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Sophonea’s big dilemma

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MASERU – TO leave or to stay. That is the dilemma troubling Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea as he contemplates his position in the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party. He has been mulling over the issue over the past few months.

The mixed signals from the party’s leadership have only complicated matters.He calls himself a minister and MP in a government led by the ABC.

The party says he is one of the rogue MPs in a government that the ABC dumped when it withdrew its support for Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro. So, in other words, he is not representing the ABC in the government.

This is to say he rebelled against the party when he refused to leave the government with leader Nkaku Kabi and other MPs. Some hawks within Kabi’s camp go as far as saying Sophonea and other ministers expelled themselves from the party when they opted to remain in government with Majoro.

Were it three years before the election, Sophonea would not have been worried about his political future. But this is two months before elections and he is unsure if the ABC will allow him to contest under its banner.

He says he has heard some in the leadership speculating that he and other ministers might be blocked from contesting in the primary elections.

And even if they contest, the leadership might still block their candidacies as retaliation for refusing to tow the party line. Sophonea says he is not desperate to remain in the ABC and “if the marriage is over the divorce papers should be done”.

“They say we are no longer members of the party but they are not pronouncing themselves,” he says.

He suspects the leadership might block him from contesting in his Thaba-Bosiu constituency in the next elections.

“The ABC leadership has a mission to hold a disciplinary hearing for the ministers who refused to cross and then suspend them so that they do not stand for elections,” he said.

Sophonea recently attracted the wrath of the ABC leadership after he attended the Basotho Action Party (BAP)’s rally in Hloahloeng, Mohale’s Hoek. The leadership saw it as a betrayal while some members called for his suspension.

Sophonea says given the dynamics in the party, no one should blame him for attending a BAP rally.

“In any case, I have always associated with the BAP people because they are our people,” he says.

He says he is tired of the party treating him like a stranger.

“I am tired of squeezing myself and forcing things”.

Sophonea said it would be better if the party suspends him and other ministers instead of trying to block them from contesting in the elections. He says he will not wait to be blocked and pushed out of the party.

“Why should I wait for the rain to fall on me yet I see it coming? My future in politics is now not clear,” he says, he feels his hands and that of other ministers are tied.

“In the end, even if I win the primary elections, if the party does not want to give me a blessing, I will not be able to stand for elections.”

“We have to untie ourselves, they must pronounce themselves,” he said.

He said it does not make sense that some ABC members are mad that he visited the BAP’s Hloahloeng rally.

“I do not want to die with my hands behind.”

He also says he has tried to prove his loyalty to the ABC leadership by attending the party’s peace talks organised by Bishop David Ramela of St Paul African Apostolic Church. He however blames Kabi for failing to declare that the ministers are still genuine ABC members.

“At rallies, he still claims that the ABC is no more in the government.”

Kabi told thepost that “it is just that Ntate Sophonea wants to confuse himself while he knows what he really wants.” He said Sophonea should be clear on what he wants.

“Talks have now taken a month, we are about to finish them. It must be clear where he stands now.”

Meanwhile, ABC factions were together at a rally for the first time since Kabi and Majoro’s relations soured. Some of the ministers who refused to cross the floor with Kabi showed up at his rally in Hlotse on Sunday.

Speaking at the rally Kabi thanked Defence Minister Halebonoe Setšabi and Forestry Minister Motlohi Maliehe for working hard together with his supporters, MPs Lekhetho Mosito, Mahala Molapo and Samonyane Ntsekele to unify the ABC.

“I once told the defence minister that we come from far away and he should bring us together and today we are together,” Kabi said.

He said their unity comes after he also met with Majoro asking for peace.

“We shook hands and formed peace, we are going forward,” he said.

He also urged Majoro to attend the next ABC rally to be held in Koro-Koro.

“I believe that next week we will be together with him.”

Staff Reporter

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BNP wins rescission order against SG

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MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) this week successfully applied for a rescission of a court order that would have seen the party’s secretary general, Thato Lethobane, being awarded M126 000. Lethobane’s case will now be heard again at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) on Monday.

The party raised technical legal reasons that prompted the cancellation of the award that ordered the party to pay Lethobane for the time he did not receive his salary since his suspension.

Lethobane was suspended in October last year after he was accused of embezzling party funds and he asked the DDPR to order the party to pay him from October last year to April this year.

The BNP deputy secretary, Moeketsi Hanyane, who is holding forte at the party’s administration, told thepost last night that “Lethobane’s glow was short-lived and was wrong in the first place”.

“The DDPR award against us will not see the light of day because Lethobane got suspended for two years after we discovered that he stole the party’s funds,” Hanyane said.

“A thief is a thief and we cannot allow him to claim monies he is unworthy of,” he said.

“We have opened a case against him at the police and he cannot come around and say we owe him.”

Hanyane said Lethobane was suspended for two years so that after that period, if he still loved wanted to be part of the party, he could come and participate in its affairs again.

“The suspension was not meant to put him aside for a while to allow investigations but it is a punishment for what we found on him,” he said.

Hanyane said Lethobane is not owed anything for that period because he is officially out of office as a result of the punishment he got from the party not because he was suspended pending investigations.

He said the BNP did not defend itself at the DDPR and the arbitrator ruled in favour of Lethobane in default.

“We did not go to the DDPR on technical issues and we have since applied for and acquired a rescission of the award,” he said.

Lethobane declined to get into the details of his case with the BNP but only confirmed that he had won an award at the DDPR.

“After I realised how much they owed me I decided to go to labour and successfully claimed my payment,” he said.

“The case judgment was done in my favor, even though I will not discuss that issue much.”

The party pays its secretary general M18 000 per month.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Killer police investigated

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MASERU – PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has set up a special team to investigate police officers who killed a student during a protest at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) last week. Majoro’s decision comes as pressure mounts on the government and the police to identify the officers who pulled the trigger and bring them to justice.

The police killed Kopano Makutoane and seriously injured six more students on Thursday last week during a strike over their stipends that were not paid in full. Makutoane was shot with multiple live bullets in the face.

Police Minister Lepota Sekola, Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and Development Planning Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, confirmed that a team has been set up but were reluctant to give further details. thepost has been told that the police have zeroed in on 12 police officers who were part of the team that responded to the protest.

The police management is said to be close to suspending some of the officers and opening a murder case against them. Their names cannot, however, be revealed because they have not been officially identified and charged.

Majoro visited the Makutoane family last week and promised justice for their slain son. The strike was triggered by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s delay to pay students their monthly stipends.

Those who received the allowances only got M450 instead of their usual monthly stipend of M1 100. Several eyewitnesses and victims told thepost that the police conducted raids targeting NUL students even after the protesters had dispersed. Sello Khechane, a second-year student, said the police fired live ammunition at the protesters.

“We started fleeing the place and did not even realise that one of us was shot near the gate,” Khechane said.

One of the injured students said about 20 police officers knocked at her rented room when she was sleeping, dragged her out and beat her with sticks and truncheons.

“I was still wearing my gown and was not even part of the protest,” she said.

Another girl who had visited her brother was caught in the crossfire as police went on the rampage.

“I was watching a movie when I saw a mob of police approaching the door and asking all of us in the house to come out,” she said.

She said the police used sticks and kicked her.

“I tried to convince them that I am not a student there, but they refused to listen,” she said.

The Social Development Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, said he immediately intervened when he was informed of the disagreement between the Students’ Representative Council and the NMDS management over the stipends.

“The school told us that there was a problem as students walked out of examination rooms.”

He also said the NMDS told him that there is a law that says students should not get full amounts when their school days are cut short during a month.

“We made a decision that students should get full amounts,” he said.

He said the students were notified that they would get full amounts but continued with the strike.

“I am sorry that one student lost his life.” The incident has sparked an outcry from different political parties.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader and former Vice-Chancellor of the NUL, Professor Nqosa Mahao, condemned the killing saying it was the third time police have used force during protests and ended up taking lives.

“We are very saddened and embarrassed by this act,” Professor Mahao said.

He said they condemn the police actions that led to the death of the student, saying the behaviour by police shows that Basotho’s lives are not safe. He recalled that in 2009 the police shot a student during protests.

“They shot Tumelo Mohlomi in 2017, she was also shot by the police,” Professor Mahao said, adding that the police officers involved in the incident were not charged.

He blamed the conflicts on the NMDS management “that does not do its job correctly”. The Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) leader, Sam Matekane, met NUL students near the campus on Tuesday.

“We condemn that behaviour, it was uncalled for, it was not necessary,” Matekane said.

He said the police’s job is to protect and save people, not to kill people as they did or do.

“When promised sponsorship, we are expecting you to get them as promised,” he said.

“It does not make sense that someone can carry a gun and shoot an unarmed student.”

He also pledged to provide the students with transport to Quthing where Makutoane will be laid to rest.

“We will make sure that those who were affected get the necessary counselling and also help them,” he said.

The NUL management also condemned the killing and injuring of other students. In a statement, the university said it was aggrieved by “the plan by the NMDS to prorate the student’s allowance for June 2022”. The university pleaded with the students to remain calm, adding that it has started visiting all the affected families.

Staff Reporter

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Mafeteng magistrates’ court records burnt

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MASERU – A fire gutted the records section of the Mafeteng Magistrate’s Court last week. The police suspect it was an act of arson. Thousands of crucial case records were destroyed.

This could affect hundreds of cases that were pending in the court. Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed the incident, saying investigations have started but no arrests have been made.

“But our preliminary investigations show that the court was intentionally set on fire,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

“Important court documents have been set alight together with some chairs and a table.”

A source close to the case told thepost that a container of petrol was found outside a broken window. The guard was not at work when the incident happened.

In 2010 computers containing information on cars registered in Maseru and Leribe were burnt in a fire that police suspected was deliberately started to destroy records and cover up corruption.

The Integrated Financial Management System computers, National Transport Information System server, computers, and a printer were destroyed.

The incident happened as the police were investigating a syndicate that was illegally registering stolen cars.

In 2019 a fire at the Ministry of Health’s head office destroyed computers and records.

Although ministry officials said the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault, suspicions of foul play lingered on.

Majara Molupe

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