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No hard feelings: Sekhamane

FORMER Government Secretary and founding member of the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Tlohang Sekhamane, was last month elected Speaker of the National Assembly. He succeeded Sephiri Motanyane who was speaker of the previous 10th Parliament.

His election was a sweet moment for the vastly experienced technocrat and former deputy secretary general of the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) party. It marked his resurrection after he had seemingly been consigned to the political dustbin after losing the DC leadership contest to former Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu back in January 2019. When new Prime Minister Sam Matekane formed his RFP in March this year, Mr Sekhamane was one of its founding members.

In this interview with the Lesotho Times (LT)’s Editor, Herbert Moyo, and Special Projects Editor, Bongiwe Zihlangu, Mr Sekhamane speaks candidly for the first time about his departure from the DC and what he expects to accomplish in his new role as speaker.


LT: You have a well-documented in history in Lesotho’s politics as Mokhotlong legislator, a cabinet minister and high-ranking member of the Democratic Congress (DC). You’ve also occupied the highest post in the civil service as Government Secretary. Now that you are Speaker of the National Assembly, do you think the experience will come in handy in your new job?

Sekhamane: I expect to benefit from a lot of my own experiences in my current office. For one, I was an MP in a fairly powerful and active parliament. Also, when I was principal secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training, I did a lot of preparatory work for my minister, who at the time was the Honourable, Archibald Lesao Lehohla. I used to do a lot of work preparing bills for parliament and frequently there would be many questions directed to him as minister.

So, I would go to parliament to help respond to those questions directed at the ministry. After that, I was government secretary. When you are government secretary, you are in charge of all principal secretaries and the Clerk of the National Assembly is also under your command. The Speaker of Parliament would call me to his office whenever he noted shortcomings of principal secretaries in their duties to assist their ministers to respond to questions as well as the crafting of bills to be presented to parliament. Even when I became Minister of Foreign Affairs and later, finance, I sponsored bills and answered questions from legislators directed at my ministries. So, I would say that with my latest appointment as speaker, this is a homecoming. I’m back home with some experience and knowledge which, I believe will help me do my new job effectively.

LT: You were elected speaker on an RFP ticket. Before that, you had been a longstanding member of the DC, a founder-member in fact. You even contested the January 2019 election to replace founding leader, Pakalitha Mosisili who had stepped down. Please take us back to that period and explain what was going on behind the scenes away from the media gaze?

Sekhamane: I didn’t just enter the (DC) leadership contest from nowhere. I had a lot of experience in administrative and leadership roles. As I’ve pointed out already, I had served in various capacities, as an MP, as a principal secretary, government secretary and cabinet minister.

All these were influential posts and I had commanded a lot of respect. I had also been deputy-secretary general of the DC, working under Ntate (Semano) Sekatle (who was then secretary general).

Ntate Sekatle was well aware of my capabilities and drive. He entrusted the whole office and administrative work to me – from preparing speeches for the (then DC) leader and Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili). I learnt a lot under Ntate Sekatle as his deputy and I was quite enthused. I wanted to do things. I had grown in the party and many people would refer documents to me vis-à-vis the interpretation of the party constitution and policy direction among other things.

I was entrusted with all those responsibilities and my secretary-general would let me have the reins, telling me to apply myself freely as I had energy and knowledge.

It was from all this work and standing in the party that I gained the stature, dignity and reputation that would allow me to claim that I could lead the party when Ntate Mosisili resolved to relinquish the reins.

There was no pretence. I think that myself, the two Sekatles (Semano and his wife, Pontšo), (former Finance minister) Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla and perhaps, Mme Ntlhoi Motsamai, who had been Speaker of the National Assembly several times, were the most senior cadres of the DC. I think that Ntate Mokhothu would not have qualified to be placed in that category.

But at that point in time (when Mosisili had resolved to retire), he (Mokhothu) was already deputy-leader for other reasons.

For the fact that he was deputy leader, I would therefore say he qualified to contest the post of party leader. It was a very exciting time.

Ntate Mosisili had been with us from the foundation of the party in 2012 and a good seven years later, we were looking for new blood. We needed a new leader who would change policies and take the party to another level. I was eager to contest because I felt that I was equal to the task. But as you well know, I lost to Ntate Mokhothu who became leader of the party.

LT: What did you make of your loss? What was it like for you in the party afterwards?

Sekhamane: After losing to Ntate Mokhothu, I publicly declared that I had lost. I went up to him (Mokhothu), shook his hand and wished him well. I said that I had lost fairly, and I would accept Ntate Mokhothu as my new leader. I went up to him on the day of the election and I said to him, ‘Man this is not an easy job and I wish you Godspeed’. I was asked by many including the media if I was going to leave and form my own party. But I told them I had no reason to do that because we had a good party in the DC. I had accepted my defeat. I remained committed to serving the party, using my vast knowledge and experience to further its cause.

LT: But still, the dust refused to settle, right?

Sekhamane: I think the problem was that a person of my stature, knowledge, and expertise in the party, was phased out completely. I was not given any assignments whatsoever. So, I think the people perceived then, that the new party leadership had no use for me. Which would probably then mean that they were not comfortable with me.

I was not given any tasks although I had a lot to offer to the party. When people saw others participating in different committees, preparing reports and all, they felt that there was a rift (with Mokhothu). Those people were not my followers but sympathisers who had wanted to elect me as leader. I told them to back off and let things be because I lost fair and square. But the spectre of a prominent figure just idling in the party created the impression that there was tension (with Mokhothu).

LT: You say you were not consulted, and you were just idling in the party. Upon realising that you were not being approached by the DC, were you at any time proactive enough to approach Ntate Mokhothu and offer your services to the party? If so, what was the response?

Sekhamane: I wouldn’t say that I ever went to my (then) leader to declare my availability, but I behaved in a manner which showed that I was ready and willing to help. My actions showed that I was available. I sent messages of advice, sometimes to my leader and sometimes to members of the national executive committee (NEC). I gave advice on which direction to take whenever certain situations presented themselves. But there was never any form of acknowledgement that Ntate Sekhamane has come up with this and that. There was only that quiet but warm approach whenever things had to do with me.

LT: While you concede that you lost fair and square, there was widespread talk within the party that at the time, Mr Mosisili who was then leader, had already anointed Mr Mokhothu as his preferred successor and not you. The argument was that by the time you entered the contest, the scales had already been tilted against you. Was that how you also felt at the time? Was that how you also viewed things at the time?

Sekhamane: Yes. Exactly. I was not able to explain certain happenings within the party at the time. The utterances of my own leader (Mosisili) at rallies at the time were clearly disposed against me in a manner that I have never really understood. I am not a man to beat about the bush. There clearly had come a point where our leader had decided who he wanted to succeed him. What I’m saying is that up to today I’m not able to explain why. I’m not able to explain what I had done wrong or this weakness that was perceived about me. Nobody has had the courtesy, the mercy to explain to me, to come to me and say, ‘things changed because you did this, or you were not able to do this’.

But certainly, I will not sit here and say it was not obvious. For me, it was very obvious what our leader wanted as the outcome of the election.

LT: But you still went in there and contested the election all the same?

Sekhamane: Yes, I went in there but let me explain why. One, because he (Mosisili) had not told me anything. I went to him and said there are many people who came to me and suggested that when you step down, I should step in. I have come to tell you myself so that you don’t hear it from anyone else. Secondly, I have come to ask you not to bend left or right (in favour of anyone), just wait for the DC to give you a new leader and you give that person the baton of leadership. And he said to me, ‘You’ve done the right thing. I was afraid that you were going to ask me to support you. But you are right to say I should just fold my hands and give the baton to whoever the DC chooses’.

So, I would have expected that if something had gone wrong afterwards, he should have said to me, ‘Motlokoa, now you see what you have done. Maybe you should back down and allow this guy (Mokhothu) to take over’. But that didn’t happen and for that reason, I went ahead and contested the leadership so that the DC would never come to me and say, ‘we had no choice (but elect Mokhothu) because you backed out’. Therefore, they can never say that because I contested on that day to give them a democratic choice.

LT: If things are as you say that you accepted your defeat, then why did you leave the DC?

Sekhamane: If I thought the DC would be capable in the future to launch this country on a new path of economic growth, I would have never left. And that decision to leave was not made at once, it came in stages. I eventually came to a point where I believed that truly the DC is not able to launch this country on a new path to economic growth. I believed that the economy of this country would continue to plummet. That is when I decided to leave the DC.

Other things happened and these accelerated my departure. One of these things was when the DC failed to hold an elective conference. In the DC, you elect a full national executive committee (NEC). The leader serves for six years, the NEC for three years. When a new committee was supposed to be elected, I wasn’t interested in being the leader anymore, but I was interested in upholding the party constitution. I was interested in us appearing to be a party that upheld democracy and its own rules and regulations. But a decision not to hold the NEC elections in 2021 was made in ways that I felt were unconstitutional and illegal. I thought this was very wrong and I thought this would be repeated at any time in the future. So, I got disillusioned; I felt I don’t belong here and I’m powerless to do anything to correct these wrongs that are looming larger and larger in my party.

LT: Why did you join the RFP and not any of the established parties?

Sekhamane: It so happened that I was approached by a man (RFP leader and new Prime Minister Matekane) that I trusted very much. I listened to him, and I thought, ‘now you are talking, I think we can go forward from here’. I was approached with a lot of dignity, in a manner that I wouldn’t have expected. So, that is how I left the DC.

LT: You say the DC didn’t have a plan to turn this country’s economic fortunes around. But in their manifesto and campaign rallies, they detailed plans to support the development of commercial agriculture, increase locals’ participation in the mining as well as wool and mohair sectors, job creation as well as free secondary education among other things. Was this not enough for you? What else did you want from them?

Sekhamane:  I wouldn’t want to be drawn into a debate about the appropriateness or astuteness of the DC as a party. The DC is my past. Even in my party, I’m not an active participant in party politics because of my position as Speaker of the National Assembly. But all I can say is that from where I stood at the time, the DC had been in existence since 2012. Now we are talking 10 years later in 2022. I had been a member of the DC and I know the stories, tales and everything that was happening in the DC because I was a member of the party in the leadership. So, why did we call ourselves the Democratic Congress and not the Economic Congress? We wanted democracy but I was already looking for economic growth and development. Lesotho is one of the most democratic countries in the world, but it is one of the poorest in the world too. So, I thought once we had delivered democracy, we had no business continuing to want that. We had every reason to fight for economic development and wealth creation.

LT: Some people believe that you still hold a grudge against DC and now that you are Speaker of the National Assembly, you will flex your power, exact revenge, put the DC and its leadership ‘in its place’ in parliament? Is there any love lost with Mr Mokhothu? 

Sekhamane: Well, let me give you a bit of background. Every year since the DC elective conference in 2019, except for this year because I was very busy, I would send messages of congratulations and birthday wishes to my leader (Mokhothu). That’s who I am. The fact that someone else won (the DC leadership contest) and I was defeated, is our reality. It is the reality of this country. So, it wouldn’t be a smart thing to be narrow and myopic because I was defeated at the time. I contested and lost. But I still give overtures of respect and humanity in keeping with who I am.

We met on the day of the election of the Speaker and we shook hands, looking each other in the eye. I can see that we are still friends. And that’s who I am to him.

I intend very, very strongly, to drive parliament in the most useful manner to ensure that it delivers results for Basotho. The welfare of the nation is what matters to me most. Human beings may have feelings, but their little feelings cannot be used to hold a nation to ransom. People trust me to do better, hence they elected me. And they know I will do better. I won’t have qualms and hold grudges. People like you and me should rise above that, focus on the objectives of the nation. In this interview alone, I have mentioned economic growth more than seven times. Parliament must make laws and play its oversight role to stop the abuse of public funds.