REFORMED Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Keketso Rantšo, is one of the country’s most well-known and respected politicians. Until she co-founded the RCL last month, Ms Rantšo — who is also Labour and Employment minister — was a longstanding member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, Ms Rantšo chronicles her long and difficult political journey — as well as her hopes of becoming Lesotho’s first female prime minister after the 28 February 2015 National Assembly elections.
LT: As a new party, is the RCL, or Bolekana as the party is popularly known, ready for next month’s parliamentary elections, which come two years early following the collapse of the coalition government?
Rantšo: It is true that we are a very new party. We turned one month old on 12 January following our registration with the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) on 12 December 2014. However, we have since started our campaigns throughout the country as we already have candidates in all the 80 constituencies to be contested in next month’s elections. We started the campaigns in constituencies where our members that we crossed together with from the LCD to form the RCL, come from. Those constituencies are Taung, Lithabaneng, Mabote, Senqu, Machache, Thaba-Bosiu, Stadium Area, Mphosong and Mabote. We had to start with these constituencies to explain why we had to leave the LCD to start a new party. These are some of the constituencies in which we believe we have good support. People in these areas understand the pressure we were under, which made us leave the LCD. I was elected RCL leader at the party’s first conference held in Maseru on 20 December, as was the National Executive Committee (NEC). Representatives from 49 constituencies took part in the election process. Following the elective conference, we then held a very successful rally in Mokhotlong early this month.
LT: How has the RCL managed to have candidates in all the 80 constituencies when the party was only launched last month?
Rantšo: Through sheer hard work; we are working tirelessly day and night to ensure the party grows and draws as many supporters as possible. Out of the 80 candidates, 22 are females, which is a relatively good number considering how women are sidelined from active politics in this country. We could be the party fielding the highest number of female candidates in next month’s elections. Other than that, most of our candidates are young people who are innovative and full of energy. Actually, my heart is with the women and the youths; I am very passionate about working with women and the youths. Yes, men are still good to have as active members in the RCL, but really my heart belongs to women and the youth.
LT: Has the RCL launched its manifesto as yet?
Rantšo: We launched our manifesto in Mokhotlong earlier this month. And just yesterday (18 January), we held a rally in Thaba-Tseka, where we also spoke about our manifesto. This coming weekend, on 24 January to be exact, we will be holding another rally in Qacha’s Nek, and then we will move to Quthing the following day, for yet another campaign rally ahead of the polls.
LT: Could you please highlight some of significant points in the manifesto.
Rantšo: We have put more emphasis on national stability. We became aware that in most cases when the nation is unstable, it is due to issues of security. When national security agencies are biased and seem to align or favour certain political parties, that’s when instability sets in. This is due to these agencies being politicised or when party leaders interfere with the operations of these agencies. As the RCL, once we get into power, the first thing we are going to do is revise the national constitution, particularly where it relates to issues of national security. At the moment, the constitution allows positions of army commander and police commissioner to be appointed by politicians. We are going to amend the constitution and stop this. We want those positions to be filled through appointments made by the King only. As politicians, we may just suggest a list of names from which the final decision and appointments will be made by the King alone. This is because these two positions play a very crucial role of protecting the constitution of this country and there shouldn’t be any political interference. We also want to root-out politics within the public service. First, we want principal secretaries, who are currently appointed politically, to be employed just like any other public servant, based on qualifications. They should be employed on a permanent basis and not deterred from doing their work professionally by politicians. Politicians come into government and go, but principal secretaries, as chief accounting officers and main administrators, should remain. This way, we will be giving them the authority to properly pursue government policies.
We further intend to look carefully at how we can improve our education system. For a long time, our education system has failed our children. For instance, the government introduced free education up to Standard Seven only. We have learnt through our research, as the RCL, that most people don’t proceed with their education beyond Standard Seven because their parents cannot afford to put them through secondary school. As the RCL, we are saying we pledge to pay for their school fees up to secondary education. In addition, we intend to establish vocational schools in each of the 10 districts of Lesotho to admit these young minds. The vocational schools will admit them from Form C and Form E levels. However, these technical colleges will be of the highest standard, where the graduates would receive certificates, diplomas and degrees. We will also instill the spirit of competition among elementary schools to improve our education as early as possible. They should not only compete in academic subjects, but also sport to sharpen their minds.
The issue of the much-awaited National Youth Council is also our priority area. I was part of the youths who came up with the National Youth Council policy from as way back as 1995. But what we would like to do, as the RCL, is to completely remove party politics out of the council. Currently, although it is yet to be established, the council is bound to have three representatives from the ruling party. And we are saying that should not be the case. The council should involve Basotho youth without consideration of any political affiliation. Like I said, I am passionate about the youth and their development, which is why I don’t want to see their issues being messed up with party politics. If established well without political issues, the National Youth Council can address young people’s concerns, including our country’s escalating unemployment rate. As the Labour and Employment minister, I was already working on the Social Security Fund, whose Bill is yet to be presented before parliament. This is meant to address issues of better salaries and pensions among private-sector employees. The RCL, when we get into power, will facilitate this into an Act, to ensure better working conditions for every employee, including domestic workers.
We will also be working closely with South Africa to ensure Basotho are issued work permits. Every year, we see many Basotho being dumped at the border from South Africa, under the pretext that they are illegal immigrants. As minister, I was already engaged in talks with my South African counterpart so that Basotho are issued work permits. Without work permits Basotho, are being abused by employers in that country. They are paid R500 a month as farm and domestic workers, while their South African counterparts get R2000. In short, we will change Lesotho for the better, should we become the next government.
LT: Going back to your decision to leave the LCD, what really transpired?
Rantšo: Basically, we quit the LCD due to the party’s poor and malicious administration. The LCD NEC was being dictatorial, arrogant and discriminatory. We were unfairly issued with disciplinary letters. I, for one, was being accused by Ntate Metsing (LCD leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing) and the LCD NEC of employing Ntate Tahleho Mabetha as my principal secretary in the ministry. Ntate Metsing wanted to impose Ms Amelia Dingizwayo (Local Government official) to be my principal secretary against the Coalition Government agreement (which saw the LCD, All Basotho Convention and Basotho National Party form a coalition government after the 26 May 2012 election had failed to produce an outright majority winner).
In terms of the agreement, ministers were to inform their parties and the coalition leadership about their choice of principal secretaries, not the other way round. I refused to take Ms Dingizwayo and insisted on hiring Mr Mabetha and that’s when relations between me and Ntate Metsing started to deteriorate. The NEC initiated disciplinary action on this issue without even making an effort to understand my decision. They dragged me before a disciplinary committee unfairly when the person who should have been summoned was Ntate Metsing for abusing his powers. The NEC further disrupted operations of our committees in the constituencies and harassed some committee members by confiscating office equipment and appointing new members for no apparent reason. They appointed their favourites against the people’s wishes. We realised we were no longer wanted in the LCD. They harassed us so that we could leave the party. They started to draw cartoons about me in their newspaper (Mololi) for the supporters to start hating me. As the RCL, we didn’t just name our party Bolekana (billycan) because we liked it; it was a name long imposed on us by some vindictive members of the LCD, in particular the NEC. These people went on a smear campaign against us. Bolekana would be drawn with my head inside it to spite me, and they would call me ’Mabolekana. I was being insulted with all sorts of words that should not be printed in any decent newspaper. And the newspaper, Mololi, would be distributed in the constituencies to degrade me before the supporters. I was also accused of dividing LCD youths into two warring factions — one supporting me and the other Ntate Metsing, which was all lies. Yet the truth was I was only trying to bring the two factions together, and only did this because I was the party’s secretary-general.
LT: Could you give us a little background about yourself.
Rantšo: I was born and grew up in Taung, Ha Moletsane (Mohale’s Hoek). I attended primary, secondary and high school in that area. I am married and the mother of two daughters. I was married in Matelile (Mafeteng). I became active in politics at a very young age, and have always been in the congress movement. I was deputy secretary-general of the LCD National Youth League, deputising Ntate Metsing. I was the first woman to eventually be elected the party’s National Youth League secretary-general. From there, I was elected secretary-general of the LCD Women’s League, and then became a member of the party’s NEC. And when the party split, with those who left forming the Democratic Congress, I was appointed secretary-general, breaking another record as the first woman to occupy that position.
LT: Do you see yourself becoming the next prime minister of Lesotho?
Rantšo: Yes. It is my dream to become the first female prime minister of Lesotho. After all, I am used to breaking records. I have a strong belief that if I become prime minister after next month’s elections, I can be able to change this country for the better.
LT: When you were appointed minister in 2012, there were some who doubted your ability considering your seemingly humble educational background. What do you have to say about this?
Rantšo: I am very much aware of that issue, but I believe I have proved those doubters wrong; I have shown that I am capable of holding high office. I don’t have to hold those very high qualifications to take part in the development of my country. In life, there are two types of literate people; one is where you have big academic qualifications after undergoing intensive study, and the other when one is just simply trained and has an understanding of how to lead people. The late Dr Leabua Jonathan (former prime minister) did it. Why can’t I do it with the certificates and diplomas that I have?