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Edition #3 6
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Review of Lesotho politics
Lesothoís political scene has for a long time been dominated by a personality cult and not by issues. And the past four elections since before the countryís independence in 1965, says Dr Khabele Matlosa, a Senior Lecturer and Head of Political Administration Science at the National University of Lesotho, have been driven by this political culture.
Writing in an article regarding his forecast on the coming May 23 general elections, Dr Matlosa says the entrenched political culture of settling political scores by political parties undermines their potential to address real national issues as personalities take centre stage during and after elections.
Assessment of the previous election
ìGiven the changed political landscape,î he explains, ìthe 1998 election may not be driven by the culture of personality cult and the settling of political scores as such. The likely outcomes of the 1998 election are very difficult to predict given the changed balance of forces both in government and among the non-state political actors.
ì...Prior to attaining its political independence on October 4, 1966, Lesotho held a pre-independence national election in 1965. This was meant to put in place a political party which would usher the country into its new political dispensation; the era of self-rule that had begun to sweep through the entire African continent at the time. As the principal protagonists began to flex their muscles for that important contest, neither themselves nor independent political observers could predict with certainty which political party would become the first government after independence,î explains Dr Matlosa.
Dr Matlosa says most analysts believed, in the pre-independence campaigns, that the radical and populist Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) would strike a comfortable victory. Others reckoned that the conservative Basotho National Party (BNP) might surprise its rivals. The royalist Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) was not considered a critical force. However, what happened was a surprise victory by the BNP. This was a doubtful victory from the start as the BNP got 42% while BCP got 40%, but the first-past-the post electoral system that Lesotho inherited from the British confirmed the BNP as the single ruling party.
When the second round of elections came in 1970, tempers ran high as the BCP vowed that it would settle its unfinished business with the BNP with their marginal win in 1965. And, despite the BNPís access to state resources, the BCP won this contest. However, the BNP annulled the electoral process and continued its rule which from then on became firmly premised on the Machiavellian praetorianism which marked most one-party states on the African continent.
Denied an opportunity to continue their rule through the ballot, BNP rule was henceforth to be anchored on the bullet. The all-pervasive political culture of settling political scores by politicians rather than by addressing key national concerns, began to deepen during this period.
Besides the mock election that the BNP organised in 1985, under pressure from the donor community, Lesotho has not gone through an electoral process to determine a democratically institutionalised form of government.
Only in 1993, after eight years of military rule by the army which toppled BNP government in January 1996, did the Basotho electorate regain their political right to choose their rulers. And as could be predicted, the BCP had a stunning landslide victory in the polls and effectively denied all other protagonists representation in parliament. It won 75% of the total votes as against the BNPís poor showing of about 23%.
Although the tables had been turned upside down, Lesothoís historical tradition of one-party rule continued unabated and, to everyoneís relief, governance would be based on the dictate of the ballot rather than the absolutism of the bullet. Be that as it may, the old tradition of settling political scores continued as the ruling party set about mounting a political patronage programme which decidedly marginalised supporters of the opposition parties. As the English aphorism goes, ìold habits die hardî.This also led to the split of the ruling party.
Making sense of the current political jigsaw
One of the vexing problems facing Lesothoís fledgling democracy, according to Dr Matlosa, was the split of the ruling party, BCP, into two factions as Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle formed a new party within the government, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
The internal rift within the BCP, which was visible before 1993 elections, assumed greater proportions after the party won the election and formed a one party government. This, of course, was to be expected, for it is the nature of one party regimes that opposition tends to emerge from within their midst.
This internal feuding within the BCP was based on various factors which include (a) the tug-of-war over leadership positions; (b) squabbles over the succession to the leadership of the party and (c) struggle over various government positions such as cabinet portfolios, ambassadorial postings and other civil service jobs. And as the two factions failed to resolve their differences through internal party mechanisms, court litigations and counter litigations became the order of the day.
Development took a melodramatic turn when, in March 1997, the faction which had more seats in the executive committee of the party attempted to remove Dr Mokhehle as the leader of the party. Dr Mokhehle lodged a law suit against the decision but the court ruling gave both parties a chance to clean their own house instead of ruling in favour of any faction.
At the end of March 1997, Prime Minister Mokhehle made a surprise cabinet reshuffle dismissing all ministers belonging to the other faction including its leader, Molapo Qhobela. The prime minister also organised a public rally whereby he implored a crowd of BCP supporters to turn their backs on the sacked ministers and their faction.
Although during the same rally the prime minister announced his desire to retire from active politics, he later made a surprise political volte face in June when he formed LCD. Another element of surprise was that the prime minister announced in parliament that his new party will form the government while the party that won the 1993 election (BCP), which catapulted him to the premiership of the country, would be the official opposition in parliament.
Justifying his latest move and also making a swipe at the rival faction, Dr Mokhehle said: ìI, and those who support me, have tried to restore normality in the affairs of the party, but it is now clear to us that these gentlemen, in fact, stand to benefit from this confusion; their strategy seems to be to drag the issue so that, come election time, they should be the ones in control, even if this is against the wishes of the majority in the party.î
The jubilation of the prime minister and his faction in the formation of LCD was premised on two grounds. First, that the LCD enjoys majority support of 40 members in parliament against 22 supporters of the remaining BCP faction, something which essentially allowed him to turn his party into the ruling party. Secondly, although there is no clause in the national constitution which allows the prime minister to engage in that political fraud, there is no constitutional provision that expressly debars him from doing what he did.
These two grounds bitterly angered Mokhehleís opponents, especially his former BCP. Enraged by Mokhehleís unexpected political somersault, which they term a coup díetat, the BCP refused to assume the role of an opposition party in parliament and have recommended the following (a) that Mokhehle should resign from office as prime minister; (b) that all forces committed to democracy should advise King Letsie III to call upon Mokhehle to resign; and (c) that the king should summon the state council (his advisory body) so that the right to rule is restored to BCP which won the 1993 national election.
The royalist MFP and the conservative BNP agreed with the BCP that the Mokhehleís move is tantamount to a coup, but unlike the BCP, the BNP recommended that the king should dissolve the LCD government and form a government of national unity comprising all parties to prepare for the national election. The stark reality is that Mokhehleís move does not amount to a constitutional crisis, as the opposition parties claim, that needs intervention by the court of law, but rather a political crisis that requires a political solution through an electoral process. Only the electorate can either formalise the LCD rule or punish that party for political fraud during the 1998 elections.
Only Basotho themselves can solve this problem effectively, not some benevolent external forces. It is rather surprising that some political parties have harboured the illusion that the presidents of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe can fully resolve Lesothoís domestic political crisis. (The three SADC top leaders intervened to restore the BCP government in 1994 after it was dissolved by the King).
Dr Matlosa argues that while external forces cannot be undermined, domestic efforts are more important in redressing Lesothoís perennial political problems; and one of these domestic efforts is the forthcoming May 23 national election.
The May 23 elections and its possible outcome
Dr Matlosa predicts that the 1998 election may turn out to be a very interesting contest compared to previous elections of 1993. He observes that the coming elections are likely to be driven more by real issues (i.e policies) than by personalities (i.e personality cult).
The electorate this time, observes Dr Matlosa, will no longer focus their attention at correcting the historical wrongs, which was what the 1993 election was all about. The electorate have already tasted the one-party rule by both the BNP and the BCP. This time there will be many contestants, both parties and independent candidates.
Dr Matlosa says there are three likely outcomes of the coming election. First, the electorate may turn its back against the LCD in whose eyes this party has unfairly grabbed state power from the BCP which won the election in 1993; and the electorate may want to return the BCP to power.
Second, the electorate may want to support the LCD and formally confirm it as the ruling party. In case of the first and second scenarios, Lesotho will still be under one-party rule, which, as experience elsewhere has shown, does not usually augur well for deepening democratic culture and practice.
Thirdly, the electoral outcome may bring about a coalition government involving the BCP, LCD and other political parties. Although coalition governments can also be problematic, the third scenario may provide Lesotho with a golden opportunity to evolve a new political formula to stamp out political polarisation and apathy among the electorate; a prerequisite for national unity and long-lasting reconciliation.
1.Health risky Jewellery firm closes down
The government of Lesotho has ordered Tiger Eye Incorporation, a jewellery manufacturing firm, to close down after 47 workers were infected with silicosis disease.
The Chinese firm which was trading under the name, Chung-Hwang, was opened in Maseru the capital of Lesotho in 1988 and it employed 97 Basotho workers, mainly women.
Due to poor routine checks by industrial inspectors, the disease, which is reported to be incurable if not treated at an incubation period, was only discovered and diagnosed by accident when doctors at the government owned hospital of Queen Elizabeth II treated two workers who reported for what they thought was a cough and cold.
The hospital reported the case to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Labour and Employment which in turn warned the firm to immediately apply health and safety measures such as installing wind pipes to exhale the infected dust from the factory. All workers were taken for a medical test under the government instruction and the silicosis was diagnosed in 28 of them.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Notshi Molopo, says even though doctors had advised the firm should be closed down immediately, the government allowed Chung-Hwang to continue operating on condition that health precautions are fully adhered to.
However, when the examination was done at the factory in January this year, it was discovered that Chung-Hwang had not applied the suggested health and safety precautions on the grounds that they were extremely expensive. And the number of infected workers had increased from 28 to 47. The government then closed the firm immediately. Infected workers did not receive compensation and one of the infected workers, Tselane Motaung, said negotiations were underway with the employers for these compensation benefits.
2. Voters demand constitutional powers
As voter education by NGOs and the media show its effect among the voters who are becoming more and more aware of their voting rights, they are now demanding constitutional powers over candidates.
Had voters had constitutional powers over their candidates, according to a social worker, Moseli Mafa, a majority of the members of parliament would have lost their seats long before the end of five years for failing to deliver.
Mafa says the kind of democracy which gives more power and liberty to the candidates than the electorate is beginning to worry voters, because most MPs, apart from failing to deliver, have never paid a single visit to their constituencies.
An NGO officer involved in voter education in the rural areas, Belina Molopo, says most voters complain that they have never seen their candidates since they cast their votes five years ago - in 1993.
ìThis is very unfair to the voters. The MP has all the constitutional liberty to seat in parliament... a full salary ... even if he does not say a word during the debate ... and the constitution does not allow the poor voters to replace him or her before the end of five year term,î she argues.
Belina told Lesotho On Line that even though she could not reveal names, the exact number of MPs who failed to fulfil election promises or pay a visit to their constituencies amouns to 15 out of the present 65 Lesotho House of Assembly members.
A coordinator for the Justice and Peace Commission of the NGOs in the mountain districts, Makalo Lekunutu, says he is afraid that despite efforts by NGOs in fighting apathy, a lack of solution to this candidates problem may still discourage voters from going to the polls on May 23, 1998.
Lekunutu says there should be an amendment in the constitution that should reads: ìA candidate shall lose his/her authority of representing a constituency anytime voters make a vote of no confidence through a signed petition to the speaker of parliament. A petition must bear signatures of not less than 60 percent of the total votes he/she received during election.î
At the moment, the constitution does not provide for removal of an MP except for a medically proven mental or physical disability, voluntary resignation, death or through general election after five years.
But a political scientist and constitutional law expert, Lipholo Mokuoane, says there should be no change in the constitution since it puts the onus of responsibility to the voters. ìVoters must be careful and think before they take any action. They should not just go by the stream or follow beautiful party colours,î he says adding that the system is very important as it creates responsible voters in the long run.
3. Trade union takes firm to court
Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (LECAWU) is taking Basotho Jeans (CGM) to court for firing workers on February 12 following a violent strike. LECAWUís secretary general, Billy Macaefa, says it is unconstitutional for the employer to lock out strikers and then fire them from work when they demand their rights.
Three thousand workers of CGM went on strike on February 12 demanding salary increases and improved working conditions. When they reached a deadlock they went on the rampage destroying the companyís property and burning stock in the process.
Order was restored after police intervention and the employer, Krish Moodley, locked out the strikers and declared that they were all fired but then screened those he thought worth re-employing. Moodley recruited 1 600 new employees among whom 300 were re-employed from the 3000 fired ones.
Macaefa told Lesotho On Line that the trade union is filing a law suit after CGM lost a case in which it demanded the court pass a ruling ordering the removal of the purportedly fired strikers from the factory vicinity. The fired strikers assemble at the gates of the factory everyday during working hours, barring new employees from resuming their work.
Four of the striking workers are already facing criminal charges of assault and intimidation for beating some of the new employees, according to the police. They have been released on bail of M250 (US$50 ) each. Macaefa says the union will request the court to order CGM to withdraw its declaration and continue to pay all the workers their full salaries.
At least one worker was shot dead while 45 were seriously injured when the police intervened to disperse the strike on February 12.
4. Prison notice ban miniskirts and pants
A public notice at the Maseru Central Prison stated that no female visitors wearing see-through clothing, miniskirts or pants would be allowed to see the inmates.
Women who came across the notice and the inmates themselves complained about the notice saying it interfered with their right of well being and freedom of choice.
In a letter written to one of the local newspapers, Mopheme, the inmates said they were shocked and dismayed by the notice intended to restrict their female visitors. ìWe take this as an interference with our families by the constables (prison warders). We tried to question this decision and we were told it was made by the director of prisons. We are now not sure whether because we are prisoners it also implies that our wives are prisoners. This decision is bad because we allowed our wives to wear as they like... so who are they to tell them how to wear?î
Asked about this notice, the director of prisons, Major General Tseliso Khalieli, denied knowledge of it. He said the notice might have been posted at the main entrance ìby a mad constableî. He said: ìHow can I determine how their (prisoners) wives should dress up when I cannot buy them dresses? ìIt is their husbands who can advise them on what to wear as they are the ones who buy them clothing. ..we are not concerned with people from outside. Our responsibility is on the inmates.î
Human rights lawyer and counsel for some of the prisoners, Advocate Hae Phoofolo, labelled the ban as ìnonsenseî saying the constables cannot enforce upon people the laws which do not exist. He said if the constables feel lustful by seeing miniskirts and pants, that was not the way to deal with their greediness.
The principal secretary for law and justice, Ramaliehe Kali, said no law prohibits suchattire and said the restriction was abnormal and should be removed forthwith. The notice was later removed.
5. Lesotho produces second champion amateur boxer
An 18 year-old, Mosoletsa ìFire the Wireî Tsie, has emerged an amateur boxing champion in the Zone VI boxing tournament by beating all in the welter weight boat.
Fire the Wire is now a gold medalist for Lesotho who is going to represent the whole Zone VI at the All Africa Boxing Champions to be held in Algeria from May 7 to 17 this year. The Zone VI countries are the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) states except Angola, Tanzania and the newly joined Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Mauritius.
Fire the Wireís trainer, Takatso Ramakhula, said he had no doubt the young man would make it to the World Boxing Tournament to be held in Beijing China in June. Fire the Wire scooped the Gold Medal and became the 1998 champion by knocking out the 1997 champion, Thebe Setlalekhomo of Botswana. The Gold Medal brings to eleven all the medals he has won in international fights. In 23 local fights he has lost only two.
Fire the Wire succeeds the first successful Lesotho boxer, Koloba Sehloho, who is now the only Lesotho professional fighting at a professional level in South Africa. Born on January 20 1980, Fire the Wire started boxing at the age of nine. He was born at Ha Tsíosane in the eastern suburbs of Maseru.
6. Music group organise joined election campaign
For the first time in the political history of Lesotho, rival political party leaders addressed thousands of music lovers at a concert.
Harambee (a Siswahili word meaning 'lets move together') Music Promotions organised a big concert on March 28 with more than ten local and South African music groups with the aim of boosting political interest among the youth.
The Director of Harambee Promotions, Masitise Seleso, said the occasion was an attempt by to play a role in voter education and encourage Basotho youth to take keen interest in their own matters, especially politics which decide their future.
All Lesothoís political parties and independent candidates who have registered for the coming election on May 23, were invited to the festival to address the music lovers and table their election manifestos. The gathering cheered and jeered as political leaders alternated with the music in addressing them and appealing for their votes.The political leaders shook hands with each other and joined the crowd to laugh and clap hands after each one of them made a statement.
ìWe have seen this in the developed countries like America where political leaders are not enemies and tend to address gatherings together. This was attempted by the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, but it was only for its candidates,î said Seleso.
Most youth interviewed by Lesotho On Line said they enjoyed the occasion and wish it could be repeated every time there is election.
7. Prime Minister back from hospital
Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle (76) returned to Lesotho on March 26 after spending seven weeks at a hospital in South Africa. The government public announcement over the state radio said the premier had recuperated and was now due to resume his official work.
On his arrival at Moshoeshoe I International Airport on a chattered jet, cabinet ministers, members of the diplomatic corps, his party supporters and government high ranking officers gathered to welcome him home.
The prime minister usually shakes the hands of people who come to bid him good bye or welcome him and he normally waves at his chanting party supporters, but this time he did neither. Instead of walking into the dignitaries reception (board room) at the airport, his car was driven very close to the door of the plane with its doors wide open. He came down with his two bodyguards holding his arms.
Asked why the prime minister did not show better health and greet his well-wishers, his political advisor, Tom Thabane, said the premier was ìonly tired, suffering from the plane ride.î
8. Freeing the airwaves at last
The Principal Secretary for Information and Broadcasting, Mpine Tente, has announced the governmentís intention to allow establishment of private radio and television stations.
Tente said there were so far ten applications, some of which had been on her desk since 1993, seeking permission to establish eight private radio stations and two television stations.
What caused the government to delay to respond, she explained, was the fact that there is no law regarding licensing of broadcasting in the country. She said it was the hope of the government that by now the media law would have been enacted but unfortunately things did not go to plan.
ìThe cabinet appreciates the importance of private media and has therefore decided it will not be correct to delay process on the grounds of the law,î Tente said. She said only guidelines requiring applicants to adhere to the countryís laws and morals have been made by her ministry for those who want to start their establishments as soon as possible.
In conjunction with the NGO for the private and independent media, the Media Institute of Lesotho (MILES), the government has put in place a media policy which encourages independent, free and pluralistic media in Lesotho. The media policy also recommends establishment of voluntary and independent bodies as watchdog for the media such as the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) for the electronic media and the Press Council for the print media.
Tente said the government was just waiting to table the Media Bill in parliament, which has been drafted on the basis of the media policy. She also said even though people are allowed to establish their own media, they will be required to reapply after the media law has been enacted and the IBA established.
The law will possibly be enacted after May 23 national elections by the new parliament since the present parliament was dissolved on February 27 in preparation for elections.
From: AfricaNN@inform-bbs.dk (Africa_news Network) Date: Mon, 06 Apr 1998 10:21:28 +0200 Subject: LESOTHO NEWS ONLINE #3 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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