‘Splits the bane congress parties’

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Former deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla

PARLIAMENT resumes next February with the Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven-party coalition government facing its waterloo hardly two years after its formation following the 28 February 2015 snap elections.

The governing alliance’s unravelling has been precipitated by a split in the main coalition partner Democratic Congress (DC) which has seen former deputy leader Monyane Moleleki and other party stalwarts jumping ship to form the Alliance of Democrats (AD) earlier this month.

Mr Moleleki had already inked a pact to oust the government and form a new one with the tripartite opposition bloc prior to founding the AD.

Dr Mosisili, who is also DC leader, has vowed to dissolve parliament and call for early elections in the event a mooted no confidence motion against his government succeeds.

Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with veteran congress stalwart and former deputy premier Lesao Lehohla on the root causes of splits in the movement and the likely scenarios in this wide ranging interview.

LT: Once again, another major congress party — this time the DC — has split leaving government vulnerable to collapse. What is your take on this development?    

Lehohla: This problem of splits within congress parties starts way back. Following the controversial 1970 elections, the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) was denied power by the then ruling Basotho National Party (BNP). The then prime minister and BNP leader, Dr Leabua Jonathan, declared a state of emergency after failing to win elections. The situation compelled BCP leaders to flee the country and seek asylum elsewhere. We have been made to understand their lives were very difficult in exile. I was not part of them then. But before they fled, I had been in jail with some of them shortly after the 1970 elections. At that time, that is before they fled, we were so united. The BCP was unshakably a solid movement. At that time, most of us were young people fresh from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS), which is now the National University of Lesotho (NUL). We were arrested for political reasons as the BCP youths together with Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili. We were jailed for about a year and three months in Maseru prison after which we were put under house arrest. Ntate Mosisili was released under the care of his relatives in Mafeteng where he was subsequently employed as a teacher at ’Masentle High School. Later on, he came to teach at Bereng High School where I was already teaching myself. I parted ways with Ntate Mosisili in 1972 when I went school in England. But I came back in 1975 to teach at the same school with Ntate Mosisili. The point is that all along the BCP was very much united.

LT: So, what went wrong?  

Lehohla: As we reflect, it appears there were some misunderstandings between the BCP leaders who had fled the country. As I said, life was very difficult for them outside the country. I cannot give details of what really transpired there because I was not part of them, but I understand there was a problem between the leaders. They were in exile from 1970 to 1992 when they returned ahead of the 1993 elections. But whatever squabbles they had were cloaked by the spirit and momentum of the congress followers ahead of the elections. People were tired of both the nationalist and military regimes. BCP couldn’t afford to lose another chance of being in power after it was denied in 1970. Under these circumstances, whatever anger was within our leaders was masked. The BCP then won all 65 constituencies and formed the government. However, the BCP government faced a big challenge of resistance from security agencies and other institutions which form an integral part of the government. It took us long to stabilise the situation. I should mention that the opposition leaders also took advantage of the situation and influenced the army in particular to destabilise the government. So, a lot of time was spent trying to stabilise the situation. Eventually the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was invited to restore Lesotho’s constitutional rule. It was during this time, between 1993 and ahead of the 1998 elections, that the divisions within the BCP began to materialise. The divisions were basically influenced by the squabbles between the leaders from exile. As the 1998 elections drew near, the BCP was now no longer the same BCP that was powerful in 1993. Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, the BCP founder and then prime minister, was also already too old to lead the party in the next round of elections. It was obvious to everyone that Ntate Ntsu would soon retire. This exacerbated the internal tensions over who should succeed Ntate Ntsu.

This situation badly affected the party. To some extent the situation was worsened by Ntate Ntsu himself as he refused to appoint Ntate Molapo Qhobela as deputy prime minister following the death of Ntate Selometsi Baholo. Ntate Qhobela was the BCP deputy leader while Ntate Baholo was deputy prime minister. But after the latter was assassinated, it was assumed obvious that Ntate Ntsu would simply appoint his deputy in the party, Ntate Qhobela, to replace Ntate Baholo. But we realised there must have been some hidden issues from way back, especially when these leaders were still in exile, when Ntate Ntsu refused to appoint Ntate Qhobela his deputy in government. Instead, after long time, Ntate Ntsu appointed Ntate Mosisili as his deputy in government while Ntate Qhobela remained his deputy in the party. This decision shocked everyone and shook the foundations of the BCP.

LT: Is that the reason why Dr Ntsu Mokhehle left the BCP and formed the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)?

Lehohla: Definitely. Ntate Ntsu and others jumped ship, myself included, and the other leaders were left in BCP led by Ntate Qhobela. I think this is where we, the congress people, first failed to address our internal issues but resorted to parting ways with others. It has been a similar case ever since. But like I said, I cannot really say what it was that stoked the tension between the BCP leaders especially at the time they were in exile. I keep referring to them as leaders because they were mostly members of the BCP National Executive Committee (NEC). After the formation of the LCD, we felt we had a good and stable party. It was so easy for Ntate Ntsu to form a new party and immediately garner a lot of support because he had been so powerful in politics in the past. That factor on its own paralysed the BCP immediately. This became obvious when the LCD won the bulk of constituencies during the 1998 elections. In fact, only one constituency in Mokhotlong was not won by the LCD. But soon, there was again leadership tension within the LCD over succession. Ntate Ntsu was now seriously ill and we were desperate to know who he was going to appoint as his substantive successor. During his illness, Ntate Ntsu invited Ntate Mosisili and Advocate Kelebone Maope to Bloemfontein, where he was bed-ridden. It is purported that it was during this visit that Ntate Ntsu identified one of the two gentlemen to become his successor. It remains unclear whether it was Advocate Maope or Ntate Mosisili. There was this unwritten tension now between Advocate Maope and Ntate Mosisili, which eventually led to the former forming his new party, Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) around 2001. In his words when he left LCD, Advocate Maope said ‘the train had lost its way’. We kept losing membership like that ahead of every general election. In 2006, the Ntate Motsoahae Thabane-led All Basotho Convention (ABC) was formed ahead of the 2007 elections. There was again another crack within the LCD as we approached the 2012 elections, where the party NEC broke ties with leader Ntate Mosisili. In almost the same way as Ntate Ntsu, Ntate Mosisili formed the DC ahead of the 2012 elections. The pattern is the same. It appears this issue is deeply rooted within the main congress parties.

LT: The general opinion has always been that you came a long way with Dr Mosisili. You have also proved that from what you just said about him. Tell us exactly why you decided not to jump ship with him in 2012.

Lehohla: I decided not to jump ship on principle. I had been voted by the LCD conference to hold the position of deputy leader. Now that Ntate Mosisili was gone, I was expected to act in his position because that was the reason I was voted his deputy; so that when he is absent there is no absolute vacancy. It would have been very unfortunate if I left the party at that difficult time when it needed a leader. The party would have been decapitated. I felt it would have been very irresponsible for me to leave the party at that stage. Secondly, Ntate Mosisili had been quite clear when he left the LCD that he would not force anyone to follow him to the DC. He said it was upon individuals to make their choices freely during that separation. On that basis, I felt I should exercise my discretion. Thirdly, I had already developed a feeling that these endless splits were not doing us any good at all. In fact, the splits have everything to do with destroying the congress movement. That is my firm conviction. It is terrible when people we call our leaders run away from taking responsibility and addressing issues. In all of these numerous splits, I am not convinced that the leaders tried hard enough to address the internal issues. Had we seriously addressed the issues in the LCD, the DC would not have been born. The LCD would have won the 2012 elections. Even as we speak today, the congress parties continue to split because when the LCD broke away from the BCP in 1997, the underlying issues had never been addressed. I am not impressed with the DC partnership with the LCD today because they still haven’t addressed the issues that caused Ntate Mosisili to form a new party in 2012. Even today, I still don’t regret not leaving the LCD for the DC because I believe all these splits are not doing anybody any good.

LT: You mentioned that the LCD could have won the 2012 elections against the ABC if the party had not split. Can you elaborate on that?

Lehohla: I was actually informed that if the LCD had not split, it would have won the 2012 elections. This is how my informers put it: They made calculations and realised that for every constituency that was won by the ABC in 2012, the margin was such that if you combined both LCD and DC results the votes exceeded those of the ABC with the exception of only four constituencies. In other words, had it not been for the LCD split, the ABC would have only won four constituencies in 2012. We shot ourselves in the foot in broad daylight! The 2012 elections resulted in the formation of our first ever coalition government of ABC, BNP and LCD. Unfortunately it did not last. In 2015, we held snap elections which also produced a seven-party coalition government. Lo and behold! That government is formed by DC and LCD among others! In fact, the two parties are the major parties in this government. These are the same parties that split in 2012 under the same leaders, what is so different about their relations today? Have they fixed what ruined their relations in 2012? I doubt it, but you can go ask them.

LT: What is the real problem, and what is the solution?

Lehohla: As a nation, we have a good foundation and clear principles set out by our forefathers. The problem is our individual personalities. For every bad politician to get the punishment he or she deserves, the solution lies in the electorate’s vote. I am a living example of that. The people of Mafeteng voted me out of power after they realised I had not satisfactorily met their demands when they first sent me to parliament. They chose to vote for my contender, Ntate Temeki Tšolo of ABC against me in 2012. I am now paying the price because I deserve it. But I will remain true to my principles. I believe issues should be addressed. DC was similarly impressive when it was formed in 2012. Look at what has happened today; they just split. Where are we going? But like I said, the solution is in the electorate. If voters are satisfied with what is going on, it should continue. Three parties formed government in 2012. Seven parties followed suit in 2015. Where is the trend leading us? It’s obvious we are in the era of coalition governments. If you can calculate the cost of maintaining one minister you will realise that this country cannot manage to develop with continuously growing cabinets due to the continuously expanding coalition of parties forming the government. We now have around 30 ministers and deputies maintained at the expense of taxpayers, let alone the money used for elections. The same taxpayer is part of the electorate which decides the fate of politicians.

LT: If you could go back to active politics, what would you fix and where would you start?

Lehohla: This country was founded on clear principles. Our role is just to consolidate that. Unfortunately, that’s where we fail. Solutions are not difficult to get if we can sit down and heed the principles of our forefathers. What I would simply do is remind Basotho that we are one nation. We are powerful united than when we split into groups.

 

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