ACROSS THE BORDER
Wealthy Lesotho businessman Sam Matekane heads for landslide election victory
But will he bring a ‘breath of fresh air’ into the government? Or will he just grab more government contracts?
Wealthy Lesotho businessman Sam Matekane and his brand-new Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party appear to be heading for a landslide victory in the country’s parliamentary elections. The party is on track to defy predictions that no single party would win a clear majority and that Lesotho would be saddled with yet another unstable coalition.
With 49 of 80 constituencies counted from Friday’s election, the seven-month-old RFP had won 41 and looked to be on course to win a simple majority in the 120-seat Parliament. In Lesotho’s complex electoral system, 80 seats are allocated in first-past-the-post constituency elections, and a further 40 proportional representation seats are allocated according to how many votes parties win nationally.
These 40 seats are only calculated after the 80 constituency seats have been allocated. They can upset early expectations, yet the RFP appears to have such a clear lead so far that it will very likely get at least the 61 seats needed to govern on its own.
At the 49 constituency mark, the RFP was routing the traditional parties, with the second-placed Democratic Congress managing to win only six seats and the Alliance of Democrats and Movement for Economic Change just one each. The All Basotho Convention (ABC), which heads the current governing coalition, had won none. Its failure symbolised the total disenchantment of the Basotho with the squabbling and self-serving politicians who have destabilised the country for years.
“The RFP is winning. The ABC has totally collapsed with not even a single constituency seat,” said Basildon Peta, publisher of the Lesotho Times, the country’s main newspaper. “Predictions of a close contest were wrong. People want change.” Peta forecast that the RFP was likely to surpass the 61-seat threshold to form a government on its own.
The Independent Electoral Commission has said it is likely to announce the final results on Tuesday.
RFP Secretary-General Nthati Moorosi told Daily Maverick earlier that her party had no intention of forming any coalitions and was expecting a simple majority win. “We have been getting reports from the constituencies and all of them are positive.”
Many observers share the sentiments of the electorate and believe that Matekane’s RFP, with its high proportion of quality technocrat MPs, will bring a badly needed breath of fresh air into Lesotho’s stale and fractious politics.
Lucrative government contracts
But they also caution that Matekane might also use his position to secure his own business interests. They say he made his millions — some say billions — mainly by winning lucrative government road construction contracts, many allocated by his “old friend” Pakalitha Mosisili when he was prime minister.
“He now controls a lucrative earthmoving contract at Letšeng [Diamond] Mine, worth R60-million annually,” one observer said. “Government owns 30% of the mine. His critics say he will now be prime minister, yet doing business with the very government he leads.”
The observer noted that the Democratic Congress, which would probably have won the election had the RFP not entered the contest, had promised to split the Letšeng Diamond Mine contract among many Basotho.
“Some say that’s the reason why Matekane decided to go into politics — to protect it,” he added.
Matekane had earlier told the SABC that he would hand over his business interests to others to avoid a conflict of interests.
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Meanwhile, in the national results centre in Maseru, as the RFP’s victories mounted, Moorosi threw her hands in the air and said: “I am very excited for RFP. It has been a very, very short but hectic pace from March when we launched till now.
“We are grateful for the win, we are grateful for the victory that we see. We can see that Basotho really have hope in us and we are here. We are here to serve Basotho. We can see that Basotho trust us and we are going to deliver.”
She added that the Basotho had been waiting for a leader who had no political record, “a leader who has had his own victory in businesses, who is here to serve… to rescue the situation. Everybody can see how Lesotho is performing, economically and in many other areas.”
RFP supporters also took to the streets to celebrate as though their party’s victory was already official. A large convoy made its way to the Mpilo Hotel to meet Matekane.
At the entrance to the hotel, Matekane addressed supporters in a sea of purple, green and white T-shirts and caps and insisted he would deliver on his promises of better government.
“Yes, of course I am going to deliver. Why would I not? I have already been delivering. It’s the beginning of a new journey that we have to take for the next five years, it is our commitment.”
A young voter said: “We are ready for a new government. We are sick and tired of these old people who did not work for this country. As young people, we say no.” He added that most young people had lost interest in politics. because the previous government had not worked for young people and the country.
In a recent interview with the SABC, Matekane blamed Lesotho’s problems on the succession of coalition governments which had begun in 2012, none of which lasted five years. That had presented challenges, “because the politicians, they were concentrating more on fighting than looking at the nation”.
He said he and other businesspeople had decided to go into politics to “turn this vehicle round” to prevent Lesotho from becoming “ a failed state”.
The SABC asked him about a potential conflict of interest because of his businesses. Matekane said he was working on a succession plan, identifying people who could take over his business interests so he could concentrate on politics.
The elections have generally gone smoothly, with no reports of violence and few incidents, apart from complaints by several political parties that their voters had not appeared on the voters’ roll, particularly in their own constituencies.
Lephoto Thamae, the leader of the Basotho Poverty Solutions Party, dismissed the elections as unfair.
“Because, for example, in the constituency of Qacha’s Nek, it happened that those people who had to vote for my party from Maseru here, they boarded into Quantums and then into the voting stations. When they arrived there they found that the sign of my party was not available on the ballots. They then voted for their second-option party.”
He indicated his party would be approaching the court on this issue.
The RFP’s Moorosi also complained that many RFP voters had not been on the voters’ roll even though they had registered. By the time the party resolved most of these problems on Friday afternoon, many voters had already left.
Clearly, though, this did not seem to harm the party’s chances. DM