‘Ambition does not mean disrespect’

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Tsitsi Matope

POLITICS is a family affair for Home Affairs Deputy Minister, Machesetsa Mofomobe.

Mr Mofomobe tells the story of a man who was politically socialised early in his life and led a privileged childhood of knowing what most boys his age did not know.

He would learn all about politics from his father, who was a staunch supporter of the Basotho National Party (BNP), as well as his mother’s elder brother, Sekhonyana ‘Maseribane.

Chief ‘Maseribane, father to the current BNP leader, Thesele ‘Maseribane, was one of Lesotho’s top politicians, and deputy to party’s founding leader Leabua Jonathan.

In fact, Chief Sekhonyana ‘Maseribane was Lesotho’s first prime minister and also held various ministerial portfolios, among them Foreign Affairs and Finance.

Another uncle, Chief Bereng Sekhonyana, was also a senior BNP member, who, at some point, was elected deputy leader of the party and also the Maseru Central Constituency chairperson.

Until his violent death in 2006, Chief Bereng Sekhonyana had lived to see the nephew he nicknamed ‘Cheese’ develop into a fully-fledged politician following years of grooming.

“My uncle taught me a lot, including warning me of the difficulties I was likely to encounter if I wanted to pursue politics. He emphasised the need to have an elephant’s skin, tough enough to stand up to those who do wrong and to survive the costs associated with that courage,” Mr Mofomobe, who is also the BNP’s spokesperson, said in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

However, Mr Mofomobe said life could not have been more cruel to his family following the death of his mother when he was seven years old.

“A few years later, when I was around 12, I was thrust into the political arena where I had to participate in my own unique way. That socialisation shaped who I am today,”‎ he recalled.

As a teenager, he was quick to realise the demands that came with being the servant of the people he wanted to be. At the same time, Mr Mofomobe says he also realised the difficulties of working in a political party that had lost the lustre it once possessed. At the age of 19, at a time he was secretary for Maseru Central Constituency, Mr Mofomobe knew the stakes to restore the BNP to its former glory were getting higher with each passing month.

His father and uncles, it seemed, had walked a much easier path at a time the BNP had dominated Lesotho’s political landscape.

“During Major-General Metsing Lekhanya’s leadership, I was expelled from the BNP for being outspoken and criticising the way some issues were being handled. I had to form my own political party, Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP), in 2005. This experience toughened me. I only returned to the BNP in 2011 following the election of Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane as party leader,” he said.

But even after his return, Mr Mofomobe did not change his controversial character. Not only did he maintain his fierce criticism of the government led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, he also hammered his own party.

“A nation does not develop without receiving some doses of blunt truths from time to time. My criticism is not out of malice but to help us all grow and become a better Lesotho.

“I am an ambitious person, but I don’t get drunk by my ambitions. I respect those in positions of authority, particularly if they were elected by the people,” Mr Mofomobe said.

Yet his strong personality and role as BNP Executive Committee spokesperson between 2011 and 2016 earned him a few bites of the law.

“My father is my hero, he raised me well as a Catholic who believes in the power and justice of God. As people, sometimes we think we know everything and fool ourselves that we can control the world, but we cannot, we are so fragile and vulnerable. God leads my fight for Lesotho and he is a God who answers prayers especially when he knows you cannot help yourself. I have seen his hand many times when I was in trouble, including following my arrest in April 2017, over the whereabouts of someone police were looking for, I was locked up in Ha Mabote. I prayed for my release and it happened. In God’s Kingdom, there are no coincidences; He answered that prayer,” he said.

Mr Mofomobe said he also spent a night at the police headquarters over a case police did not reveal to him.

“Up to now I have no idea why they detained me.”

Years of hardship and perseverance finally paid off following his deputy ministerial appointment in June this year.

“I am turning 44 years of age on 11 November and for me, this is only the beginning of more organised activities to take Lesotho to a better level.”

Born the fifth child in a family of seven, Mr Mofomobe grew up in Maseru under the care of his father, Francis Mofomobe following the death of his mother, Martina Mofomobe, who passed away at the age of just 36.

His father, now aged 83, refused to remarry, explaining that was his own way to honour his late wife and protect his children from the risks associated with bringing a new woman to mother his children.

Mr Mofomobe attended Iketsetseng Primary School before proceeding to do his secondary education at St Joseph in Maseru. He is a strong believer that education provides a strong foundation for every person who wants to be an agent of positive change, hence his decision to study Governance and Political Transformation with the University of the Free State next year. He is also a strong advocate for education development and wants to see the current government investing more to strengthen the capacity of tertiary institutions to produce quality graduates who will spearhead technological and scientific innovations.

“I am going through a new phase in my life and I would like to focus on working for the people while improving myself to be able to contribute to the development of Lesotho in a significant way. I am also a single and proud father of two daughters and a son. I need also not neglect that important area of my life,” he said.

Mr Mofomobe is father to 18- year-old Reekelitsoe who is currently studying bio-medical sciences in South Africa, 10-year-old Mosonngoa and three-year-old son Khoabane, named after Chief Khoabane Theko of Thaba Bosiu.

“I spend much of my time with my daughter Mosonngoa. She is my best friend; we have gone through a lot together. I remember when I had some challenges with her mother, she left and soon after, Mosonngoa was hit by a car. She suffered head injuries and that affected me a lot.  I am glad that we have been there for each other through some very tough times. I was not on good terms with the mother after the divorce, but she brought us together. That made me realise the power of family and that even a child can unite adults.”

Reflecting on his role as a father and politician, Mr Mofomobe said he was focusing on his new position of Home Affairs deputy minister – a position he has held for four months since the new coalition government came to power following the 3 June snap elections.

“Basotho are tired of voting after every two years since 2012, which is why it’s important that this coalition government lasts its five-year term,” he said.

“It will take understanding that there is always a first among equals, and team work will also play a crucial role in ensuring inclusive development efforts, which is crucial to uniting this government.

“Importantly, we should not run the government in silos through actions that divide the ministries through party lines. That will be detriment to this coalition. I am happy that so far, it looks like we all understand the importance of working as one to succeed as a team.”

Understanding roles, positions, respecting protocols and working in line with the country’s constitution would also help sustain the coalition government, he further said.

“Our families should not be involved in the running or business of the government. Our spouses and other family members must respect the work we are doing on behalf of Basotho. No child or relative of mine has the right to capture this ministry. Government business is government business, it is as simple as that.”

He added that tolerance and unity among supporters of the four governing political parties, namely the BNP, All Basotho Convention, Reformed Congress of Lesotho and Alliance of Democrats and the country at large would also help in turning the political tide that has negatively affected Lesotho.

Mr Mofomobe further said there was need for all sectors of society to focus on “actions that will grow the economy to enable employment-creation, particularly for the young people”.

The current coalition government, he also noted, should adopt development models that worked in the past and improve on them to meet current demands and take the country forward.

“Already, there are positive indications that this coalition is about team-work, working together to ensure we improve people’s lives. We should not turn a blind eye to development models that were tested and seen to better people’s lives in the past. Remember, it is important for us to work together to succeed as a team,” Mr Mofomobe said referring to the achievements of the government led by the founder of BNP, Chief Leabua Jonathan.

The BNP this week celebrated the day Chief Jonathan was born on 30 October 1914. He died at the age of 73, on April 5, 1987.

“Let’s not so much dwell on the issue that he was BNP. It’s important for us, as a people, to see that he was a Mosotho man who worked for Lesotho. He laid down a vision and managed to keep the country together with no proper budget and no Lesotho Revenue Authority. When we look at Lesotho now, we can see that we failed as a country to take that foundation and his other vibrant initiatives forward. We have become a lucrative market for South African products and vulnerability among households is increasing.

“When we have some people building magnificent mansions which they don’t necessarily need and others sleeping in mud houses, that uneven distribution of wealth and the yawning gap between the rich and the poor should concern us as a government,” Mr Mofomobe said.

He highlighted the need to ensure relevant institutions are strengthened enough to support economic growth.

“It worries me that 51 years after independence, we find ourselves importing things such as cabbages and eggs from South Africa. We need strategic transformation in how we design and execute our development programmes as a government. I do not see why we are not investing in all the skills coming from the Lesotho College of Agriculture to re-engineer agriculture and start focusing beyond maize production.”

Mr Mofomobe also explained the need to create an environment that is conducive for economic growth through cooperating with various stakeholders in the implementation of the highly anticipated multi-sectoral reforms.

“Reforming our laws to meet the country’s current needs can only help us if we have strong institutions that can ensure the implementation or operationalisation of those reforms. Past experience has taught us that there were some institutions that disregarded policies and regulations and drove this country to the security crisis we are now grappling with.”

He noted it was important to review how certain government appointments were made such as that of the Chief Justice and the Army Commander.

“I think a selection committee will help to ensure a person fit for such positions is transparently selected. Some of these critical procedures, we have them in our laws and what we need to do is to monitor if that is happening.”

He also cited the need to formulate standards and procedures for decisions such as floor-crossing by members of parliament to support efforts to politically stabilise the country.

“I believe in the amendment of conditions of floor-crossing to help promote sanity in our politics. My take is that if a Member of Parliament wants to cross the floor, that seat has to be declared vacant so that the people from the respective constituency can endorse you to leave that party for another party or they can reject you by dismissing you and electing another candidate. At times people vote for a certain candidate because they believe in what the party stands for and not necessarily the candidate.”

He also emphasised the need to develop the capacity of parliament to effectively exercise its oversight role over the government.

“Serious matters that show that we are working to improve the lives of Basotho, must be discussed in parliament. I support the presentation of genuine grievances in parliament and strongly feel that as government, we should work to redress such concerns. But I also see that the greed and power-hungry models come to play at times, especially when we have situations where people call for a motion-of-no-confidence in a four-month-old government that, since it came to power, has been trying to remedy the wrongs and damage done by the previous regime. “We are talking justice for all the people who were killed while the previous regime did nothing about it. They want to pass a vote-of-no-confidence to go where when the people already passed a vote-of-no-confidence in them. We have an issue here and we are going through cumbersome processes because of irresponsible actions. We have bodies buried in Mohale Dam, which we are now struggling to retrieve. I beg to ask under which leadership did all this happen?  They failed to protect the same people they now claim to care about, what utter hypocrisy.” He said Lesotho has gone through a difficult period and it is now time to ensure there will not be a repeat of the same violations of human rights.

Mr Mofomobe explained the need for all government institutions to take the protection and respect of human rights seriously. “It is of utmost importance. We need not pretend that we subscribe to respecting human rights in a robust way. To this effect, there is need to review the Human Rights Commission which was not done in accordance with international principles.”

This Commission, he said, should be independent and not headed by someone within the government because past experience had shown that even the government could also be a violator of human rights.

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