‘Tha­bane ab­sence a mixed bag’

Lesotho Times - - Analysis - Bongiwe Zih­langu

ALL Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion ( ABC) leader Thomas Tha­bane’s ab­sence is both a boon and bane for his po­lit­i­cal for­tunes, an­a­lysts say, with his con­tin­ued stay in ex­ile keep­ing the spotlight on the need for se­cu­rity re­forms, while also dis­en­fran­chis­ing his sup­port base.

Ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts who spoke to the Le­sotho Times this week, Dr Tha­bane, who is the of­fi­cial leader of the op­po­si­tion in the Na­tional Assem­bly, was in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion since he could not as­sume his po­si­tion while in ex­ile.

Dr Tha­bane has been liv­ing in South Africa since he fled the coun­try on 11 May this year, claim­ing the mil­i­tary was out to as­sas­si­nate him for fall­ing out with its com­mand while he was premier.

The ABC leader was suc­ceeded by Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili af­ter his al­liance, which in­cluded the Ba­sotho Na­tional Partyand Re­formed Congress of Le­sotho, failed to garner the ma­jor­ity seats it needed in the 28 Fe­bru­ary 2015 snap elec­tions to re­main in power.

How­ever, af­ter claim­ing the Le­sotho De­fence Force was plot­ting to kill him prompt­ing his flight to South Africa, Dr Tha­bane was soon joined in ex­ile by BNP leader The­sele ‘Maserib­ane and Keketso Rantšo on 13 and 26 May 2015 re­spec­tively.

The two lead­ers also made claims sim­i­lar to Dr Tha­bane’s for their flight, which has put Le­sotho un­der the spotlight while also be­ing con­demned by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The an­a­lysts said Dr Tha­bane’s con­tin­ued ab­sence had the po­ten­tial of frus­trat­ing his sub­or­di­nates and sup­port­ers since it was hap­pen­ing at a crit­i­cal time in the coun­try’s history.

Lira Theko of the Trans­for­ma­tion Re­source Cen­tre (TRC), said be­cause the ABC was a huge party, which had grown sub­stan­tially since it was formed in 2007, it was crit­i­cal for Dr Tha­bane to be closer to home to “cam­paign and main­tain the mo­men­tum”.

The ABC raised its seats tally from 30 in the 2012 gen­eral elec­tions to se­cur­ing 46 of the 120 par­lia­men­tary seats on of­fer in the 28 Fe­bru­ary 2015 polls.

“Tha­bane needs to be around to hold ral­lies and mo­bilise sup­port as he has al­ways done,” Mr Theko said.

“Le­sotho is also go­ing through a very crit­i­cal po­lit­i­cal phase and as leader of the op­po­si­tion, his pres­ence needs to be felt. His ab­sence also has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a con­flict borne of frus­tra­tion within the ABC.”

He added: “The ques­tion is, in his ab­sence, how strong are the struc­tures he has left in the ABC to main­tain the mo­men­tum he has set?”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Theko, Dr Tha­bane’s ab­sence fur­ther im­pacts neg­a­tively on “democ­racy, sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment in gen­eral” be­cause he can­not per­form his par­lia­men­tary du­ties as of­fi­cial leader of the op­po­si­tion.

“Par­lia­ment has been in re­cess for some time now and we know that, go­ing for­ward, the op­po­si­tion is crit­i­cal be­cause the house needs their in­put for laws to be passed,” Mr Theko said.

“How­ever, on the flip side, the for­mer premier’s de­ter­mi­na­tion strength­ens his sup­port­ers’ re­solve to stick with him.”

Le­sotho Coun­cil of Non-gov­ern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tions Di­rec­tor, Se­abata Mot­samai, echoed Mr Theko’s sen­ti­ments, say­ing that Dr Tha­bane’s ab­sence left a gap in the party be­cause of his charis­matic lead­er­ship style.

“Tha­bane has charisma and han­dles is­sues in a charis­matic man­ner. That charisma means that, as a leader, he can per­suade peo­ple and in­flu­ence opin­ions,” Mr Mot­samai says.

“For in­stance, he is known for con­stantly hold­ing ral­lies to mo­bilise sup­port for his party, which is a div­i­dend for the ABC. Even if there are strong peo­ple in the party, his pres­ence is an added bonus. His ab­sence, how­ever, means the added value is de­clin­ing.”

How­ever, Mr Mot­samai was quick to add that peo­ple who un­der­stood the prin­ci­ple of in­clu­siv­ity and re­spect for hu­man rights would “sym­pa­thise with Tha­bane and still fol­low him re­gard­less”.

“In essence, what I am say­ing is it de­pends on what the tar­get group is. The sup­port of peo­ple in the ru­ral ar­eas is fickle as they are vul­ner­a­ble to what­ever in­for­ma­tion they are fed and will not en­ter­tain any­one who is not Tha­bane,” Mr Mot­samai said.

“But ur­ban-based peo­ple who up­hold the prin­ci­ple of hu­man rights, and be­lieve in the rule of law, sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers, and civil­ian rule over se­cu­rity forces, will al­ways sup­port him de­spite his ab­sence, be­cause they be­lieve in what he stands for.”

How­ever, Mot­lamelle Kapa of the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho begged to dif­fer, stat­ing that Dr Tha­bane’s ab­sence could “never have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the ABC”.

“His rea­sons for leav­ing are in the public do­main. If we were to go for elec­tions now, he would still per­form well or even gain more votes,” Dr Kapa said.

“His ab­sence does not, in the least, com­pro­mise the party, more es­pe­cially be­cause he con­tin­ues to ad­dress his party’s ral­lies from across the bor­der. So he re­mains rel­e­vant to the peo­ple.”

LCN Di­rec­tor Se­abata Mot­samai

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