We’re ready to govern

We’re ready to govern

MASERU – WHY would a gifted professor of physics, who was doing exceptionally well at university, trade a plum academic post for the brutal, cut-throat world of politics?
That was the question that Professor Ntoi Rapapa had to field from close friends and relatives when he left the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in Roma with one eye firmly fixed on the executive position at parastatals and national politics.

To any rational person that decision smacked of intellectual delinquency; some even thought and concluded, wrongfully, that the Professor had “lost it”.
Rapapa’s decision to swap the cozy lecture theatre for the political podium appeared risky and inexplicable.
Most people just could not understand why he was “throwing” away a lucrative career as an academic, with all its perks, for the unpredictable, deadly world of politics.

But Rapapa says his decision to enter politics was not a knee-jerk reaction to some outside stimuli. His was a well-thought out move.
Having served his nation as an academic, Rapapa felt he could have a greater impact in society by participating fully in the national discourse.
He had for decades watched from the terraces, like a disinterested spectator, Lesotho’s politicians “dance” in the ring. The clumsy “dance” moves of most politicians had left him unimpressed.
Rapapa thought he could do better. He wanted a piece of the action and decided to jump into the ring.

If the rhythm of the drum beat changes, so does the dance, says an African proverb.
And in line with that ancient piece of wisdom Rapapa entered the dance floor with one intention – to change the tempo and style of the “dance” for the better.
His politics would be politics of substance, away from the vacuous politics of the gutter that had been a hallmark of Lesotho’s politics over the decades.
For Rapapa, it was almost unforgivable that Lesotho’s academics had continued to shy away from national politics.

He wanted to change that narrative and persuade them to be part of the equation.
“They (university lecturers) at some stage, must come to the table where decisions are made,” he says.
For him politics has the greatest impact on the lives of the people. It is for that reason that he felt academics should play their part in national issues if they are to improve the lives of the people.
“I wanted to be a role model for academics; that one can make it in academia as well as in politics,” he says.
“It is in politics where the big decisions are made.”
By joining politics, Rapapa hoped he would also be able to influence decisions at the policy level and “knock sense into some of them (politicians).”

So in 2016, Rapapa joined the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and was elected unopposed as the party’s deputy leader at an elective conference in early in 2018.
It was a surprise decision that baffled his many admirers who had seen him as way too smart to stoop to the gutter politics so common in Lesotho.
It was a decision that was going to pit him against his elder brother, Samuel Rapapa, a staunch member of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Thomas Thabane.

The two Rapapa brothers were soon to lock horns as they tussled for the Mosalemane constituency seat in the 2017 snap elections.
Ntoi lost that battle.
But it was a loss that he says was easier to stomach since it was to his brother.
“When you lose to your brother, the pain is not that much,” he says.
“But the day I lost I set in motion machinery for the 2022 elections. I can tell you today that the next election is going to be a different story,” he says.
Rapapa says he was a member of the BCP, LCD and DC before he joined the AD. But when he really looked at all of Lesotho’s political leaders, none of them appealed to him.

The only politician who seemed to have Basotho’s interests was none other than Monyane Moleleki, the AD leader.
That is why he ended up joining the AD.
Rapapa says he had opportunities to work with Pakalitha Mosisili when he was Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing when he was the Deputy Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane when he was Minister of Communications, Science and Technology and Monyane Moleleki when he was Minister of Natural Resources.

“I knew all of them, how they relate, what they want and what they believe in” he says. “For me Ntate Moleleki was a more attractive option in terms of the bigger picture.”
He says it was Moleleki who had a bigger vision for Lesotho and had done more to empower Basotho by undertaking crucial development projects.
Rapapa says Moleleki is a visionary leader who was instrumental in electrifying rural areas when he was still Minister of Energy.
“The rural electrification project was his idea,” he says.
And thanks to Moleleki, rural homes were connected to the electricity grid, Rapapa says.

Even the major companies that were doing the projects were all foreign companies, says Rapapa.
Moleleki changed all that and empowered local Basotho companies, he says.
“The current local companies running big projects in the electricity sector in Lesotho are where they are because Ntate Moleleki was instrumental in their growth. The Lesotho Highlands Water Project was done when he was Minister of Natural Resources, projects of such magnitude are few in Africa” he says.

“The mines were non-existent but he resuscitated the mining sector. No other minister has done similar projects for Lesotho.”
That is why I followed Ntate Moleleki, Rapapa says.
“I am a person who believes what he sees and not what I am told. I could see tangible things that Ntate Moleleki did for this country,” he says.
It is clear that Rapapa holds Moleleki, who is 71, in great awe. In fact, he says he can never imagine a day when he would even think of challenging Moleleki, who founded the AD, for the leadership of the party.

“Our party has two terms limit for the leader, Ntate Moleleki will not be pushed out. That’s not how things are done in the party,” he says when asked if he harbours any presidential ambitions of his own.
But the day Moleleki steps down as party leader, Rapapa says he stands ready to take over as leader if AD members elect him to lead the party.
“I can only contest for the Deputy Leader position when Ntate Moleleki is still the leader, and for the party leader position when he retires, not anything lower than that; one has to keep moving forward, not backwards.”
Rapapa says the AD’s electoral prospects next year are brighter under the stewardship of Moleleki.
We are ready to govern, he says.

“The AD is going to be part of the government after 2022. We believe in service delivery and implementation of the national reforms agenda.”
Critics however say the AD damaged its standing in the eyes of the public after they appeared to back Thabane when he was under pressure to step down last year.
Thabane was facing murder charges over the brutal killing of his estranged wife, Lipolelo, a few weeks before he was inaugurated as Prime Minister in June 2017.
Thabane denies the charges.

When his ABC party pushed for his ouster, it was the AD that appeared to back the embattled Thabane, much to the consternation of Basotho across the political divide who wanted to see his back.
Rapapa denies that they sought to throw a life-line at Thabane when he was sinking politically.
“Ntate Thabane had confirmed to SADC that he was going to leave in July (2020) and the honourable thing was to respect that decision,” he says.
“He had already said he was leaving and there was no need to push and rush him out the way it was done before that date.”

“As an honourable man, Moleleki stuck to his word. We are proud of the decision we took and we believe we did make the right decision,” he says.
Rapapa served as Deputy Minister and Minister of Education from 2017 to 2018 and as Minister of Energy and Meteorology from 2019 until May last year when the Thabane-led coalition government collapsed.
He says he is proud of his achievements as minister, chief among these was a review of the career and salary structure for teachers, building of schools, unlocking of 15 electrification projects that were not completed on time such as Ha-Koranta Likhoele.

In both Ministries of Education and that of Energy all projects undertaken had no irregularities in the tendering, awarding and construction.
“I also developed guiding principles to fund higher institutions of learning.”
This is a sector that remains hugely under-funded, Rapapa says. Yet despite such challenges, Lesotho’s education sector continues to shine and remains in a much better shape than most of its regional peers.

“Our graduate students always do well in other countries. That is a good sign that we are doing something good. We have built primary schools in remote rural areas.”
While there is a lot to celebrate, Rapapa admits there are also big challenges that remain.

There are still issues surrounding remuneration for teachers and lecturers and better equipment for schools, he says.
“We need to improve what we have and demand accountability at institutions of higher learning. We must also ensure we don’t interfere with the running of these institutions. We must ensure we have clean audits and good governance and where this is not done, heads must roll,” he says.
Rapapa speaks proudly of his record at the governmental parastatal, the Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority (LEWA), where he was chief executive officer between 2010 and 2016.

“Wherever I worked, I had clean audits,” he says. “I was never tainted by financial irregularities.”
Rapapa says to foster national healing the AD wants an exhaustive programme that goes as far back as 1966 when Lesotho got its independence.
That national programme must not be selective but should look at all the victims on one hand as well as the perpetrators on the other.
“Victims should have their cases attended to and resolved one way or the other,” he says. “That process should not be selective but inclusive.”

“Everyone who is a victim, directly or indirectly, must be heard. That process must take into account the rule of law, loss of property and lives that were lost without exception. We must investigate everything that happened since independence to the present day.
Once those investigations are complete, we must then analyse what the victims want and look at the matter in its totality’’ he says.
Only such an exhaustive programme will ensure national healing in Lesotho, Rapapa says.

“We must eventually come to a national consensus, where others might be prosecuted while others might be granted amnesty.”
“Our position as a party is that all victims must be heard,” he says.
Such a programme will likely be highly divisive and Rapapa admits that Lesotho might need a foreign hand to help the country move forward.
“We might have to bring in experts from outside who are not conflicted and come up with recommendations on the way forward. This process must not be rushed; we must never be emotional about it, if we are to heal as a nation.”

Rapapa believes Basotho, who are deeply religious, might need a respected voice within the church to lead this national healing programme.
He believes time is fast running out for Moeketsi Majoro to salvage the little respect he still retains as Prime Minister.
He says Majoro must start implementing what the people said they want “in the plenary report for the national reforms”.
“He must stick to good governance and improve service delivery,” he says.
Rapapa accused the government under Majoro of distributing agricultural inputs such as fertilizers on partisan lines.
Such practices are criminal, Rapapa says.

“In my constituency people are saying one needs an ABC or DC membership card to get fertilizer, that is not how things should be done.”
Rapapa is scathing in his criticism of the current coalition government led by Majoro which he says was a “marriage of convenience” that was quickly patched up to get rid of Thabane.
“Theirs is not a happy marriage. They talk a different language on key issues apart from saying they are in the same marriage,” he says.
“The two parties rushed into a coalition before identifying common areas where they could excel in service delivery. Their common goal was to kick out Thabane and with Thabane out they have nothing to bring them together.”

Rapapa says the DC and the ABC are currently working at cross-purposes and the result is misery for the people.
Our coalition governments continue to be formed on the basis of friendship and how much they hate the other parties and are not based on any fundamental issues, he says.
That is the root cause of our recent political instabilities.
“We are not going anywhere unless we are guided by principles of service delivery.”

People are looking for political parties that can have clean audits and improve their lives, he says. They want service delivery, they want to see how we mobilise resources to develop this country, he says.
Rapapa wants to see a smarter way of boosting the tax base and revenue collection within the country while working with working with Lesotho’s development partners.
“If you package the two well, there is a lot that one can do to boost economic development. But you need clean governance, you need clean audits and you must have the rule of law. Once you have these in place the money will pour in.”

He says the recent report by the Auditor-General makes sad reading adding that it is such things that drive away development partners.
Rapapa was raised by a widowed mother, ‘M’e ‘Matsabalira, in Maphatsoaneng village in Mapoteng Berea. His father died when he was five, leaving the task of raising all six children to his mother.
He speaks fondly of his mother who he says was a hardworking woman. She would tend the fields in summer. She would also sell traditional beer, hopose and sesotho, in the village to supplement her income.
From the little cash she would raise, she would send her children to school.

Fortunately for her, young Rapapa, was an exceptionally gifted student who quickly fell in love with his books. He was the best student in Grade 7 and topped his class from Form A to E.
It was no surprise when the young Rapapa eventually enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree at the National University of Lesotho in 1989 majoring in Physics and Mathematics.
He was so good that lecturers from different departments at NUL would “fight” over which programme he should study.

In 1993, Rapapa won a scholarship to Italy for a post-graduate diploma in physics at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics which he says was the most difficult course that he has ever studied.
In 1996, the professors perhaps noting something unique, enrolled Rapapa for a PhD in Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Manchester.

“When I came back home in 1999, all I wanted were three things: teach physics in the classroom, teach physics in the laboratory and assist the university with management,” he says. “But my ultimate goals were to be a professor, vice-chancellor and Minister of Education.”
That goal was achieved when he eventually became a Minister of Education.
Rapapa is married to his high school sweetheart, ‘M’e Mapalesa, and they are blessed with two children.

Abel Chapatarongo

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