. . . Mokhothu speaks on development and economic growth
MASERU – He was elected new main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) leader approximately three months ago, but the 42-year-old Mathibeli Mokhothu has already hit the ground running, holding a string of political rallies to revive the party’s structures and lure new youth members to the party.
The youthful opposition leader pointedly advocates economic emancipation for Lesotho insisting: “You can’t claim sovereignty when you are a market for other countries”.
In the past three months alone, Mokhothu has toured the length and breadth of Lesotho, visiting the majority of Lesotho’s 80 constituencies by holding rallies across the country’s 10 districts almost daily.
Public Eye recently met up with the new DC leader, who was in January this year elected to the helm of the party to succeeding its 74-year-old founder and former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, whose boots many believed the young Mokhothu would struggle to fill despite a vote of confidence from Mosisili.
However, Mokhothu told this paper this week that he was beating his own drum and taking the party in a different direction “far away from the Lesotho political milieu”.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mokhothu touched on the need to stimulate Lesotho’s economy by finding alternatives to the ever-shrinking Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenue which has been Lesotho’s main income for decades. Mokhothu chastised former ministers of finance who he accused of severally identifying the dwindling SACU funds as an impediment to economic growth “but never did anything to provide alternatives”.
He was also critical of bloated cabinets owing to Lesotho’s coalition politics and a huge wage bill as “issues that we need to address in earnest as soon as DC becomes government”.
According to Mokhothu, government’s policies such as the new regulations on the sales of wool and mohair had crippled the industry and rendered farmers of the two commodities poorer since most of them had not been paid despite delivering their wool and mohair to the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre, run by a Chinese national.
He further lamented that government had also given the Chinese monopoly to control several industries, without exploring the option assist Basotho financially to buy shares. The textile industry, he noted, was a graphic example of Chinese domination.
“There’s no way that we can claim to be a sovereign state when we don’t have a thriving national economy. Worsening the situation is Chinese domination and monopoly on our industries,” Mokhothu said.
Mokhothu also commented on the seemingly shaky relations between DC and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), denying that there was a strain between the two political parties, saying the electoral pact they entered into in 2017 was for the purpose of elections and that “beyond that we are two independent political parties”.
Below are excerpts from the interview with Public Eye’s BONGIWE ZIHLANGU:
PUBLIC EYE: It has been three months since you were elected DC leader. How has the journey been so far? Has it sunk in that you are leading this big party and its success or failure is in your hands?
MATHIBELI MOKHOTHU: Everybody can see that the DC is growing. There are so many activities taking place within the party to mobilise support. You are a witness to the fact that from the very first Koro-Koro constituency rally after my election, people have been crossing to the DC wherever we go.
And from all angles people are flowing into the DC and we are yet to lure more. Youths are joining DC in droves because there are now so many youth-oriented activities in the party. DC is the only party so far, that has had an open youth rally. The DC women’s league has also had a similar rally at Mt. Moorosi in Quthing. DC is breaking new ground, and has broken away from the Lesotho political party milieu.
P.E: In Lesotho, there’s almost never a smoke that is not followed by fire. There’s always some element of truth in whatever speculation comes up. Currently doing the rounds is speculation that the DC leadership is in talks with the ruling ABC to discuss the prospects of forming a coalition government by the two parties, should the ABC infighting lead to a split. How do you respond to the rumours?
M.M: That is a blatant lie concocted by political parties that are intimidated by the DC growth. They are riding on the back of the ABC and fear that anyone who associates with Ntate Thabane stands to lose. They think that they can hinder the DC’s growth and progress by associating it with Ntate Thabane’s faction.
I address political rallies all the time and never have we shown a soft spot for either of the two ABC factions. I have exposed their weaknesses and ever since I became DC leader, I have ever criticised Thabane’s government for its bad policies. I have never shown a soft spot for either ABC faction. Those rumours are unfounded.
P.E: If not a coalition government with ABC, then what? I mean, at every turn you talk of DC becoming government. How then do you hope to access power?
M.M: DC wants elections and nothing else. We want to win elections by an outright majority. Coalition governments have not been beneficial to Lesotho and are costly to Basotho because of bloated cabinets. Patchwork governments are definitely not on the DC agenda.
When we do invite other parties into our government, it should not be due to the fact that we are at their mercy because they are kingmakers. It should be based on the DC principle of peace-building and unity, which we stand for.
The partners we are working with now are the ones we will work with when we become government. It will be because they understand and appreciate our way of doing things and respect that DC will lead.
Yes, we need to win more than 61 parliamentary seats to restore peace, stability and economic growth. We need to move away from the status quo, where cabinet is about distributing state resources among parties forming the coalition government.
We have moved forward from that and have adopted the stance that coalition governments are not for Basotho. And, certainly not for stability and economic growth.
P.E: But the world over, we see coalition governments as being the order of the day. Why should Lesotho be an exception?
M.M: Coalition governments have undermined and made our democracy vulnerable. Ours has been rendered a democracy of opportunists and there are just so many examples to draw from, looking to as far back as 2012 when that year’s elections produced a hung parliament that resulted in Lesotho’s first coalition government. Lesotho is where it is because of coalition governments and we are fed-up. We are fed-up with coalition governments that are quick to crumble, compelling Basotho to return to the polls before the end of the prescribed five-year term.
That is why you see us touring all constituencies, to build the DC. Now the enemy is busy concocting lies because they envy DC. They will not pay attention to the developmental issues we raise but will, instead, resort to dirty politics.
They are settling for less and those are politics of yesterday, which we have moved away from. We are now playing politics of hope and future. We speak life, they speak death.
P.E: There are concerns that in order to gain access to state resources to enable you to campaign easily, the DC’s former leader Dr Pakalitha Mosisili advised you to consider entering into a coalition government with ABC. Adding fuel to the fire are allegations that government has since given you five vehicles with which to campaign. Your response to these allegations?
M.M: Like I said earlier, political parties across spectrum are threatened by the rate at which the DC is growing. I just wonder if all these politicians spewing venom against the DC could sleep if we had the resources they claim we have. We’re already causing them sleepless nights when we utilise the little resources we have at our disposal. I have been holding rallies left, right and centre.
Besides, we are doing things differently now, rebranding the party and giving it a new image. There are so many new activities we have engaged in already and more is still to come.
If the lack of resources was not a handicap on our part, we could’ve have done more. DC for the first time is done with the election of constituency, branch and sub-branch committees. It has never happened before but here we are. Normally we conclude those elections by the end of November but it is April now and we’re almost done.
For the first time we have a program/plan detailing what we want to achieve, when and how. That plan has been translated into a programme of action, which has never happened in the DC and all these parties.
The programme was designed from my inaugural speech, detailing that which needs to be done to improve our party’s prospects of success. I tabulated that the DC would build new and strengthen existing relations both domestically and internationally, ensure there were membership cards and grow the party.
We have clear targets from attire, membership, offices, properties, etc. If we are lucky enough to have the resources they are claiming we have, then we will give them a reason to cry.
Right now they are complaining when I properly utilise the two state vehicles which I must possess by law.
P.E: Lately DC and LCD supporters across social media platforms are engaging in verbal fights that have resulted in derogatory words aimed at you and the LCD leader. That has created the impression that relations are frosty between you and the LCD leader and that relations between the parties have collapsed. This is the same party with whom the DC entered into an electoral pact ahead of the 2017 elections. What is happening? Are DC and LCD still on good terms?
M.M: The LCD leader and I enjoy cordial relations emanating from the DC/LCD relations. We relate well as leaders of opposition political parties. We have not disagreed on anything pertaining to the relationship we have as parties, especially in parliament. As for the street talk pertaining to us not getting along, I don’t even know who to attribute it to.
At party level, the only thing that bound us was the electoral pact. Beyond that, there’s nothing at the moment that binds us except our relations as the opposition. LCD and DC are independent parties, they hold their own rallies and we hold ours.
We are not fighting but at the same time, there’s no exclusive platform where we meet as the two parties after elections, except for the opposition political parties’ platforms where we meet to discuss issues.
We also work well together in parliament, which would be the perfect place to assess the state of our relations and establish if there are facing any problems. Even recently I convened a meeting of official party leaders, although I could not attend myself as I had to travel to Thaba-Tseka. The meeting was to discuss the NDPC. We work together on issues where we are supposed to collaborate on in parliament.
We do enjoy smooth relations although our pact ended with the 2017 elections. It did not mean that there would be anything beyond that. With the elections gone, the DC remains an independent party as does the LCD.
P.E: You have said on numerous occasions that elections are on the horizon. Lesotho has in the space of five years gone for elections twice, which must have had an adverse impact on the public purse. Are we financially ready for elections?
M.M: Lesotho’s elections will cost M350 000 million or so, which is the budget for only one government ministry. There is never a time that Lesotho cannot hold elections. If anything, some projects should suspended to finance a snap election. There should be fresh elections in order for political parties to receive a new mandate.
I just hope that Basotho have learnt that it is in their best interests to cast their votes in favour of one political party in order for Lesotho to have a stable government which will include other political parties only in pursuit of national cohesion.
We try as much as possible to pursue national unity and hope that it will happen. We want as much as possible to work together as smaller parties, to achieve national development for Lesotho.
In my view, if it is DC that wins elections and we bring our friends on board, they will no longer be in a position to make demands in exchange for their participation in any government that we will form. We will downsize cabinet to make it meaningful and reduce the burden on the taxpayer and focus more money on critical programmes.
P.E: You were a minister for two years from 2015-17 and must have learnt a few golden lessons in relation to how government should be run. What have you learnt from Prime Minister Thabane’s government that you would do differently should DC get back into power?
M.M: Should DC retain government power, the first thing we will do is downsize cabinet which is currently too large but our focus should be primarily on growing the economy. For the longest time, this country’s finance ministers have complained about dwindling Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenue.
Despite identifying shrinking revenue as a problem, neither of them has come up with solutions. So, instead of emulating those who are destroying the economy, we will rebuild it to secure peace and stability for this country. There’s no country that claim to be sovereign when it cannot produce anything but is a market for other nations.
I have overtime lamented that Lesotho does not have a national economy but nobody paid much attention to me. We are a consuming nation rather than one that produces. We will work to make sure that this country produces for both the local and international market.
It is also time to ensure that Basotho have shares in the textile industry. As things stand, Basotho have no shares in all the factories across the country from Maputsoe, Maseru to Mafeteng. The Chinese come to Lesotho armed with capital to start factories and will not bring Basotho on board.
Then when they leave, there is chaos as the firms shut down.
Apart from owning shares in the textiles industry, Basotho should also be assisted by governments to buy shares.
After all, the same Chinese have been bailed out by the Lesotho government to prevent the closure of factories which results in loss of jobs. So, there is no reason why we are not financing Basotho so that they can own a stake in the textile industry.
What makes the situation worse is that although the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is an agreement between Lesotho and USA, it is the Chinese who are benefitting.
This is not to mention the Chinese monopoly on the red meat market, all because of poor and biased government policies. This government has also failed in that it imposed a Wool and Mohair policy and entrusted the industry with a Chinese who has left Basotho farmers stranded as they are not being paid, while the commodities are being sold on the black market.
P.E: You have at all your rallies complained about the lack of the rule of law, as well as the capture of the judiciary by the executive and serious violations of human rights in the form of multiple deaths of civilians in police custody. Previously when your DC government were accused of the same, the opposition made concerted efforts to report you to the international community. And in return, the US in particular threatened to withdraw AGOA and disqualify Lesotho from developing a second MCC compact. What have you done besides complaining at rallies?
M.M: We have been engaging development partners in meetings that we have with them from time to time. The media is also awash with reports of human rights violations and disregard for the rule of law.
They also have their own ways of investigating issues on the ground, such as MCC. They also interview us to better assess the situation so they are aware that good governance is deteriorating and that the judiciary is under siege, while parliament has also been captured. But they must find a way to make sure that this government toes the line of good governance.
Unlike Thabane and partners, who were adamant that Americans and other development partners should withdraw aid from Lesotho, all we ask for is that our donors should engage government and bring to their attention that Lesotho risks being disqualified from receiving aid if government does not respect democracy, rule of law and human rights.
We need clean water, roads and schools for our people, not for parties in government. This government does not have an ear and, unfortunately, it’s the people who suffer.
P.E: In conclusion, what is your message to Basotho?
M.M: Well, primarily what we are saying as DC is that we should not settle for less.
I would like Basotho to do away with the notion that politics is a dirty game whose players concoct lies to destroy their opponents. We are supposed to be discussing economic growth and how the national pie can be divided, and which areas to focus on when we allocate the country’s resources. It is pure blackmail for a person to claim that his political opponents have ill-gotten resources. Not only is lying wrong in the face of man, it also goes against God’s law.
Actually, Basotho should outgrow the pettiness of lying in politics for the sake good governance, education and economic growth. You cannot separate the three and, unfortunately, Lesotho is unstable in all these aspects. We also have a problem of a huge wage bill and no government has made initiatives to reduce it.
Finance Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro has complained about the high wage bill and dwindling SACU revenue since 2017. But three budget speeches down the line, nothing has been done.
Instead, this government has been dishing out jobs to members of political parties in government. By the same token, they only give people who are not members of their political parties by luring them to join them first. That should not happen, it is outdated. Basotho should punish all political parties that bribe people with jobs. Basotho should be given jobs regardless of their political affiliation as that amounts to discrimination which results in further discrimination.
Politicians take advantage of young people who are hit hard by poverty. Government should create jobs for everyone and people don’t buy jobs with their votes but development as is dictated by democracy. Democracy should make the majority happy, not satisfy a particular clique.