SADC Commission of Inquiry chairperson, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, has described Lesotho as “fertile ground for instability” due to the country’s “many” political parties.
Justice Phumaphi made the remark as two civil society members, Seabata Motsamai and Sofonea Shale, on Monday told the commission one of the reasons for Lesotho’s current political challenges is unemployment.
Mr Motsamai and Mr Shale, who were testifying on behalf of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), explained because government is the main employer in Lesotho, “everyone wants to be part of it” hence the bitter fighting among various political parties.
“You will notice that the country’s capability to provide employment relies with government; it is the main employer. So because the cake is small, everybody wants to put his or her hand in it, whatever the means,” said Mr Motsamai of the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations.
“We need to find means to expand the basin so that one day, we can be able to address issues and move from a partisan to a national approach, while agreeing to say Lesotho first and our political parties after.”
Justice Phumaphi cut-in as Mr Motsamai spoke, saying he couldn’t agree with him more.
“I agree with you entirely that part of Lesotho’s problem is the capacity of the private sector to provide sizeable employment. This has been the reason for everybody to look to government for employment,” the Botswana judge said.
“I was shocked to learn that there are 23 political parties in Lesotho. Once upon a time when I was living in Lesotho, the parties were only three. One was a minor one, Marematlou Freedom Party. It was very small then. And the major contenders were Basotho National Party and Basotho Congress Party. And today, Lesotho’s situation is a fertile ground for instability.
“Even in the current government, some of the players might decide to shift their loyalty and combine with the All Basotho Convention and government might change. The government can change without an election here. That political situation, by itself, is fertile ground for instability.”
In his testimony, Mr Shale of Development for Peace Education, also said SADC should have included local NGOs and churches in the commission to ensure a lasting solution to the country’s instability. The commission was set-up to probe circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao by his military colleagues in June this year, but does not include any locals.
“We believe that civil society can play a very critical role. In fact, when we say we want more linkage between SADC and civil society, we are not talking about something that is not known. Post-2007 general elections, there was a huge outcry here over the application of a Mixed Member Proportional electoral system to the extent that SADC sent Sir (Ketumile) Masire (former Botswana president) to lead political dialogue in this country, but he left that process incomplete. And by the time he left, the situation had gone back to where it was before he was sent here. It was civil society that saved this country afterwards,” said Mr Shale.
Mr Shale emphasised he was only suggesting collaboration between SADC and local stakeholders in order to find a lasting solution to Lesotho’s instability.
“For me, SADC has that political clout, whereas our churches have got the moral authority and civil society possesses the technical expertise in terms of mediation, conflict-management and facilitation of processes.
“So I think SADC is better-positioned to help us play that role to drive this nation out of where it is today,” Mr Shale further said.
The reason why Lesotho has often been on the SADC agenda for the wrong reasons since 1994 is due to delays in addressing its problems, Mr Shale added.
“We have not taken time to work deeply into exactly where the differences are and how to resolve them within the context of a win-win situation,” Mr Shale said.
“When it comes to politics, it is about power; it is about who gets what and at what time. And when we drive governance as a single kind of business where those in power do not even want to consider those outside, that becomes a problem. For us to go deep enough in terms of reforms, we need that formula of combination I have just talked about.”