News Analysis

FIRST LADY’S RISE TO INFAMY

By Marafaele Mohloboli 

First Published by the Sowetan Live

The wife of Lesotho prime minister Tom Thabane, who is wanted in connection with murder, has been a controversial figure in the mountain kingdom for a while now.

Maesaiah Thabane’s rise to power as the first lady of Lesotho in 2017 was nothing short of a miracle. She controversially married Thabane, who was still married to his estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane, just in time before Thabane’s inauguration.

Lipolelo, 58, was shot dead on June 14 2017, two days before Thabane’s inauguration. Lipolelo had refused to divorce her husband and took the fight to court where she won the battle for her privileges as the first lady. Maesaiah is now wanted by Lesotho police to answer questions related to the murder of Lipolelo.

Police suspect Maesaiah was behind Lipolelo’s killing and asked her to present herself for questioning on January 10. When she failed to do so, a warrant of her arrest was sought but she had gone into hiding.

Maesaiah, who was born Liabiloe Ramoholi, gained notoriety after Thabane’s ascendency to power, apparently calling the shots as to who should be appointed to ministerial roles and who should be fired. In the past two-and-half years of Thabane’s administration, Maesaiah has been accused of causing chaos in the government by allegedly meddling in the affairs of the state.

She has also been accused of seeking to control ministers, especially when it comes to the awarding of tenders.

She allegedly ordered the removal of former health minister Nyapane Kaya after he refused to unlawfully award a multimillion-rand catering and laundry tender to her preferred candidates. In 2018 Maesaiah allegedly assaulted a foreign doctor on call at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital for delaying to attend to a patient who had been brought in by her bodyguards, who had hit him in a road accident.

In one of her latest gaffes last year, Maesaiah threatened to assault the minister of gender, youth, sports and recreation Dr Mahali Phamotse for having spoken to Thabane without her consent. This after Phamotse had asked Thabane, according to protocol, to greet the players before a soccer match kicked off.

She started a trust fund to help the needy and destitute in Lesotho but this fund was also mired in controversy.

The trust fund has been perceived by many as a money-laundering scheme.

In May 2018, one of her directors at the trust fund, Makarabo Mojakhomo, fled the country after she had been taken in for questioning by police for allegedly defrauding the organisation of R200,000.

Mojakhomo disappeared from police custody under unclear circumstances and later reappeared in SA where she remains holed up in fear for her life. Just yesterday, one of her procurement officers, Ntolo Shoaepane-Mpeete, was laid to rest after she was killed under unclear circumstances. Shoaepane-Mpeete disappeared and her body was found at a mortuary in Boksburg.

It is still not clear what could have happened to Shoaepane- Mpeete but the deceased is said to have leaked the WhatsApp video of Maesaiah and Thabane singing heartily in their bedroom clad in their morning gowns. The Ha re na matla video went viral on social media recently.

Thabane, 80, announced on Friday that he would be stepping down as prime minister as police continue the search for Maesaiah, whose whereabouts are not known. NW

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