As reported elsewhere in this edition, five lives were claimed this week owing to gun violence which has become endemic in Lesotho. This time, the victims were massacred in what is believed to be a Famo turf war.
This is the latest in a series of eerily similar stories we have heard over the years. Unknown gunmen opened fire and shot the victims point blank, only to disappear and never to be heard from again – until the next shooting, that is. Meanwhile the police then customarily reassure us that investigations are underway and that the “perpetrators will be brought to book”. That would be the end of that, and sooner rather than later, we will again grapple with another gun-related incident.
It is thus no exaggeration that there is a small-scale civil war being waged across the country since illegal guns seem to be available to all and sundry.
Although statistics on gun violence in Lesotho are not readily available, the rampant instances of gun violence paint a depressing picture of a nation at war with itself.
Even though police say a lot of illegal firearms have been confiscated and surrendered, there are still too many illegal guns in the hands of the public.
As SADC Commission of Inquiry chairperson, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, noted during the testimony of Lesotho Defence Force Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli last month, Basotho have normalized the ubiquity of firearms. Lt Gen Kamoli even joked that guns were as commonplace among Basotho as the Moshoeshoe blanket.
While these remarks were said in jest, the high number of injuries and fatalities owing to gun battles in Lesotho is no joke.
Government and Basotho should see this problem for what it is; a national crisis. Many young and productive lives are being lost because of access to guns. Addressing this problem should top government’s priority list because no one is immune to the deleterious effects of a gun. No one is safe, and more concerted efforts should be made on the part of law enforcement agencies to nip this trend, which is clearly out of control, in the bud.
IF ever there was an anticlimax in the history of Lesotho’s politics, few will be more palpable than former premier Thomas Thabane’s decision yesterday to testify before the SADC Commission of Inquiry in camera.
Considering that the nation, and indeed the world, was awaiting to hear Dr Thabane, it was certainly a big letdown that he opted to speak behind closed doors. The former prime minister is also likely to have bemused the multitudes of his supporters who had gone to Thaba ‘Nchu to listen to his testimony in person.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader is certainly within his rights to choose to testify in camera. The option was availed to witnesses who would be afraid to speak their minds fearing for their safety. However, the fact that Dr Thabane is already in exile means that his safety was not in immediate jeopardy.
Considering that other exiled opposition leaders and soldiers had been bold enough to make no-holds-barred testimonies, the ABC leader should have also done the same as a show of solidarity with his fellow exiles. The exiles who testified certainly stuck their necks out with their chilling accounts of torture, and the question they are likely to ask is what secrets would Dr Thabane not want to divulge in front of Basotho and the world?
What is apparent is that the former premier did not want to antagonize the government, with whom he is seemingly continuing to hold talks. While dialogue is an important aspect in ending the current political crisis, Dr Thabane cannot secure his interests at the expense of the other exiles.
He needs to show leadership to both the exiles and supporters at home. Otherwise, he risks disenfranchising both by being perceived as a political player rather than a man of the people.