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Victory is certain, says Mahao



MASERU – Professor Nqosa Mahao, the leader of the Basotho Action Party (BAP), sees tomorrow’s watershed election in simple binary terms.

It is a battle of good versus evil; a battle between the old political parties that have given birth to their “little cousins” through splits in the last 56 years and a new, dynamic formation in the form of the BAP.

It is a battle between those with ideas to take Lesotho forward and those without.

“There are only two parties in this election,” Mahao, a distinguished professor of law, says.

“It’s the rest of them that the electorate has experienced over the last 56 years and the BAP on the one hand which is coming out with a truly transformational agenda for this country,” he says.

That is a bold statement on its own. But what he does not say is that there are other new players – such as business tycoon Sam Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) – who are also contesting the election for the very first time.

It is a congested arena that will have Basotho spoilt for choice. A total of 65 political parties will be on the ballot box tomorrow.

A week from tomorrow, Lesotho will likely have a new government in place and Mahao believes that his BAP will be right in the mix as that discussion unfolds.

In an exclusive interview with thepost this week, Mahao was adamant that his BAP represents a break with Lesotho’s toxic politics that are often blamed for the country’s economic malaise.

The people have been drinking from the same poisoned pool over the last 56 years and it is now time for a break, he says.

The BAP represents a break with that toxic past and the beginning of a new era of clean politics and governance, he says.

Mahao puts his hand up, insisting that he is the best candidate for the biggest job in Lesotho – that of Prime Minister.

It is a claim that will be severely put to the test as Basotho trek to the polls tomorrow.

At the core of Lesotho’s political and economic malaise is the absence of “a leadership with a vision”, Mahao says.

He says that is why he is putting himself up for election tomorrow.

Mahao says Lesotho is currently ranked “the lowest income country in southern Africa” yet the country is endowed with huge natural resources in the form of clean water and minerals such as diamonds.

“Lesotho counts among the poorest in the region and in the world. So something is missing and that is a credible leadership with a vision,” he says.

Once elected into office, Mahao says it will not be business as usual for Lesotho. He wants to set up a “deliverable programme of action” to drag the country out of the mud.

“Everything will be done differently. We have an unprofessional public service and alarming levels of corruption. The result is a very poor mismanagement of public assets,” he says.

“So we have to fix these; that’s why we are talking of good governance and respect for the rule of law.”

Mahao says Lesotho has over the years “lost its way in terms of adhering to the centrality of law in societal interactions”.

It is for that reason that Lesotho now has the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest crime rate in the region and the worst homicide rate, he says.

‘Regimes that have been in charge over the last 56 years have deliberately undermined the rule of law by ensuring we have a very weak legal regime which is not even enforced,’ he says.

Mahao says the BAP wants to see a full restoration of the rule of law to create a better platform for direct foreign investment.

“External investors must be convinced that their investments will be safe and that if there are disputes they must be convinced that the courts of law will preside and arbitrate quickly informed by the law,” he says.

“And they must be assured that their own lives will be safe. But all these things do not exist at the present moment.”

A BAP government will move swiftly to address these concerns, Mahao says. Mahao says the BAP is alive to the frightening disparities between the haves and the have-nots in Lesotho.

That gap must be bridged if we are to have a cohesive society, he says.

“You can’t have a cohesive society when you have such a gap in our midst.”

“Now when you look at all the political parties that are contesting the election, do you see any that has a profound understanding of the structural problems that have put this country where it is today and have come up with concrete policies to address the challenges?”

Asked if he thinks he is the best candidate among the entire crop contesting the polls, Mahao was blunt.

“Who would ever doubt that? I come into politics with a track record in administration and people leadership. I have led at institutions of higher learning. Some of them were literally wild,” he says.

Mahao was at one time the executive dean in the Faculty of Law at the Mafikeng campus for the North West University in South Africa. He also had stints at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and Wits University.

He is the former vice-chancellor at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). He says he came to the NUL at a time when there were serious calls within government corridors to “shut down the university”.

“But within four years, I had transformed that institution. It is now a respectable institution with a focus on socio-economic issues,” he says.

Mahao says it is those leadership qualities that he wants to bring into politics. He however admits that he was not always a political animal and had to be dragged by individuals who felt he should have a role to play in national politics.

“The people were saying, ‘Look at what you have done for the NUL. On the other hand the country is sinking. Why don’t you come out and help in the national effort to salvage the country?”

Asked if the BAP had conducted any internal surveys to gauge their level of support, Mahao was non-committal insisting their strategy was focused on mobilising the grassroots by meeting villagers at lipitso (community gatherings).

“Our strategy has been to hold public gatherings where you sit down with people, talk to them at a community level and engage with them. They ask questions, they challenge you. That has been our strategy – to revolutionise the way we do politics by empowering the electorate.”

He says the BAP that is seen as “the new kid on the block,” is coming into an arena that is already heavily saturated.

That made the campaign extremely tough, he says. But despite the challenges Mahao says it has also been extremely gratifying “with our message being roundly accepted wherever we have been”.

“We haven’t been disappointed by the response of our people and that has been gratifying. On the basis of that we think we will do very well.”

But we also know that any credible election requires a clean voters’ register. Mahao says the current voter register is deeply flawed and could trigger serious post-election disputes.

The fault, he says, lies entirely with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which had ample time to clean up the register but spectacularly failed to do so.

He says the current IEC commissioners were inaugurated into office in 2020 when he was still Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs.

Despite clearly spelling out what needed to be done, they did not respond quickly enough, he says. The result is a messy register, the worst that Lesotho has ever had in decades, he says.

“We are going into an election with a database that may be the cause of unnecessary controversies relating to the outcome of the elections. So we are not happy with that.”

But Mahao says the crisis is not entirely of the IEC’s own making. This is an institution that is terribly underfunded by the government.

To make matters worse, the IEC then suspended “a very experienced operations director a few months before going to elections”.

“We don’t know why they did that. So, yes we are not happy. We don’t think the IEC is doing its best in terms of managing the process.”

He says they had conducted their own analysis of the voter register and what they picked was not so good.

In his own constituency, Mahao says they found people at voting stations that are not known in the community.

“Names of people that are known to be deceased (were on the register) and we brought this to the attention of the retaining officer in the constituency. But we haven’t received any feedback yet.”

“So a few days before the elections, we are likely to go to the polling booths with precisely the same mistakes that we spotted.”

Asked if he sees this as a deliberate ploy to massage the election result, Mahao was non-committal, only adding that “this is Africa, anything is possible”.

Mahao says this great country does not deserve the kind of leadership it has been getting over the last 56 years.

It is now time to turn the page by voting for the BAP.

If he is elected Prime Minister, Mahao says he will quickly turn his attention to resuscitating the agriculture sector which he says is central to Lesotho’s economy.

“Our policy thrust is very revolutionary,” he says.

“It (agriculture) is the mainstay of this economy and so it will be accorded the place it deserves. It is a pity that previous regimes have been destroying the little that remains of our land instead of growing crops, we are ‘growing’ houses over the most fertile land.”

He says despite poor governance of our natural resources, we still have a very reasonable reservoir of fertile land.

“We have an abundance of water, clean air and sun as well as the altitude. We must revolutionise our approach to agriculture. We must move away from subsistence production to large scale commercialised agriculture.”

This election has not been without its lighter moments. Thanks to Zheng Yu Shao, a Mosotho of Chinese descent, who is standing in the elections in Ha-Tsolo constituency.

Music and dance are central to Lesotho’s elections, providing relief at a time when Basotho engage in serious national discourse.

Basotho have however watched first with amusement and later with outrage as Shao wowed the crowds at his political rallies in Ha-Tsolo.

While Shao’s decision to contest the election has rattled the political establishment in Lesotho who see his entry as a threat to Lesotho’s sovereignty, some kind of “china-fication” of Lesotho politics, Mahao says they do not hold any grudge against him or any other Chinese national.

We hold no anti-Chinese sentiments against Shao or anyone else, Mahao says.

He however says Shao’s entry into Lesotho politics is a symptom of a serious malaise where Basotho have slowly given up control of their own economy and country to foreign interests.

“They (the Chinese) have taken over the retail trade. If you look at any of the hardwares, it was only a matter of time before they would come into the political arena. The problem is with those who manage the state.”

“Because of corruption we have allowed people who come in here on a clear mission to invest in large scale industrial development to encroach onto the terrain of small businesses and they have captured that now. They also know that the political system is weak and they are now invading that space as well.”

Mahao insists that this is “not about Shao but how we got here”.

“As for Shao, if he impresses the electorate at Ha-Tsolo to vote for him, so be it. We hold no anti-Chinese sentiments against him.”

BOX: Illustrate Elections

80 seats up for grabs
40 seats to be distributed through Proportional Representation system
Explain how this model works

Abel Chapatarongo


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