Africa-Press – Lesotho. THE Basotho National Party (BNP) is one of the country’s oldest political parties. Under its late leader, Chief Leabua Jonathan, the BNP ruled Lesotho from independence in 1966 until it was overthrown in a military coup in 1986.
The party has seen its fortunes wane considerably since the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1993. In the last elections in 2017, the party garnered five seats, all of them via the proportional representation (PR) system.
It has however, maintained enough clout to be part of three All Basotho Convention (ABC)-led coalition governments (2012 to 2015, 2017 to 2020 and 2020 to date).
With just over two weeks before the much-anticipated general elections on 7 October, the Lesotho Times (LT)’s Special Projects Editor, Bongiwe Zihlangu, sat down with BNP leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, to discuss the party’s prospects in the upcoming elections.
Excerpts: LT: Why do you think the BNP deserves Basotho’s votes? Mofomobe: We have been written off so many times. Even before the 2012 elections, people were already saying that the BNP was dead and that it would never bounce back but we proved them wrong.
We have been part of the 2012, 2017 and 2020 coalition governments. Our stance towards our nation’s core values makes us a relevant player in Lesotho’s politics.
In 2015 and 2016 when it was not fashionable to criticise then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven parties’ coalition, the BNP was the only party that stood firm.
Again in 2020, when the then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane prorogued parliament, we went to court to challenge that decision. The resultant court verdict nullified Ntate Thabane’s decision. Parliament was then recalled and this paved the way for him to be ousted in May 2020.
The BNP also strongly opposed the National Peace and Unity Bill, 2021 (which proposed the establishment of a National Peace and Unity Commission with powers to grant high-profile criminal suspects amnesty provided they testified truthfully and confessed their crimes).
These are just some of the issues that other parties were afraid to oppose but we stepped up to the plate. LT: Back in 2019, then Foreign Affairs and International Relations minister, Lesego Makgothi, allegedly made a unilateral decision to withdraw Lesotho’s support for Western Sahara in its struggle for independence from Morocco.
The BNP was very vocal in its opposition to this move. Would you tell us why you vehemently opposed a move by Mr Makgothi, a member of the ABC – the lead party in the Thabane-led coalition that you were part of?
Mofomobe: We opposed Mr Makgothi’s decision because that was not the official Lesotho position. Since independence in 1966, we’ve been standing together with oppressed people throughout the world.
That is why, as the BNP, we support Western Sahara. Previously, we had opposed apartheid in South Africa; we also stood with the people of Palestine against Israel and opposed the United States embargo on Cuba.
Although it might come across as a new development to some, the truth of the matter is that the BNP has always been vocal about the issue of Western Sahara.
Our founding leader and former Prime Minister, Leabua Jonathan, once said that if other countries in Africa were not liberated, then Lesotho was not free either. We had to oppose the (Makgothi) move and stand together with the people of Western Sahara in their quest for self-determination.
LT: Turning to the upcoming elections, you’re on record saying the BNP will do enough at the polls to be part of any governing coalition that will be formed after the polls.
What gives you such confidence? Mofomobe: I’m a voice of reason. Many people are afraid or shy to tell the truth, but I’m always telling it like it is.
I don’t care what other people think. This country needs leaders who are not afraid. We need men who are brave and can stand for the truth. I’m one of those.
Even my colleagues in parliament always say that they want me around when significant issues are being discussed because they know that my participation will always yield desired outcomes.
As a party, our motto is ‘Basotho first’. Sadly, with some politicians, it has always been about them and their families, not Basotho and the country.
We are the only party that still places the welfare of Basotho ahead of everything else. LT: Have you identified any potential coalition partners? Mofomobe: I wouldn’t want to put the cart before the horse.
We will have to wait and see how many seats we get in parliament. If there are potential partners, we will consider them. Five party leaders have already shown interest in working with the BNP.
I cannot mention their names because we have agreed to keep our talks confidential. LT: What are the key points in the BNP manifesto? Mofomobe: We’ll strive to promote agriculture, greater local ownership of businesses and the empowerment of women.
To this end, women constitute 20 percent of our candidates for the forthcoming elections. We have done extremely well. Other parties have not even made as much effort.
We also believe in the rule of law. We will, therefore, empower the judiciary and other organs such as the police. Industrialisation is also another important aspect that we will focus on.
We used to export asparagus to the European market but that is not happening anymore. We were a preferred tourism destination but that’s not the case anymore.
We need to fix all these issues. LT: The BNP has been a junior partner in all the coalition governments that it has been part of since 2012. Did this affect your ability to influence government policies?
Mofomobe: Looking back at the 2012 coalition government, we had four cabinet ministers, three ambassadors and three district administrators. That’s quite significant.
We had Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane, Chief Joang Molapo, Dr Nthabiseng Makoae and others. In 2017 we had two ministers and two deputy ministers; that is no mean feat.
But with this current coalition, It has been a different ball game altogether. We don’t have the numbers in cabinet. It is not difficult to see why. Remember this coalition was forged out of an agreement between two political parties (ABC and the Democratic Congress-DC).
We only came on board at the invitation of the ABC (who did not need BNP support to form government as their combined seats with the DC met the 61-seat threshold required to form government).
But in the previous coalitions, they (ABC) needed our seats hence we had more posts and greater influence. LT: What have been the notable achievements of the BNP-headed Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing ministry since 2020?
Mofomobe: I launched and achieved a lot through the Youth 100 000 Business Plan Competition. During the first round, 50 youths won M100 000 each after submitting their business plans.
I then launched the second round where another 50 young people won M100 000 each. So far, we have disbursed M10 million. Winners of the third round were announced last week.
That’s another M5 million and another 150 new entrants in the small and medium-sized businesses (SMME) market. Like Ntate Mosisili used to say, only a witch can turn a blind eye to such achievements even when they are starring them in the face.
When I became Small Business minister, there was no SMME policy. I pushed hard and went to the districts for stakeholder consultations until we adopted a policy. I presented it to cabinet for further deliberations.
I’m leaving the ministry with my head high after setting up some organisations to empower women to partner with the ministry in a poultry business where they will hold 51 percent shares.
I also achieved a lot at the Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO). For many years, state-owned enterprises were not performing well because of government interference.
I’ve kept my promise to the BEDCO board of directors that I and the principal secretary would not interfere in the operations of the organisation to enable it to perform to the best of its ability without any undue influence.
They applauded me, saying it was their first time dealing with a minister who did not meddle in their affairs or hire and fire willy-nilly. That is what we call good corporate governance.
LT: How would you describe the state of the BNP? How have you been affected, if at all, by the formation of the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) and other new parties?
Mofomobe: We’d be foolish not to accept that with the emergence of new players like the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), things have changed. We’ve lost ground in some constituencies and there have been factions in our party.
But I’m happy to say that I’ve seen a lot of improvement in terms of membership especially the youth. Ours is a party with its own loyal membership- the old stock that has been with the party since the days of founding leader, Jonathan.
But many young people have started attending our rallies lately. The youth are the future. But we can also count on that old base that has always been there for the party no matter the circumstances or who the leader is.
LT: You suddenly become all animated when you talk about the loyal base of elderly supporters of the BNP. Why? Mofomobe: You should have seen the number of elderly people who came to witness the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) unveiling election candidates in my Sempe constituency in Quthing.
I have never seen people as loyal as those. One of them was 68 years old. It makes you understand how loyal people can be to something they love. They don’t care who the leader is because they know that any BNP leader is good enough.
I think the BNP will have more seats than what it has currently (five). Perhaps we will get another two or more seats over and above what we achieved in 2017.
We will do well. However, this year has been exceptionally difficult financially. Running a political party is expensive. It costs about M200 000 to hold just one rally.
This means if you hold five rallies, you will need at least M1 million. We do not have that kind of money. LT: How can you be complaining about expenses when you are one of the few parties that own properties?
Mofomobe: Our expenses are just too much. You can have properties but if the cost of maintaining them is more than what you earn, it will not be easy.
Hence you don’t see me holding one rally after another. There are external sponsors here and there but we don’t have local funders. LT: How would you rate your own electoral chances?
Mofomobe: I’m contesting in the Sempe constituency. I live in Sempe (Quthing). I was born and raised there. While I’m confident of winning, I still consider the DC a serious threat.