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The ‘Young Turk’ driving change



AT 40, Lejone Mpotjoane is the youngest Cabinet minister in Sam Matekane’s coalition government. He is Lesotho’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations.
That is no small feat for a man who had never held political office of note until after last October’s general elections won by his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party.
Mpotjoane’s many admirers say he represents a new generation of leaders who are determined to make a sharp break with the country’s toxic past.

With no political contamination from the past, Mpotjoane is seen as relatively clean and a breath of fresh air in what has been a befouled political environment for decades.

The general view is that Mpotjoane brings a certain freshness in thinking on issues that have haunted Lesotho for the past five decades. These issues are related to the chronic poverty and under-development of Lesotho.

After recycling the same toxic bunch of politicians for decades, Mpotjoane says Matekane, with his strong background in business, is the right man to extricate Lesotho from the jaws of poverty.

He says he truly believes that Matekane will usher in real development for Lesotho and deal with the rampant poverty afflicting the people.

Almost half of Lesotho’s 2 million people live below the poverty datum line, according to United Nations agencies, a situation Mpotjoane says must now change.

For a very long time, things were not done correctly because those without governance skills were in the driver’s seat, Mpotjoane says.

The crisis for Lesotho has been that of poor leadership, he says.

That explains why our economy has been stymied, Mpotjoane says. He argues that Lesotho is paying the price for those decades of economic mismanagement.

But all is not lost; he firmly believes that his leader and mentor, Matekane, will reverse the rot and make Lesotho great again.

Mpotjoane says since Matekane has a strong background in running business, he will champion the growth of the private sector. A strong private sector will create desperately needed jobs for Basotho, he says.

That, according to Mpotjoane, will save Lesotho.

Mpotjoane wants to see Lesotho reaping the benefits of its massive clean water reserves. He says there is huge potential for economic growth if the country can commercialise its water and export it.

A litre of bottled water currently costs M32 while a litre of fuel costs around M17, a statistic which he says clearly shows that Lesotho can reap huge dividends if it exports bottled water.

“We have not yet added value to our water. Water could be our white gold,” Mpotjoane says.

Yet even with its massive water reserves, Lesotho still inexplicably imports bottled water from South Africa, a policy contradiction that must be urgently addressed.
That should be the reverse, Mpotjoane argues.

While Lesotho exports large volumes of raw water to South Africa, Mpotjoane says he wants to see the country exporting processed bottled water to generate foreign currency and create jobs for Basotho.

He says Matekane is also currently engaged in talks with Botswana, a successful beef producer in the SADC region to set up a thriving beef industry in Lesotho.

Botswana currently exports beef to the lucrative European Union market, earning huge foreign currency in the process.

He says they want Botswana to give them a share of their beef market.

Mpotjoane says all these projects are an indication that Matekane has been working his socks off behind the scenes to get things done.

We have not been dragging our feet, Mpotjoane says.

Mpotjoane’s comments come amidst vicious criticism by the opposition and sections of the RFP party over the slow pace of change since the government took over in October last year.

Matekane’s critics say he has been extremely lethargic in initiating the “economic revolution” that he sold during his whirlwind election campaign last year.

Mpotjoane was at pains to defend his leader insisting that things are now beginning to move. The pace might have been slow, but there has been movement all the same, he says.

Despite the challenges, Mpotjoane says theirs is a responsive government that wants to account to the people who put it into power.

That is why after its first 100 days in office it went back to the people to report on the progress they had made.

“We have to issue a report quarterly to tell the nation what we have achieved,” he says.

He says he wants to see the Ministry of Education revamping the school syllabus so that Basotho children can be taught entrepreneurship skills from a very young age.

He wants children to be taught business skills from as early as primary school.

“The children should be able to handle financial issues from an early stage,” Mpotjoane says.

The idea, Mpotjoane says, is to groom a new generation of Basotho who are self-driven and can build their own businesses instead of looking for jobs in the civil service.

In fact, he would want those employed in the civil service to go on early retirement as soon as they reach the age of 40 so that they can start their own businesses. That way, the government will be able to employ fresh graduates from universities.

The RFP is currently going through turbulence after some disgruntled members accused the national executive committee of flouting the party’s constitution in picking election candidates.

They have also accused the NEC of undemocratic tendencies and heavy-handedness in dealing with genuine grievances.

Mpotjoane believes the current turbulence in his party will soon be over so that they can all pull along in the same direction as a unified party.

“We have different characters but it is our fervent hope that we will achieve our mandate,” he says.

“This will soon be over. It is just a storm that will simmer down,” Mpotjoane says.

“We are happy and lucky to be led by Matekane,” he says, adding that his leader does not lead factions but a consolidated political party with a sole objective of saving the country from wretched poverty and biting unemployment.

Matekane’s leadership is consultative, Mpotjoane says. He says that is why Matekane often calls aggrieved members for talks.

“It is only natural that people fight,” he says.

But even after they fight, they must still find each other through talks, he says.

The crisis in the RFP saw two MPs, Dr Mahali Phamotse and Abia’s Jacob Makhalanyane, receiving death threats two weeks ago in what was seen as a new low for the party.

Mpotjoane says he was a staunch member of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Nkaku Kabi. He left the party in March last year due to serious infighting.
“The tensions in the ABC pushed me out,” he says.

“That party was going through serious political turbulence.”

And when the ABC failed to resolve its differences, he walked out and joined the RFP.

What caught his interest was Matekane’s political philosophy that sought to make Lesotho self-sufficient and stop the country from importing almost everything from South Africa.

It was a message that easily resonated with his own political inclinations.

“I then resigned from all my professional jobs to join the RFP,” Mpotjoane says.

Mpotjoane was working at the then Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) as senior manager risk and governance.

When he joined the RFP, Mpotjoane was given the lofty assignment of winning all the five constituencies in Butha-Buthe.

Out of the five, the RFP won three constituencies. The Mechachane constituency was taken by the Democratic Congress (DC) by a whisker while Motete was won by Teboho Majapela’s Socialist Revolutionaries (SR).

“This was quite a plausible achievement,” Mpotjoane says.

He says he worked his socks off mobilizing communities to vote for the RFP.

Mpotjoane holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Accounting degree from the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

Majara Molupe

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MP defies party, backs opposition



MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.

His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.

“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.

This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.

“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”

Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.

“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.

The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.

“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).

“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Inside plot to oust Matekane



THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.

The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.

But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.

Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.

Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.

“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.

Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.

He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.

They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.

“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.

Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.

“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.

Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition



THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.

Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.

He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.

“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.

He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.

“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”

Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.

“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.

Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”

“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”

The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.

In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.

“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.

Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.

“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”

The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane

  •  Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
  • Job losses.
  • Lack of job creation.
  • Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
  • Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
  • Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
  • Arrest of MPs by the police.
  • Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.

Staff Reporter

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