Millionaire Mosotho businessperson and philanthropist Sam Matekane has launched a new political party that threatens to shake up the country’s atrophied political scene and be a major contender in the upcoming general election in September. Matekane – reputedly Lesotho’s wealthiest man – launched his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party in Maseru on 23 March.
Matekane is entering politics during a critical juncture in Lesotho’s political history. Neither former prime minister Tom Thabane nor former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili will be contesting the September elections. The two men have dominated Basotho politics for the past 24 years and were the only people to serve as prime minister between 1998 and 2020. The two men’s rivalry was a source of major political and security instability in the country that resulted in the politicisation of the armed forces and the eventual deployment of a South African Development Community (SADC) peacekeeping force.
Mosisili retired from politics in 2018 and was replaced as the leader of the Democratic Congress (DC) by Mathibeli Mkhothu and Thabane was forced out as Prime Minister in 2020 after being implicated in the 2017 murder of his first wife. However, Thabane refused to step down as the leader of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) until 28 January 2022. The two years between Thabane’s removal as Prime Minister and his stepping down as ABC leader were marked by deep factional infighting within the ruling party. This has culminated in the ongoing showdown between the new ABC leader Nkaku Kabi and Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro. Kabi has suspended Majoro’s ABC membership and the ruling party has tried to recall the Prime Minister and even called a vote of no confidence in him in parliament. Majoro has managed to survive these recall attempts by cobbling together support from ABC MPs loyal to him and from smaller parties in the ruling coalition. As such, the ABC remains deeply divided and will likely continue to be plagued by infighting ahead of the September election.
It is in this political context that Matekane has launched his party. Although he has limited political experience his RFP party is expected to be a solid contender in the upcoming elections. This is partly due to RFP’s potential resources ‒ Matekane is considered Lesotho’s richest man having built significant wealth in the mining, construction, and aviation sectors. This positions him well to launch a widespread and modern political campaign without funding constraints. This lack of reliance on donors will not only enable him to campaign aggressively but will highlight his independence as a political figure.
There is no confirmed estimate of Matekane’s wealth, but many Lesotho media outlets consider him to be Lesotho’s first billionaire. Matekane has nurtured this reputation and mythology through his various philanthropic efforts which have included efforts to secure equipment and medication to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic and donations of uniforms to the country’s security forces. Matekane’s stature is also enhanced by the fact that he is considered a close friend of King Letsie III. The monarch is highly revered in Lesotho and Matekane’s association with Letsie will bolster his image in the eyes of potential voters.
Matekane is also politically connected and has been drawing support from among Lesotho’s disparate opposition parties. Notably, Monyane Moleleki, the leader of the country’s fourth largest party and second largest opposition party the Alliance of Democrats (AD) has already indicated a willingness to enter into a coalition with the RFP. This statement by the AD leader indicates that Lesotho’s political class already perceives Matekane as a serious electoral contender.
Lesotho has not had an outright electoral winner since 2007 and has been ruled by coalition governments ever since. These coalitions have been a frequent source of instability in the country. However, as it stands, no political party is likely to win over 50% of the seats in parliament in September. The entrance of the RFP will likely divide the electorate further. Matekane clearly has his eyes set on becoming Prime Minister. His most viable route to this will be through a coalition with smaller political parties. However, to be in a position to do this Matekane will have to stage an aggressive and expensive electoral campaign to secure a plurality of votes. Regardless of the end result, Matekane’s entrance will shake up Lesotho’s political scene and has set the stage for a hard-fought and contentious election.