THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) through its outgoing Chairperson of Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Angolan President Joao Lourenco, appointed Ambassador Matias Bertino Matondo as both the Chairperson of the SADC Oversight Committee and SADC Preventative Mission to Lesotho (SAMPIL) last year.
Dr Matondo’s tenure ended last month when Zambia was appointed the new chair of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, giving Zambian president Edgar Lungu the powers to appoint new chairpersons for both the Oversight Committee and SAMPIL.
In this exclusive exit interview with the Lesotho Times’ (LT) senior reporter Pascalinah Kabi, Dr Matondo talks about the challenges he encountered during his stay in Lesotho and the implications of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)’s latest decision to pull out of reforms process.
LT: When exactly are you leaving, who is replacing you and what awaits you in Angola?
Dr Matondo: I am leaving very soon actually. As you may be informed I have been both the chairperson of the Oversight Committee and Head of SAMPIL so I am going to be replaced by two prominent gentlemen from Zambia.
Zambia has taken over the leadership of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security co-operation and therefore it is their right to appoint the head of the Oversight Committee and SAMPIL.
A Retired Chief Justice Mathew Ngulube is going to take over as Oversight Committee Chairperson and the handing over ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday (yesterday). Rtd Brigadier Timothy Kazembe will take over as Head of SAMPIL and we are doing the handover on Thursday (today). So, as of next week, both the Oversight and SAMPIL will be headed by the two Zambian gentlemen. This is just part of the process. Before I came here, I was advisor to the President of Angola, João Lourenço and I am going back in that capacity.
LT: What is your advice to your successors?
Dr Matondo: This is an internal issue. We will meet with them, they are our brothers and colleagues from SADC and we will have our internal arrangement in terms of advice. I however, have advice for Basotho.
Basotho should give peace a chance. They should not waste what has been achieved on the ground and should not take the concessions from both the government and the opposition for granted. We have done a lot. The simple fact that people were sitting in the National Leaders Forum (NLF) talking openly with everybody on board speaks volumes. Let me applaud the government and the opposition in parliament for taking great strides and conceding on a number of instances to ensure that everybody was on board, that should be upheld and applauded.
The government was magnanimous in terms of concessions, so was the opposition in terms of LCD, DC and others. They all gave some concessions for the sake of peace in the country. Everybody participated and that is really the spirit that they should continue to uphold. They should not lose that and that spirit straggles also down on the NDPC. We have been telling them “please use the NDPC as a mechanism for ownership of the process, we want you the Basotho to own the process and plan it”.
We have also sensitised them that the NDPC is not a political platform but a technical one. If you go through their terms of reference there is nothing about politics or political squabbles, it is a purely technical entity set up to plan all the logistics pertaining to the dialogue. This is the spirit that is prevailing and we should applaud all Basotho for what has been achieved because sometimes there is a human tendency to look back at the negative side while people have been improving and advancing.
What has been achieved so far in terms of training, shuttling diplomacy, interaction between government and opposition should be kept and expanded because we are now approaching a sensitive process of national dialogue in October. It is now upon the NDPC to organise all the technical aspects including defining the number of people that should attend, the speakers, sessions and sensitisation on the grassroots.
That committee is made up of Basotho themselves irrespective of their colours (party colours) and that is a fundamental achievement irrespective that people do not see it. Even this morning (Monday) we met with them, Lebohang Ramohlanka was elected as the first core chairperson, Sam Rapapa as second core chairperson and Sekonyela Mapetja as the interim secretary.
Those are some of the achievements that should not be lost, irrespective of clashes between political parties or what is happening elsewhere. Look at the bigger picture of lasting peace and stability in this country. People have agreed that solutions for this country should be home grown which means whether SADC is around or not, Basotho should give peace a chance. If SAMPIL leaves in November 2018 that should by no means entail that anarchy should prevail. Basotho should not do that, that is my appeal and advise.
LT: What are some of the key take-ways from this mission for the period of close to one year that you have worked in the country?
Dr Matondo: A lot has been achieved on the ground if you look at our terms of reference that has been given to us by heads of states and governments. We were mandated to strengthen peace and security, implement the security sector reforms and the recommendations of SADC Commission of Inquiry as well as to monitor and ensure a rule of law. We are also mandated to identify immediate areas of priority that are to be implemented, including the specific amendments of the constitution in terms of reforms and support Lesotho in the undertaking of retraining its personnel especially in the area of civil military relations.
This is in the security sector, we are talking about the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and the National Security Service (NSS) and indeed assist whenever necessary in the investigation of the assassinations of Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo and other high-profile killings that are happening in the country.
So, this is exactly what we have been doing for almost a year since I assumed the two positions. The results are there, we have been training our colleagues from both the police, LDF and LCS on a number of issues pertaining to their operations, the rule of law and civil military relationship.
One of the overriding training aspects was a civil military relationship that is crucial in a democratic dispensation and this goes in line with the pledge undertaken by the new LDF command when they took office in February 2018, pledging to uphold the constitution and rule of law. Even this morning (Monday) we started another course for the LDF on civil military relations and the rule of law.
That is in terms of training but as far as the peace process itself is concerned, there is a lot that has been achieved. The simple fact that nowadays we are talking about the National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) which is a result of the NLF is a step in the right direction. The NLF itself is a mechanism to implement the roadmap, so there is a link between all these things and as we are talking today (Monday), the NDPC – made up by 15 members, three from government, three from opposition parties in parliament, three from opposition outside of parliament, business community, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), academics, NGOs, College of Chiefs and Youth among others – is up and running. So, those are some of our concluded achievements since our deployment as SAMPIL and the Oversight Committee.
LT: Do you think you have done enough to ensure that in your absence and that of the SADC, the government and the opposition are going to put their interests aside and work together towards finding sustainable solutions for the country?
Dr Matondo: I think we should not personalise these issues. I am leaving as a head and I did not undertake all these things alone. When we are talking about the SADC presence here, it is not me but the entire structure that SADC has put together on the ground. I am not alone, I might leave but the fact that Zambia has taken over the leadership of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation means that the structure is still on the ground. SAMPIL is made up of four components — the military, intelligence, civilian and police. So, I am not alone, I am leaving but the work will continue with the same intensity, focus and mandate.
However, we need to make it clear that SADC is not imposing the process in Lesotho. This process is for Lesotho by the Basotho themselves, SADC is helping and it should be understood that this is a home-grown process. SADC is simply providing the necessary support in view of the recommendations. A lot has been done, we have covered a lot of ground today even though the opposition and the government are still not in agreement on a number of issues that is normal and happens elsewhere in the world, even in our own families.
However, the bottom line is that when we convened the NLF everybody was on board. It was good that the opposition in parliament and outside, the government, NGOs and everybody was on board. During the convening of the NDPC, all the 15 members participated and that is an absolute participation of 100 percent which really underscores the resolve of the Basotho stakeholders to take ownership of the process, uphold the pledge of ensuring that there is peace and security in this country.
The decision that has been taken by the heads of states and governments is that SAMPIL should withdraw come 20 November 2018, that is the decision as it stands now. But I cannot preempt anything like whether there will be further extension or not. But it is upon the Basotho themselves to take full advantage of our presence here especially in terms of peace and security, training and indeed creating a conducive environment for the reforms and everything that is good for this country.
The bottom line is that everybody across the board — from the government, opposition, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations, youth and academia has agreed on the need to reform, dialogue and to embrace the process.
The differences that persist are more related to the style, the speed and the approach but not to the substance and that is a fundamental achievement. Even the leaders in exile have agreed and recognised the need to dialogue and reform the country because the underlying aspect of political and administrative processes need to be addressed. The diagnosis has been established. Most of the politicians and stakeholders in the country know where the cracks are in terms of the public service, LDF, LMPS; the overlapping of responsibilities; the floor crossing issue; and the thresholds on the formation of political parties and many other issues.
Everybody knows where the problems are in the country and the bottom line is, how do we address these issues? It is now not a problem of substance but a problem of how we approach the process and this is exactly what SADC has been trying to do in order to assist one of its own through the Oversight Committee, the SAMPIL and the facilitator himself (South African President Cyril Ramaphosa). So, it is more of a problem of the process because the leaders have an overriding agreement on the substance. They have all agreed on the need to reform. The problem is the approach, how do we get to the substance.
LT: What are the implications of the latest developments that the LCD is now pulling out of the reforms process and is calling on all other opposition parties to withdraw their commitment to the reforms process?
Dr Matondo: As far as we are concerned LCD has been a fundamental player in the peace process and that is the reason why in our shuttle diplomacy, the LCD leadership has been one of the priorities in view of their political base in the country and the impact their participation in the political process has. So far, our engagement with them have been very constructive, the simple fact that they have agreed to participate in the NLF and the NDPC is a very positive development.
Now, we are not expecting the process to be leaner, straight and rosy. There is a Chinese proverb that says that if you are crossing the river by foot and are feeling the bottom on your feet, you actually do not know where the next stone is so you have to be cautious and one step at the time you will feel there is a stone here, adjust your movement and move.
So, this is an unpredictable process but the bottom line is our resolve to do what is right for this country looking at the bigger picture of peace and stability. So far, the leadership of LCD has given us positive guarantees to participate in the process and government has given security and free passage guarantees to the leadership in exile.
Indeed, if you look at the letter and the spirit of the guarantees given by the honourable Prime Minister (Thomas Thabane) it actually includes everybody — all the exiles to come home. As far as security is concerned, there is an arrangement for the exiled leaders to choose whether they want security from government or SADC so that they can feel comfortable to come home.
We need to have all the leaders included in the package. In my opinion and I think the opinion of SADC as well, we do not see any fundamental reason why the leaders in exile should not come home. I cannot talk on their behalf, maybe they have their own reasons and fears. We do not want anybody to be suicidal but to actually take the advantage of the platform that has been set in the country to come home and fully participate.
We have been informed that the opposition might meet up in South Africa in the next few days and our appeal is that whatever they are going to exchange or discuss, they should uphold the spirit that has been created on the ground in favour of the national dialogue, the reforms and lasting peace and stability in the country.
The last part of the interview — where Dr Matondo speaks of investigations into the assassination cases, hits back on the SADC critics and pleads with Basotho to give peace a chance — will be published in the next edition of the Lesotho Times.