlaele says the government’s beef with the Chief Justice emanates from a perception that certain wrongs were done and these should be investigated without fear or favour.
“The Chief Justice must clear her name,” he says.
Hlaele says as head of the Ministry of Law in Lesotho, the Chief Justice had, among other issues, dismally failed to deal with the huge backlog of cases within the courts resulting in some cases dragging for as long as 10 years without being finalised.
That is totally unacceptable, he says.
“We have more than a thousand cases that are stuck there. Justice has to be seen to be done to Basotho.”
“If that is pushing, then so be it,” he says.
Hlaele says all they are looking for is “for the Chief Justice to provide leadership in the judiciary”.
“The Minister is not above the law, the Prime Minister is not above the law and so is the Chief Justice.”
Hlaele says the perception that he was out to get the Chief Justice was wrong and has to be condemned in the strongest terms.
“I am not pushing her out but we want things to be done the right way.”
While Hlaele has been pushing hard to raise his concerns with Justice Majara he has also been vociferous in his defence of Justice Kananelo Mosito.
Justice Mosito was ousted by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili for allegedly violating Lesotho’s tax laws.
Hlaele however insists that Justice Mosito was unfairly treated by Mosisili and deserves a second chance.
“He was unfairly targeted by the former Prime Minister. He failed to rise above petty politics. A case in point is when the former Prime Minister was inaugurated in 2015 where he greeted and shook hands with everybody except Justice Mosito. My view was and I still hold the same view that Justice Mosito’s removal by the former Prime Minister was politically motivated.”
He says his decision to back Justice Mosito arises from legal opinion he was given as minister by the new Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) that “we did not have a case against Mosito”.
“Justice Mosito, in my opinion, has to go back to his position if nothing wrong is found against him, like any other Mosotho. It’s not about Justice Mosito, as a person, but about justice to a Mosotho.
“We will raise our concerns as government whenever we think things are not done in the best interest of justice. It is all about justice being done to every Mosotho.”
A fiery trade unionist with no legal training, Hlaele unsurprisingly sometimes comes across as brusque. What he lacks in legal finesse, he compensates with raw drive to get things done.
“When I arrived in the ministry, I told myself that I am not a lawyer but my focus would be on managing the ministry with the help of lawyers,” he says.
“They would come with their legal skills and I would bring my managerial skills and I am happy to say we are gelling very well.”
He says when he arrived at the ministry he was met with demoralised civil servants creaking under the oppressive weight of a system that had for many years learnt to accept and promote mediocrity.
They were not motivated and had no clear plans and targets and that made them unaccountable, he says.
Hlaele is married to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s daughter. The couple met in 2007 and got married in 2013.
It is a relationship that has brought its own baggage, particularly with reference to Hlaele’s political career.
As Thabane’s son-in-law, Hlaele says he is fully aware of the perception that his appointment as minister was as a direct result of his familial relationship with the Prime Minister.
“He (Thabane) was accused of nepotism (after my appointment in 2017),” he says.
Hlaele is at pains to portray himself as his own man.
He says he joined the All Basotho Convention (ABC) at its formation in 2006 on the basis of principle.
“I did not marry and then join the ABC. I joined the ABC first,” he says.
He says their relationship is that of father-in-law and son-in-law when it comes to family issues. Party and government business are treated separately, he says.
“When there is something I need to criticise about the party and government, I will criticise him without fear or favour but with respect. I will go to his State House and talk to him. But when I engage in matters of family I make it very clear that let’s talk about family matters.”
“I raise these issues frankly and robustly but with respect, that is how I am.”
Hlaele says Lesotho’s biggest challenges emanate from a vacuous political leadership that is selfish and only looks after its own interests.
“We have leaders who are unable to live up to their promises. People are looking after their own interests to see how they can survive.”
He says Lesotho needs a leadership that “thinks it’s not about me, it’s about our people, it’s about my country”.
Hlaele says for too long Basotho have been divided on the basis of party political affiliation to the detriment of the nation.
“We must forget about party colours and look for capable leaders to take us where we want our country to be.”
Hlaele’s comment come as his ABC party is embroiled in unprecedented turmoil sparked by bitter leadership squabbles.
Two weeks ago, Thabane was heckled by aggrieved party supporters in scenes that gave the clearest indication that the party was going through serious problems.
ABC chairman, Motlohi Maliehe was last month sacked as tourism minister after he publicly chastised Thabane’s wife, ’Maesaiah Thabane, for allegedly interfering in the running of the government operations.
Maliehe says he is now leading a push to get Thabane kicked out of the party he formed.
Hlaele says the current challenges were because the ABC is a “broad church that accommodates people from all walks of life and schools of thought”.
“It’s not possible to manage a party like the ABC, only Thabane and his leadership can do so,” he says.
He sees the current squabbles as a sign of the indiscipline that has engulfed the party.
“There are structures through which you should raise your views and once decisions have been taken, you cannot go out and say you did not agree with the decisions taken; that’s indiscipline because those decisions have been taken by a collective leadership.”
He also criticized a trend within the ABC of “disallowing dissent within the party”.
“That kills democracy. This tendency is foreign in any democratic set-up and is unacceptable,” he says
Hlaele says there will always be contradictions in running a party such as the ABC.
“A revolution without contradiction is incomplete, according to Lenin.”
Hlaele says Thabane has always encouraged engagement, dialogue and patience amongst members.
Born on May 6, 1958, Hlaele had a rough upbringing in Mohale’s Hoek. His father and mother divorced when he was two and he was taken in by his uncles.
He only went to school up to Form E and had to drop out after his uncles failed to raise school fees for him.
Like many other young boys growing up in Lesotho then, the young Hlaele packed his bags and headed to the gold mines of South Africa in 1977.
He was around 19 years old when he left Lesotho for a job as a Clerk at Grootvlei mines in Springs in Johannesburg.
Hlaele later continued with his studies in South Africa and completed a post-graduate Diploma in Labour Law and Human Resource Management Diploma.
The conditions at the mine were brutal.
The wages were poor and living conditions in the hostels were Spartan. It was no surprise that the conditions soon gave birth to a militant trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 1982.
Hlaele says the NUM, under a fiery Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now president of South Africa, and other leaders such as James Motlatsi and Elijah Barayi, soon became an irritant in the eyes of the apartheid regime as it pushed for better working conditions for the workers.
Hlaele says he joined the NUM and was immediately elected the NUM chairperson of the Grootvlei branch.
From that moment, Hlaele became steeped in trade unionism, pushing for the betterment of the working conditions of mine workers.
At the formation of COSATU in 1985, Hlaele was elected treasurer general of COSATU in the Wits region, which encompassed Pretoria, Gauteng and Vaal region.
He remembers with fondness how they orchestrated the biggest strike by mine workers in South Africa in 1987, sending the apartheid regime into a tailspin as the oppressive system tottered towards collapse.
As a direct result of the strike, 64 000 members out of the 340 000 members were fired by Anglo-American, the owners of the mines.
“We got injured as a union but we were not destroyed,” he says defiantly.
He says they had to do what they did in the 1980s because, “the mining industry was being run by a very stubborn racist clique”.
It is in trade unionism that Hlaele learnt his politics. Now 41 years after he first joined the mines, Hlaele can look back with pride at the experience he picked up over the years and apply it in his new assignment as Minister of Law.
The biggest lesson he learnt while working in the mines is that there is only one language that the mining magnates understand – trade unionism.
He says when workers are united, they are strong and when they are divided, they are weak and are easily manipulated by their bosses.
“Without unity, you could not get anything from the racist mine bosses who were running the mines,” he says.
We had to organise ourselves and demand what we felt was rightfully ours, he says.
“The 1956 Labour Relations Act as amended, made it impossible for workers to embark on a wildcat strike. But we learnt that you needed to be a leader who takes unpopular decisions as long as those decisions were in the interests of your members.”
“Happy workers are productive workers.”
Lawyer in trouble
A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.
It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.
Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.
Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.
According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.
The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.
During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.
His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.
Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.
He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.
Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.
Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.
Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.
Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.
He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.
The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.
Trio in court for killing ‘witches’
THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.
Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.
They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.
The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.
Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.
Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.
He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.
“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.
He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.
They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.
Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.
He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.
Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.
He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.
Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.
He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.
“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.
He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.
Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.
The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.
Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.
“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.
“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.
He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.
Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.
He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.
The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.
“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.
Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.
He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.
Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.
He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.
“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”
He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.
Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.
He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.
Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.
“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.
The case continues.
Opposition fights back
THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.
Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.
But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.
The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.
Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.
Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.
It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.
The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.
The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.
“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.
“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”
“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”
The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.
The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.
“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.
He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.
“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.
“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”
He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.
“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.
Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.
“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.
Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.
“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.
“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”
The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.
The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.
Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.
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