PRIME Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane’s bodyguards had to scramble to their vehicles to retrieve guns to protect the premier after the ABC’s weekend rally in Mapoteng in the Berea district descended into chaos.
The chaos and potential security risk to Dr Thabane and other government and party officials occurred in the aftermath of heated exchanges and threats of violence among members of the Terene group of famo musicians.
The famo musicians also traded barbs with some of the government officials and brushed aside attempts by some cabinet ministers to calm down tempers at the Sunday event.
Led by one Ntei Tšehlana, the militant famo musicians used the Sunday rally to accuse unnamed senior ABC and government officials of denying them access to Dr Thabane whenever they sought to present their welfare concerns. They also accused some of their members of being sell-outs who allowed themselves to be used by cabinet ministers to the detriment of the unspecified interests of the famo group.
Nothing could have suggested the tensions and high drama that were soon to follow when Dr Thabane, ABC officials and ordinary party supporters gathered for the rally on a wintry Sunday afternoon in Ha ’Makhoroana in Mapoteng.
Mr Tšehlana was given the platform to address the rally before Dr Thabane and he took full advantage to vent frustrations which appeared to have been building up over the one year that the ABC has been at the helm of government.
Mr Tšehlana shot from the hip, accusing some of his colleagues within the famo movement of masquerading as leaders of the group and instigating violent killings of fellow group members.
He said such group members enjoyed the support of some government officials who controlled access to Dr Thabane.
He further said that the rightful leader of the Terenegroup was Khosi Mosotho Chakela who is said to be in exile for undisclosed reasons.
“Whoever claims to represent Terene is lying because there is only one leader for the Terene and only oneTerene. That leader is Khosi Mosotho Chakela,” Mr Tšehlana said.
In a direct address to Dr Thabane, Mr Tšehlana charged that, “Day in and out we are being killed by some of the people who are with us right here and they are busy befriending ministers”.
“We have observed this behaviour and we appeal to you to address it. Ntate Thabane you may be wondering where all the people clad in yellow (Terene members), who always followed you in large masses have gone to.
“Today, our leader Chakela is barred from entering the country as all sorts of demands are required of him by your regime. This is exactly what used to happen in Ntate (former Prime Minister Pakalitha) Mosisili’s time.”
At this point, Mr Tšehlana had worked himself into a raging torrent and he would not be restrained. Not even the deputy chairperson of ABC, Kemiso Mosenene, could restrain him from speaking on.
“We are denied access whenever we want to talk to you as our leader Ntate Thabane. So, don’t even attempt to stop me Ntate Mosenene,” Mr Tšehlana thundered on.
When it became clear that Mr Mosenene would not succeed in restraining Mr Tšehlana, the driver of the Minister of Police, Sarele Sello, suddenly advanced towards Mr Tšehlana.
Mr Sello is popularly known as Lehlanya (loosely translated to mean a mad man) in music circles and he is considered to be a right-hand man of Mr Chakela.
Draping his yellow blanket on his shoulder associated with the Terene group and with his fighting stick brandished, Mr Sello advanced towards Mr Tšehlana who continued to stand his ground.
“I can pee on you. I don’t fear you Lehlanya but I only respect you. I can pee on you,” Mr Tšehlana shouted.
By then the two antagonists were within a few metres from where Dr Thabane was seated while awaiting his turn to address the rally.
A group of Terene members who had been squatting on the ground then sprung to the rescue of Mr Tšehlana. The ensuing commotion caught Dr Thabane’s unprepared bodyguards by surprise, forcing them to scupper to their vehicles to fetch guns to ensure the premier was adequately protected.
The chaos only died down in the wake of impassioned pleas to Messrs Tšehlana and Lehlanya by some ministers, who included Social Development Minister ’Matebatso Doti.
For the remainder of the rally, the bodyguards then brandished their rifles and stood close to Dr Thabane, forming a body shield to ensure his safety.
The Lesotho Times has since established that the Terenegroup is heavily divided with one faction backing Mr Chakela and the other having thrown its weight behind Mr Lehlanya.
The Terene group originates from Mafeteng and last year in September alone, there were 63 famo-related killings in the same district. This prompted some civil society organisations to hold prayers in an attempt to restore peace among the feuding famo musicians and their supporters.
Before the current infighting in the Terene group, the turf war had been between the Terene and another Mafeteng famo gang known as the Seakhi.
The two groups have a history of incendiary lyrics and their songs are often used to insult rival artistes and their followers. Previous governments have tried and failed to broker peace among famo groups.