Lesotho: Mahao Abandons Plans to Topple Majoro

FORMER All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Nqosa Mahao believes his newly formed Basotho Action Party (BAP) is the party Basotho have been waiting for all these years since independence in 1966 to take them to the promised land. He is confident that come next year’s elections, the BAP will coast to victory and form the next government.

So confident is Prof Mahao that he has even abandoned talks with other parties to unseat the current Moeketsi Majoro-led government. He would rather concentrate on programmes to grow the party and prepare for the 2022 polls. Before then, his party will contest the by-elections in six constituencies whenever they are held this year as a foretaste of what other parties and the nation should expect in next year’s elections.

The Lesotho Times (LT) editor Herbert Moyo and deputy editor Silence Charumbira this week sat down with Prof Mahao to discuss his plans for the BAP. In this no holds barred interview, Prof Mahao also candidly speaks out on the South African facilitation in Lesotho and expresses his unhappiness with SADC for abrogating its responsibilities to South Africa which he says has been driven by its own interests in its mediation effort in Lesotho.

Prof Mahao also has no kind words for former South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke for his alleged attempts to “subvert constitutional processes in Lesotho” through his proposals for a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) which will, among other things, consider the deferment of the high-profile trials of politicians and any other “politically-motivated trials” until after the full implementation of the multi-sector reforms.

Below are the excerpts of the interview:

LT: Thursday (today) 20 May 2021 marks a year since the formation of the current government. You were in government from its inauguration until your dismissal last month. How do you think it has performed to date?

Prof Mahao: From my perspective, the weak link in the value chain is the quality of our public service. It’s simply poor and professionalism is sorely lacking. As a result, service delivery to the nation leaves a lot to be desired.

The other issue is corruption. It is there in all facets of the government and I am not convinced that we are doing enough to overcome this scourge. Another issue has to do with allocation of resources to enable government ministries and departments to deliver on their mandate. As a government you can have good plans but if you don’t align resources with the plans, then the plans have no significance at all.

For example, I presided over the Justice and Law ministry. One of the key areas under that ministry is the court system. The resources that we are providing to the judiciary and the courts are inadequate. We are giving them about a quarter of what they used to get 10 years ago. And this is not enough. This is now reflecting in the poor services being offered by the judiciary to the nation.

So, if you have good plans but don’t have resources to support them, nothing good can be achieved. I’m not fully convinced that we don’t have the resources. I suspect that those who allocate resources allocate them according to their own plans, independent of what the plans of the individual ministries require. These are some of the big challenges that I think the government must overcome.

LT: The BAP held its maiden rally in Koro-Koro. There were huge crowds there. What does this say to you?

Prof Mahao: Before the weekend rally, we had a campaign evaluation meeting in Mohale’s Hoek the previous weekend. We had to evaluate how we had performed. I was pleasantly shocked by the outcome. In just one day, we had more than 2000 people in only four localities taking up membership of the party. Our first rally was the Koro-Koro rally over the weekend and we were gratified by the results. What these two events speak to is the yearning of Basotho for a new credible, political formation. It is an affirmation that our people aren’t happy with the existing political formations and are looking for new ways within politics. BAP is the party that Basotho have been waiting for.

LT: When you moved from the ABC, you said that 20 MPs would join your party. Only nine have joined you. What happened?

Prof Mahao: We actually expected 19 MPs to join us. Some were going to cross from the ABC and a few others, were going to cross from other parties. And yes, we still expect some MPs to cross. We have actually told some to stay put where they are for tactical reasons. So, yes, at some point, we were looking forward to change of government. But on further analysis, we concluded that the most important issue is to consolidate our support, and that we would do so better when we are in opposition. That is why we are no longer pushing for people to cross the floor because it doesn’t make any difference in terms of our strategic focus presently.

LT: So, you are no longer pursuing the no-confidence vote against Dr Majoro?

Prof Mahao: We are no longer pursuing that. We feel that we must now focus on working to win next year’s elections.

We’ll be in government come 2022. We are not planning to play second fiddle to any party. Reports indicate that 54 percent of the registered voters have been disenchanted with political parties. We are positioned to tap into those people and I believe we are making very significant progress which will enable us to get the majority of people on to our side.

We will start by contesting this year’s by-elections. If they call them tomorrow, we will be there but I know that one party is lobbying that they shouldn’t be held. I will not mention which one. They are afraid. And we want those by elections because we think they will really show who the major players in the politics of this country are from now on. The by-elections will separate the men from the boys.

LT: Some would say a huge crowd was to be expected because Koro-Koro is your home area. Don’t you think that you are being overconfident?

Prof Mahao: I invite those who think like that to come and witness our next rally, which will not be in Koro-Koro. It will be in Leribe.

LT: What’s your take on the performance of SADC on handling Lesotho’s issues?

Prof Mahao: If you compare SADC with West Africa’s ECOWAS, you will realise that SADC has proved to be a very weak institution in terms of making members abide by their commitments. SADC is often a toothless bulldog. On the Lesotho situation, SADC has essentially abdicated its responsibility to South Africa, which being a neighbour, regrettably, seeks to impose its own solutions on Lesotho for reasons that we cannot fathom.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of the 1990s in South Africa did not resolve the issue of racism in that country, it did not resolve the issue of political murders… as late as two years ago there was a commission overseeing issues pertaining to political murders in KwaZulu Natal Province. There were well over 200 political murders. So, the TRC did not wipe the slate clean so that South Africa can be viewed as a peaceful country where political crimes are not rife anymore.

And now there has been this idea about a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) which has been landed on us by the facilitator Justice Moseneke. It has created two problems. One problem is that it has directed the focus of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) onto something that is very delicate and controversial. In the event, the NRA has not been doing what it ought to do which is oversee the implementation of the reforms.

I had advised Justice Moseneke when we were in Pretoria in March this year that we should instead be ringfencing the NRA so that it focusses on its key mandate which is fashioning the laws that the country needs and leave this delicate issue of the TJC.

The second problem created by Justice Moseneke’s TJC proposal is that the notion of transitional justice cannot be imposed on us because this country is not in transition. If ever there was a transition, it would have been between 1970 when we had a dictatorship and 1993 when we embarked on a journey of liberal democracy. But more importantly, the constitution of this country instituted in 1993 was never broken. It is there. We are governed by the constitution and its laws. So, if somebody says we are a transitional society, the question is we are transiting from where to where?

The Constitution is there and its laws must be applied including the prosecution of criminal suspects. Those who talk of transitional justice must be aware that the victims are empowered by our constitution to seek justice.

This is why I am saying, Justice Moseneke can’t impose his transitional justice on the people. You have to engage them and persuade them into making any compromises vis-a-vis the rights that they enjoy to seek justice. You and I know that the victims are not part of the discussions for the TJC. They are not in the NRA and they won’t be there at the National Leaders’ Forum. So, my advice to the facilitator is that this matter (of criminal trials of high-profile suspects) will only be resolved either in the courts of law or through persuading the victims but not by a TJC. Regrettably, you cannot talk about reconciliation when you exclude the victims from the equation. It’s the most stupid thing I have ever heard about.

LT: You were a minister from last year until recently when you were discharged from government. Did you register the concerns that you are now raising about Justice Moseneke’s proposals in all your interactions with him? If so, what was the response?

Prof Mahao: I deliberately, for some time, kept away from that topic. This was because I was conflicted.

But when Justice Moseneke raised the matter with me in November 2020, I reminded him of the saying that justice delayed is justice denied. He had agreed to go and reflect on the need to expedite some criminal trials because the delays were giving perpetrators the opportunity to physically eliminate some of the key witnesses.

Surprisingly, when he came back this last time, he was talking about the politicians who are suspects as well as the folks who are at Maseru Maximum Prison awaiting trial, saying they must be released on bail.

Now therein is a challenge, bail is awarded or denied by a court of law sitting and assessing the evidence before it. Now, here is a (retired) judge (Moseneke) who says and is essentially proposing that people must be released on bail on political grounds. It’s very sad for us as Africans.

You and I know that those folks in prison (Kamoli and others) have been playing all kinds of monkey tricks to ensure that their cases don’t proceed. Every day that they are supposed to appear in court, they come up with another monkey trick. The chief justice of this country has pronounced himself on that behaviour. The judges presiding on the individual cases have pronounced themselves on that behaviour. And here is a former Deputy Chief Justice who ignores the calculated filibustering of the criminal justice in the country. All I can say is that it is very sad. Essentially, this is an effort to undermine the functionality of our criminal justice system.

You can’t talk of reforms to ensure that you have the systems that function unadulterated by politics and, at the same time, you undermine the criminal system that is anchored on that constitutional system. These are contradictions.

So, yes, I have my deepest regrets about the SADC intervention. But remember that these issues about TJC don’t come from a SADC summit. Often you get told that this is a SADC decision. There is nowhere SADC said the court cases must not proceed. The SADC decision said those who are suspected of atrocities must be brought before the courts to account. Now, the people that are supposed to be overseeing the implementation of the decisions of SADC, have come up with a TJC concept that is intended to subvert that SADC decision.

LT: Some observers have labelled SADC and AU as clubs of dictators, or politicians. What do you make of SADC and its intervention in Lesotho?

Prof Mahao: Some have said the AU and SADC are trade unions of leaders, not many of whom have clean records. Therefore, their commitment to good governance is questionable. And so, when these structures are expected to hold member countries’ leaders accountable, it becomes a dubious exercise because of the underlying fraternity and interests among leaders.

From the very beginning, it was a mistake to have South Africa as a facilitator in Lesotho because of its proximity. At this stage, I don’t know whether it helps to change the facilitator because the facilitation mandate expires in August. In terms of assisting with the reforms, I think Justice Moseneke had done reasonably well. But when he stepped into the political arena with this thing (TJC) that he introduced, that blighted his involvement. He had initially done well.

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