The speech repeated much of Sam Matekane’s rhetoric from the election campaign. (AFP)
From jets to diamonds, and now the top job in Lesotho, Sam Matekane has acquired it all. He is preparing to be the prime minister of the small kingdom in the next few weeks.
During campaigning for the national elections, millionaire Matekane’s helicopter charmed the masses. Not only were some voters enamoured, the helicopter also offered Matekane a way to get to villages that no other candidate had.
It shrunk his commutes to political rallies and made far-flung destinations in the mountainous country accessible in minutes. It was a way of travel his opponents did not have the means to use.
On Monday, the Independent Electoral Commission announced that Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), a political party Matekane founded in March this year, had won 56 seats in the national assembly – five seats short of an absolute majority.
It was a triumph last seen in 2007 when the then-ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy won 61 parliamentary seats.
In the elections held in 2012, 2015 and 2017, no political party won more than 55 seats.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Matekane announced that his six-month-old party would head a three-party coalition government.
He said the RFP had agreed to form a coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats and the Movement for Economic Change to get the 60 plus one seats required to reach a majority.
He will be Lesotho’s new prime minister – but who is Matekane?
Calm, humble and vision-oriented, with a great sense of humour are some of the ways biographers have described Matekane.
The media says he is a philanthropist, Lesotho business mogul, self-made businessperson and a diamond millionaire.
However, he is not on any recognised wealth rankings. His wealth is determined mostly by his lavish lifestyle.
This year, he got a new title – politician.
Matekane was born in Mantšonyane, Thaba-Tseka, on March 15, 1958. He is the seventh child in a family of 14 children.
He started school at Bocheletsane primary in Matšoanyane and progressed to Mabathoana High School in Maseru, where he obtained a junior certificate after three years of secondary school. Soon after obtaining his junior certificate, Matekane left school and started his business career.
At that time, according to his foundation, he lived with close family friend Timothy Nhlapho, who was a businessman, in the village of Motimposo outside Maseru. Nhlapho became his mentor.
In 1992, Matekane registered an investment holding company the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC). Its portfolio now includes road construction, real estate investment, aviation and mining companies.
MGC’s offices are in the six-storey MGC Park in Maseru, which also houses Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
Matekane told the BBC on Tuesday he did not have any contracts with the government.
“I am not working for the government. I have no contract with the government.
There is no conflict of interest in any way because I am now the head of government,” he said.
He registered Matekane Mining Investment Company in 2004. The company is subcontracted to carry out transport and haulage at the Letšeng Diamond Mine in the Mokhotlong district.
The mine is owned by Gem Diamonds Limited, which has a 70% stake. The remainder is owned by the government of Lesotho.
It was operated by De Beers from 1977 to 1982, when it was closed. It reopened in 2004 and was acquired by Gem Diamonds in late 2006 for $118.5-million.
Former deputy prime minister Monyane Moleleki, who was minister of natural resources in 2004, has publicly said he made Matekane a millionaire.
Moleleki was minister of natural resources from 1998 to November 2004, when he was appointed minister of foreign affairs. He was minister of natural resources again from 2007 to 2012.
The Alliance of Democrats, which Matekane has partnered with to form a coalition government, was founded by Moleleki in 2017. He is still the leader of the party.
Matekane ventured into the aviation business in 2009. He became very popular as the first Mosotho to own an aircraft – a commercial helicopter. MGC Aviation later acquired a private jet. Today, it owns a helicopter, a private jet and a Bombardier CRJ200.
In March 2016, the company registered an airline trading as Maluti Sky which flew between Moshoeshoe I airport in Maseru and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
In 2017, Maluti Sky announced it would terminate all operations with effect from May 1, 2017, citing a difficult operating environment.
MGC also opened the luxurious Mpilo boutique hotel in Maseru in 2015. The hotel closed shop permanently in February 2021, due to the loss of income caused by the pandemic.
Matekane was awarded the Forbes Best of Africa Entrepreneur Award by the Foreign
Investment Network, in partnership with Forbes, in August 2021.
This story is brought to you by a collaboration between the Mail & Guardian and Newsday Lesotho.