THE passing away of Alliance of Democrats (AD) deputy leader and Minister of Gender, Sports and Recreation, Kabelo Mafura, came as a shock to many of the people who had worked and interacted with him over the years.
Ambassador Mafura, who was a Member of Parliament for Sebapala Number 66 Constituency in Quthing district, died at Mediclinic in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on Christmas eve, after a short illness. His untimely death came just a month after he turned 66 on 13 November.
Ambassador Mafura collapsed during a cabinet meeting on Friday, 15 December, two days after his return from China where he had gone to attend an international football exposition.
According to his colleagues in the government, the minister had not shown any signs of ill-health upon his return from China and even attended the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Lesotho and the African Union Sport Council (AUSC) Region 5 Games Secretariat, that would see Lesotho hosting the games in 2020.
Ambassador Mafura was the new deputy chairperson of the AUSC Region 5, which is chaired by Botswana.
However, after falling ill in cabinet, he was rushed to Maseru Private Hospital and then transferred to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital where he received some treatment.
He was then transferred to Mediclinic on the same day.
His nephew, Lehlohonolo Moeketse, told the Lesotho Times his uncle was still able to speak when he visited him on 16 December.
“He was jovial as usual and had joked about me not coming to see him. That was the last day he was able to talk,” Mr Moeketse said.
On 23 December, Ambassador Mafura was put on a life support system after developing breathing difficulties and passed away the following day.
Mr Moeketse yesterday said the family was still waiting for an autopsy report to ascertain the cause of death.
A memorial service for the late minister will be held next Tuesday at a venue yet to be confirmed. His body is expected in Lesotho on 3 January for burial on 4 January at his home in Ha Mafura, Quthing district.
Nicknamed “Rali-Strategy” meaning the strategist, by those who worked and knew him for many years, Ambassador Mafura was described by his colleagues as an action man, humble, hardworking, kind, funny, a smooth operator in politics and a Kingmaker, a title he earned for the critical role he played before and after the AD split from the Democratic Congress in December 2016.
Mr Moeketse said his uncle was a strong man when it came to working on the ground and in the thick of things, particularly where politics was concerned. He added the late minister was a man who stood for the truth even when it hurt, explaining he was one of the brave men and women who broke away from the DC to join the AD when they could no longer dance to its new tune.
“Politics was a game he played with a lot of tact. He would coordinate and scheme actions away from the eyes of many people, and what you would just see was the pot boiling but without seeing the fire,” Mr Moeketse said.
He believed in change for the development of Lesotho, even if it meant working with people his family and constituency disliked because of the killings that took place during some political disturbances in the 1970s. He lost his young brother during those disturbances.
“I think his legacy will centre on development, courage, unity and forgiveness because of his role as an advocate of development and his ability to convince people to forgive and let go of the past because as Basotho, we all should come to a point when we find each other again.”
But it was not just the game of politics he played tactfully. Ambassador Mafura was a practical man who believed that for Lesotho to counter poverty, programmes should be designed to empower communities to be able to help themselves to avoid dependence on foreign aid.
He was a man who believed in teaching people how to fish in the spirit of promoting human dignity and self-reliance. As Minister of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation between 2014 and 2015, Ambassador Mafura worked hard to reconfigure operations in the ministry to make them responsive to government policies on poverty reduction.
He did not support the provision of unconditional food and cash assistance to vulnerable people, insisting the poor should get assistance after participating in activities that bring sustainable empowerment.
As the Minister of Gender, he was one of the few ministers who made an early impact following his appointment in June 2017, after he secured funding for the resuscitation of Rapokolana High Altitude Training Centre, a sporting facility in Maseru.
“He was interested in sport and believed that Lesotho could be developed into a Sports Tourism hub because of its proficiency in athletics. He was also developing sports strategies he wanted to use to help unite Basotho,” Mr Moeketse said.
As the new deputy chairperson of AUSC Region 5, a regional football tournament now attracting other countries outside the Southern African region, Ambassador Mafura was also holding consultations over the construction of two stadiums in preparation for the games in 2020.
His sports development ideas earned him immediate respect from the sporting fraternity.
Born in Ha Mafura village in Quthing district, Ambassador Mafura inherited his love of politics from his father, Vakele Mafura, who in the 1970s, contested for the then Tosing constituency under the Basotho Congress Party (BCP).
A first child in a family of five, he did his primary education at Sebapala in Quthing before he moved to Lesotho High School for his secondary education between 1969 and 1973.
He then left the country to study Forestry Science at the Cyprus Forestry College in Cyprus between 1974 and 1976.
Between 1983 and 1986, he did his Bachelor of Science Degree in Forestry at the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA.
He joined the government as a Mafeteng District Forester in 1977, then under the Ministry of Agriculture, before he was appointed Ambassador to Italy in 2001.
Ambassador Mafura represented Lesotho until 2007 upon when he returned home and was appointed Member of Parliament through the Proportional Representation system under the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). Around August 2007, the then Member of Parliament, ‘Matseliso Monyakane died and Ambassador Mafura had to resign in parliament to stand in the by-election, which he won on an LCD ticket.
He was also MP for the same constituency as a member of the DC and later deputy leader of the AD.
Away from politics, Ambassador Mafura was a businessman in the Real Estate sector and had acquired a number of properties over the years.
Mr Moeketse said his uncle was a good father to his children and had managed to keep his family together following his divorce. He was father to four daughters and one son.
“He has always stayed with his children. The only time the children are away is when they are in school and when schools close, they return home to stay with their father. He was a good father and cared so much for the education and happiness of his children,” Mr Moeketse said.
Ambassador Mafura enjoyed spending time with friends over a few glasses of wine. He will be greatly missed, Rest in Peace Mophuthi; Robala ge kgotso leblane le letshoeu (in his Sephuthi language), which in Sesotho means: Robala ka-khotso Mophuthi.