Knives out for Motsephe

Knives out for Motsephe

MASERU-THE battalion of critics within the Basotho National Party (BNP) have sharpened their long knives against ‘Malineo Motsephe.
They want her out of the electoral race, pronto.

They argue that at 72, Motsephe is way past her sell-by date politically. Instead of seeking the highest office in the BNP, Motsephe should be safely ensconced in retirement, playing with her grandchildren.
Where has she been all these years? Why enter the race to lead the party when others her age are now seriously contemplating retirement?

These are persuasive arguments that Motsephe will have to bat off if she is to come out victorious after the June 11-13 BNP internal elections.
But Motsephe is not taking the criticism lying down.
She is fighting back.
My advanced age is no handicap, she says.
In fact, age comes with wisdom – which has been in short supply in the BNP in recent years, she counters.

The BNP has been in mortal decline precisely because we mortgaged the party to younger leaders who had no wisdom, she says.
“The party is where it is now because we gave it to young people without a proper succession plan,” she says.
‘With my wealth of experience I can help revive the party while working with younger people.’
At 72, Motsephe will be the oldest candidate among six party heavyweights vying to succeed Thesele ’Maseribane as party leader.

‘Maseribane’s term ends in June.
The other five are ‘Machere Seutloali, a 36-year-old woman, current deputy leader Machesetsa Mofomobe, Lesojane Leuta, Advocate ‘Mota Nkuatsana and Professor Lehlohonolo Mosotho.
The BNP, which was one of the leading lights in Lesotho just after independence in 1966, has been in mortal decline since it was ousted from power in a bloodless military coup in 1986.

When democracy was eventually restored in Lesotho, the BNP performed dismally in national elections, with the electorate viewing it as “damaged goods”.
The party won a single constituency in the 2015 elections. It had last won a seat in the 1993 elections.
Ever since 1993, the BNP has relied on the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral model to sneak in a few MPs into parliament where their influence has been heavily diluted.
To stay relevant, the BNP has since 2012 relied on coalition agreements with larger parties.

Motsephe says she wants to change the party’s electoral fortunes and bring the glory days back to the party. Given where the BNP is at the moment, that’s a steep mountain to climb.
“The old people have become disgruntled with how the young ones have been doing things in the party. We want to take the BNP to the good, old days by merging the young and old.”
Motsephe says her vision is to grow the party. She admits that the party has lost significant support over the years.

Most of their supporters have become disenchanted with politics.
“Some are sitting on the fence and no longer vote in elections because they are loyal to the BNP,” she says.
“The first thing is to rekindle the loyalty of BNP members,” she says. “I want to ensure that they are motivated to register to vote with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).”

Motsephe says she does not “like seeing the BNP being at the mercy of other political parties after elections”.
As a smaller political party, the BNP has very little bargaining power during coalition negotiations. The result is that the party has failed to push its own agenda during coalition governments.
“The BNP should not be dragged into coalition governments. It is a shame for a big party like the BNP that has done so much for the country that it cannot win a single constituency during elections.”

Motsephe says she wants to correct this anomaly.
To restore the BNP to glory, Motsephe says she wants to see the party going back to the basics – by setting up strong democratic structures.
With strong structures restored at ward, branch and constituency level, the BNP would be well-positioned to reclaim its glorious past, she says.
Apart from restoring party structures, Motsephe says she also wants the voice of women respected within the party.

“I want to make sure that the women’s voice is heard,” she says.
Motsephe says it is wrong that women have been marginalised and pushed to the periphery within the BNP.
“The current president is a man, his deputy is a man, the secretary general is a man, the chairperson is a man, with only one woman who is the treasurer of the party. We are going to change this so that the party is gender-sensitive.”

Motsephe argues that the BNP “has very strong democratic structures” which have now been corrupted.
“If elected I want to correct these anomalies and enhance the participation of all card-carrying members of the party,” she says.
She wants to see clear structures for the youth league, the women’s league and the national executive committee.
“Structures make a very democratic BNP but currently these structures are not following what the party constitution dictates.”

While she admits that she has a mountain to climb if she is to win the presidency come June 13, Motsephe remains confident that she will win.
“I am very confident,” she says. “My history in the development of Lesotho, in the church and while working for UN agencies has given me enough skills for mobilizing people into action.”
“I know I can lead and I am confident that with the support of the churches and youth organisations, I can garner their support.”
But what if you lose, we ask her?

“I will back the winner. My loyalty is to the BNP and will respect the voice of the voters.”
Like any political contestation, the fight for the presidency is likely to turn nastier. Brickbats are already being thrown at Motsephe.
Her fellow contestants have also had to bear withering criticism as the fight gets dirtier.
But for Motsephe especially, the criticism has been vicious. Her advanced age and her gender have become the source of the ill-feeling.

“They think I am becoming too ambitious and are saying they can’t be led by a woman,’ she says.
It is a message that Motsephe finds extremely offensive.
Having grown up under the tutelage of BNP leader, Chief Leabua Jonathan, such sexist attitudes run counter to the spirit and ethos of the great party, she says.

“But I am not surprised because they are African men steeped in the ways of the past. I want to prove them wrong and show them that women can also lead.”
She says currently “there is no law the bars women from seeking the highest political office”.
Motsephe is not bothered by the criticism, especially that as a woman she has no role to play in Lesotho’s national politics.
Instead, she thinks the criticism is misdirected “since she has better programmes than the men contestants”.

“This is the time the BNP should start thinking of electing a female candidate as party leader.”
Yet despite the explosive campaign and back-biting, Motsephe is still preaching a message of unity and oneness in the BNP.
“We are all members of one family and have the same purpose – reviving the BNP to be where it should be.”

Motsephe was born in Berea in 1948. They were eight children. Her mother was a domestic worker while her father worked in the mines in the ambulance department in South Africa.
While other girls were expected to do the dishes and other domestic chores, Motsephe would find herself resisting this. Instead, she would go and herd the cattle.
“Traditionally, as girls we were trained to be submissive and naturally I am not a submissive person. I was rebellious by nature even in those early years,” she says.

When she was around 20, Motsephe fell in love with the BNP which was then under Chief Leabua Jonathan.
“The BNP was strong in mobilising young people. It set up Young Farmers’ Clubs where they instilled love of agriculture in young people.”
While working closely with the BNP, she began to fight laws that diminished the role of women in society.

Women were seen as minors. For instance, they could not buy land or open a bank account unless they had permission from their husbands.
Through her interactions with civil society, she began to appreciate the mammoth task that faced women in dismantling obstacles that impeded the rights of women.
“We began to lobby the government to remove these obstacles that discriminated against women. We also fought for maternity leave.”

Staff Reporter

Previous BNP fight turns nasty
Next Johnson & Johnson vaccines for Lesotho

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