COMMUNICATIONS Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane has accused the South African government of ill-treating him and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane when the duo were in exile in that country from 2015 to 2017.
Chief Maseribane, who leads the Basotho National Party (BNP), a traditional ally of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) and Dr Thabane, who leads the All Basotho Convention (ABC), fled into exile during the tenure of the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition. They fled together with current coalition partner, Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader Keketso Rantšo, and some members of the security agencies.
Although Dr Thabane now leads the ABC, he worked for many years in the then Chief Leabua Jonathan-led BNP government. As Home Affairs principal secretary, Dr Thabane is aid to have worked closely with Chief Maseribane’s father, Nehemiah Maseribane, to issue travel documents and accommodate ANC exiles in Lesotho during the ANC’s struggle against white minority rule.
Chief Maseribane, Dr Thabane and Ms Rantšo alleged that their lives were in danger and only returned to the country in February 2017, just a month before Dr Mosisili lost a no confidence motion leading to the 3 June 2017 snap national elections which ushered in the Dr Thabane-led current four party coalition. Mr ‘Maseribane, whose BNP party is a junior partner in the governing coalition, expected to be given better treatment in South Africa on account of the refuge and other forms of assistance the BNP government under the late Chief Leabua Jonathan gave to South African exiles in Lesotho from the 1960s until the advent of majority rule in South Africa in 1994.
But this was not to be, according to Chief ‘Maseribane, who recently accused the South African government of ill-treating him and Dr Thabane.
Chief ‘Maseribane used Dr Thabane’s recent belated 80th birthday celebrations in Maseru to register his displeasure with the South African authorities. Dr Thabane turned 80 on 28 May this year but the birthday celebrations were belatedly held on Saturday in Makhoakhoeng, Maseru. Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka, army commander Mojalefa Letsoela, cabinet ministers and principal secretaries attended the birthday celebrations. Ms Rantšo also attended while Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki was represented by Education and Training Minister, Professor Ntoi Rapapa. Also present was opposition Democratic Congress stalwart and former Sports Minister, ‘Mathabiso Lepono.
The ANC was represented by former South African Minister of State Security, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba.
Speaking at the celebrations, Chief ‘Maseribane said they approached the South African authorities hoping that they would fully understand their plight and return the favour Lesotho had accorded the ANC during their decades-long struggle against the then Apartheid regime.
To his surprise and displeasure however, Chief Maseribane said they were rudely told that South Africa was “not in the business of playing Jesus’ role of multiplying loaves and fish to feed the poor”.
“I take this opportunity to remind the world of that time (when we were in exile). It was during the era of former South African President Jacob Zuma.
“In my life I have seen Ntate Thabane sad, crying and embarrassed. He is usually a happy man and makes people laugh a lot but on that day he was not happy at all.
“We were in a meeting with some senior South African officials. This is really a big deal. When you have fled your own country, you hope and pray that your host will understand the circumstances surrounding your presence in their country.
“We went into a meeting (with South African government officials) and we said, ‘we are struggling to make ends meet’. It is true that we are still earning a living but there are some people with us who don’t have any sources of income and are struggling. How do we deal with this issue?
“The response from senior South African officials was that Jesus’ era was long gone and they were not Jesus. Jesus was a son of God who would multiply loaves and fish to feed people. Ntate Thabane patted my shoulder and said, ‘let us go’ (leave the meeting). I said we should wait and listen (to the South Africans as they continued speaking) but he (Dr Thabane) stressed that we should go.
“I am not one to go to the grave without speaking out my mind. For the first time in my life, I saw an elder (Dr Thabane) furious and yet he was at the mercy of his host because he had fled his country. We stood up and left. He (Dr Thabane) continuously asked me if I had heard what those people really said,” Chief Maseribane said.
The BNP leader accused the unnamed South African authorities of ingratitude, saying they conveniently forgot that Dr Thabane put his head on the block during the apartheid era and processed travel documents for ANC exiles and other South African refugees.
“I want to tell the truth and nothing else. I know that the South Africans are here. You (South Africans) once sought refuge in Lesotho. If there was one person who made your stay warm in Lesotho, it is that person (Dr Thabane). At that time he (Dr Thabane) was principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“The person who welcomed the refugees and issued passports for South Africans was Ntate Thabane. I know that his mother was killed when the Boers bombed some villages in this country looking for the South African refugees. I know that some families were also affected,” Chief Maseribane said, adding it was time the two neighbouring countries “straightened” their relations.
In response, Ms Letsatsi-Duba, said the ANC-led government had not forgotten that Basotho stood with them in times of hardships. She expressed gratitude to Dr Thabane for ensuring South African exiles led comfortable lives during their stay in Lesotho. She also said she had been tasked by the ANC to inform Dr Thabane that South Africa shared his vision for mutually beneficial relations between the two countries.
“The message from the African National Congress is that our relationship with Basotho was not written on paper, it is a relationship that was born out of the struggles of the people of South Africa and Lesotho.
“One of the speakers (Chief ‘Maseribane) said South Africans sought refuge in Lesotho and it is true that Basotho sheltered us for many years. Basotho stood with us during apartheid. They were killed by the Boers, destabilised by the Boers. Our bond was not formed on a paper, it is a blood bond and all of us know that many Basotho currently live in South Africa. So it is just a matter of removing those borders and become one nation.
“This will make us happy because we share a lot in common with Basotho in terms of vision, realising a better Africa and a better world. Ntate Tom (Thabane) is one of the champions of that vision. Today we are celebrating this hero of Lesotho. He is our hero for the role he played by making sure that South African refugees got passports, enabling them to travel the world. We must hold hands together to build a better Lesotho, a better South Africa, a better Africa, SADC and the whole world,” Ms Letsatsi-Duba said.
Chief ‘Maseribane also used the occasion to plead with Dr Thabane to set up a meeting with South African president Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) and the stay of Basotho in South Africa. He however, did not say what he wanted the meeting between the two leaders to address.
There have however, been concerns from various sections of society that Lesotho was getting the shorter end of the stick in the bi-national LHWP project aimed at ensuring adequate water supplies to South Africa’s Gauteng province and hydro-electricity generation to meet Lesotho’s power needs. Among other things, there have been concerns that South African-owned companies are getting the lion’s share of the contracts for infrastructure developments in connection with the project.
South Africa introduced the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) in 2015 to enable qualifying Basotho to work, study or do business in South Africa without any hassles.
The Lesotho government is also on record saying South Africa must consider revising the LSP to come up with a totally different arrangement because the current document which was “modelled on a similar one for Zimbabweans does not address the special circumstances of Basotho nationals”.
Lesotho wants a special arrangement akin to that of Italy and the Vatican where citizens of the former did not need passports to work or visit the latter country.