Graft ridden ABC scared of ‘clean’ Mahao



Analysts dissect ruling party stalemate


MASERU – Thomas Thabane’s obstinate refusal to allow the winner of his party’s February deputy leadership contest to assume office has plunged the local political milieu into a tailspin and, as he has admitted himself, poses a clear and present danger to his coalition government. The two-time premier’s stance may be baffling to newcomers to Lesotho politics but not to discerning and experienced watchers.

Thabane, they argue, has reverted to type as he is known to do when faced with a stubborn obstacle. His primal instinct is to lash out or as he did when the going got tough in the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in 2006, jump ship and form his own party. This time though, the swashbuckling octogenarian whose name is a now a buzzword in this tiny country of some 2,2 million, is digging in and seems prepared to face the source of his irritation head-on.

Since the now retiring National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor Nqosa Mahao expressed interest in the All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader’s job late last year, Thabane has been in perpetual meltdown. Besides publicly excoriating Mahao for daring to enter the political arena, Thabane set his hounds on the law professor and his supporters. If he was not being called a turncoat, a Johnny-come-lately or a rag, Mahao was being forced to rush to court to assert his right to run in the ABC plebiscite.

And lately, he has been fending off a faction opposed to his ascension to office that appears determined to permanently lock him out of the ABC’s MetCash offices. But why is Thabane and the so-called State House cabal so opposed to Mahao – the older brother to slain army commander Maparaankoe Mahao – sitting next to him on the ABC National Executive Committee (NEC)? What is it about Mahao that has the supposedly fearless Thabane seething with anger and quacking in his boots at the same time at the mere mention of Mahao’s name?

What is at stake?

According to a political scientist Dr Fako Likoti, Thabane is determined to work alone, despite reported meetings aimed at thawing the ice between the pair. Likoti said since October 2006 when the ABC was established, the ruling party has been a one-man show where Thabane has been unilaterally making decisions for the formation. This means doing what he considers desirable or necessary despite reservations of other members of the NEC. “Mr Thabane wants to make all the decisions about what, where, when, why, and how things are done in the party and who will do them. Any potential leaders are usually given a cause for early exit from the party,” he said.

Likoti told Public Eye then that Thabane views himself as the undisputed and untouchable Oracle of the party – the source of all wisdom. “He likes to be surrounded by ‘yes men’,” Likoti said, a mould that the fiercely independent Mahao can’t fit into. Mahao has extensive managerial and leadership experience spanning more than 17 years having been head of department at NUL for two terms between 1996 and 1999, and Pro Vice Chancellor from 2001 to 2003.

He has also served as a dean at NUL, University of North West, University of South Africa and the University of Witwatersrand and is widely published in constitutional law and jurisprudence. Mahao boasts a Bachelor of Arts in Law and a Bachelor of Laws which he obtained from NUL in 1982 and 1984 respectively. He completed a Master of Laws degree at the University of Edinburgh and later a Doctor of Laws at the University of Western Cape.

Commentators who spoke to Public Eye this week described Mahao as too scholarly, single-minded and impervious to criticism, but at the same time very charismatic. “If I were to describe him in three words I would say he is decisive, arrogant and charismatic,” Bokang Semuli, a former Secretary General of the NUL’s Student Representative Council (SRC) said on Wednesday.

“He is ambitious, smart and decisive,” said Tebello Tjapela, a fourth year economic student at NUL. “That decisiveness part includes boldishness and not going back on his word,” Tjapela added. Another former Secretary General of the NUL’s SRC Thato Ponya said of Mahao: “He is a good leader, a good listener, a man of his word and a visionary. He is a great doer and less of a talker, one of the finest leaders in Africa.”

Before he joined ABC in 2015, Mahao was a member of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) for decades. Leader of PFD Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane on Wednesday this week indicated that he did not want to talk for or against Mahao but described him as a professional. “He is a professional, and this is probably why some members of ABC, including their leader, are opposed to his election because they are crooks and are intimidated by experts. His election probably has evoked some anxiety and anger amongst the crooks who have controlled ABC since it was established,” he said.

According to Semuli, Tjapela and Ponya, for those in the ABC who threw spikes in front of Mahao in the run-up to the elective conference in a bid to impede his ascension to the top position – and later blocked the new NEC from assuming power – he is seen as a threat to their financial well-being. Lines of patronage and corruption, they said, had been secured through positions in the ruling party’s executive committee and cabinet. This way they earn mouthwatering lucre from “tenderpreneurs” and other beneficiaries of their influence.

Losing control of the party means these links will be severed, and future deals will be threatened. “Professor Mahao has never had his snout in the trough. He does not have a chequered past, that is why these people are afraid of him. He does not have any skeletons in the closet. Politicians prefer to work with someone whose past they can use against him, but Professor Mahao is very clean politically. That is why he is a threat,” Semuli said.

He added: “He has already achieved a lot on a personal level; he has nothing to lose. If you compete with someone who has nothing to lose, you are sure to be defeated in that race. A person who has nothing to lose has no fear. All he wants now is to turn the country around.” Ponya indicated that at a personal level, Thabane was not opposed to Mahao’s election as his deputy but had been convinced by people close to him that Mahao would throw him out of the party, and government.

He said: “The people who are very close to the leader and were voted out of the national executive committee are scared that Professor Mahao’s ascension to power will cause huge disruption to the entrenched system of patronage.” He added that perhaps Mahao’s assumption to power could set off a cacophony of whistle-blowing as the climate of fear lifts.

The damage to the old NEC’s image that this would cause would be almost terminal, he added. “They do not want that. Actually the leader did not have any problem with the election of Professor Mahao but those close to him threatened him that once Professor Mahao becomes a deputy leader, he is going to topple the leader and take over. They are doing this to protect their own interests,” Ponya said.

“They are scared of Professor Mahao because they are corrupt and they know he is a good leader who does not tolerate corruption,” he added. He further indicated that the clique holding onto power has convinced Thabane that he is vulnerable and needs protection at all cost, no matter the consequences to the standing of the ABC.

Because of these internal schisms, the ABC is gradually losing the reasonably peaceful relationship it enjoyed with citizens before and after winning power in June 2017, especially with the poor, who initially appreciated the magnitude of the challenges Thabane’s government had inherited from Pakalitha Mosisili’s administration. They understood that not everything could be changed or done immediately.

But that trust and goodwill of communities and the ABC supporters is slowly ebbing away as they now see that delays are not all because of constraints facing government. “The people now see ABC for what it really is. It is a party of crooks and rascals which has over the years since it was established pretended that it was a party for the educated and sophisticated.

“Mahao is a professional academic and that is why they are scared of him. They are afraid that they will not continue to squander national resources under his leadership,” said Rakuoane. He added: “What is happening in the ABC now is that those who have captured that party are trying to block those believed to be intellectuals from controlling the party. It is a battle between crooks and the so-called the well-educated.”

After less than two years in power, he further said, there is growing evidence of diversion of funding intended to improve the lives of the poor into private pockets, resulting in a restive atmosphere. This is probably why ABC members elected Mahao despite apparent resistance from Thabane and the old NEC, observers said. Ponya advised Thabane to acknowledge Mahao’s victory and embrace him. He said great leaders choose to surround themselves with people smarter than themselves and are not threatened by talent and greatness. Instead, they actively support and fob off such brainpower.


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