‘I never lied about soldiers being arrested in Bloemfontein’
BASOTHO National Party (BNP) Deputy Leader, Joang Molapo, has been in the eye of a storm over recent weeks after his public announcement that some Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members on a “hit mission” had been caught at a South African hospital. According to Chief Molapo, who is also the Minister of Home Affairs and Acting Communications minister, the soldiers were caught before they could “finish off” Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s two bodyguards admitted at the unnamed Bloemfontein hospital. The bodyguards, who are also soldiers but have seen been disowned by the army as deserters, had been injured during a shootout with LDF members near the Royal Palace on 1 February. A private security guard died in the shooting after being caught in crossfire while on duty at a nearby government building. However, Chief Molapo’s statement has not been corroborated by any other source, including the South African government, but in this interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Billy Ntaote, the minister stuck to his guns and insisted the assassination attempt took place.
LT: Your statement that four LDF members were caught in Bloemfontein on a mission to assassinate Major Mojalefa Mosakeng and Corporal Ngoliso Majara has not been supported by anyone here in Lesotho, as well as the South African authorities. Was this a deliberate falsehood meant to serve a certain agenda on your part?
Molapo: This past Saturday when we were in a meeting with SADC Facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa, and in the company of other people we can discuss such issues with, I gave the South African Deputy President the names of these LDF members, their ranks and the name of the South African minister we have been in contact with about this case. The problem now is these people (South Africans) think we can’t keep secrets, which is why I can’t say anything about the case anymore.
LT: But how do you convince people who now believe you were lying to support your party’s claims that the security situation in Lesotho is not conducive for a free and fair general election on 28 February 2015? The ABC (All Basotho Convention), your party’s ally in the coalition government, has also been saying Mr Ramaphosa should address the issue of security before the snap elections, while the LCD (Lesotho Congress for Democracy—the other party in the coalition government—has dismissed these concerns. If you cannot present the evidence regarding these arrested LDF members, how do you hope to earn the trust of the nation or should I say, why should people trust what you are going to say next time?
Molapo: My brother, let’s start by assessing where we are right now as a country. We are at a very delicate stage in terms of restoring political stability and security to our country. On Saturday, for the first time, Mr Ramaphosa outlined the progress he has made on a strategy he has been employing towards resolving Lesotho’s issues. What issues we need to pull, which ones we have to push and which ones need to be left alone. Now, it’s clear certain things will worsen the situation, certain things we can deal with after the elections, while some can be dealt with before the elections. So this one about the soldiers’ features in all three, but the bottom line is, I never lied about LDF members being arrested in Bloemfontein. However, for us as government, the important issue right now is bringing the army under effective civilian control. Now those people we are talking about are not the ringleaders of the insubordination we see in the army.
LT: In simple terms, what are you saying?
Molapo: What I mean is the soldiers who were arrested in South Africa are not the ringleaders of the problems in the LDF. The ringleaders are here and these are the people we have to deal with; who are in supervisory positions in the army.
LT: The ABC and BNP have been talking about the “security situation” in the country. What exactly are these security issues?
Molapo: On Saturday, once again, we showed Deputy President Ramaphosa the letter the army wrote to us as government. We said to him let’s be frank and talk about the letter by the LDF. We asked what his government would do or say if they were to get such a letter from the South African National Defence Force. We discussed the contents of the letter. Looking at the first line of the letter, you will find that it says: From the Commander of the Army to the Prime Minister. It doesn’t say to Prime Minister and then from the Commander of the Army. When they communicate with us as a government, they don’t even observe protocol. But let’s leave that part and go straight to the contents of the letter.
LT: What does the letter say?
Molapo: The soldiers tell us that they are going to start countrywide patrols. They tell us! Mind you, the prime minister is the commander-in-chief of the LDF and he is the one who has the final say over the deployment of the army, but they tell us! Then we responded saying what they are doing is nonsense and they should stop it. Then indeed stopped. However, what’s worth noting is that as their letter had reached us at about 4:15 pm, our response was ready by 5:15pm and we delivered it straight away. However, a very young soldier had the temerity to tell us upon arrival at the LDF gates that the letter could only be delivered to the Commander on Monday, as had already knocked off. Then we told him that the person the letter had been addressed to, if we were to call him to our offices at 3am, he was supposed to be there. It was shocking that even after being told that the letter was from the prime minister, the soldier still had the guts to tell us he could only hand it over two days later.
So we are saying the contents of the letter itself shows these people (soldiers) are now disobedient and think they are a separate authority in this country. So we told Mr Ramaphosa that there was nothing to talk about unless there was a guarantee that these people were in the barracks on the day of the elections. We said we are not going to talk about it or massage this issue; we told Mr Ramaphosa that these people should go to the barracks and indeed they were told so. We are saying these people’s insubordination has crossed the line. What’s worrying is that we have a problem of Bo Mosisili (former Prime Minister and Democratic Congress leader Pakalitha Mosisili) and Metsing (Deputy Prime Minister and LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing) who think they will control the army. We have seen this process play itself before, from 1983 to 1986. At some point in time, those who think they have the support of the army, will find themselves in trouble.
LT: So do you agree with Professor Kopano Makoa (of the National University of Lesotho) when he says Lesotho has become a praetorian state (where the military dominates core political institutions and processes)?
Molapo: Exactly. This is the problem because the Congress guys are so short-sighted due to their hunger for power. They don’t see the danger in the things they are doing. All we are saying is that maybe it is because we were sitting on our fathers’ knees when these things were happening and they used to tell us that the army was now unruly. We now see the signs of the things that took place in 1986, and I remember my father telling me in 1983, that he had just been to a cabinet meeting where the soldiers had made a request that they should be made the national team of Lesotho and other teams would just fill in the gaps just to conceal that they are the actual national soccer team. He said this was the beginning of the end. And I assure you we need to rein-in the army now. So our demand that the LDF Special Forces should be disbanded and that those high-ranking army officials and others should be brought under control, are things we are insisting on. That is why we are going to the Double Troika meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, this coming Friday to discuss the country’s situation.
LT: Certain quarters say you are exaggerating the security situation to avoid elections because you are afraid you won’t make it…
Molapo: People think we are running away from elections. But let’s be honest; we, as the BNP, are now much stronger than we have ever been over the last 20 years, so why should we be afraid of this election? Some people also think ABC supporters and their leaders are stupid politically. However, the ABC is aware that their supporters have increased. They have always been using the mob and they see that the mob has increased exponentially. They had so many constituencies using the mob strategy and what more now? Why would we be scared of elections when the people who are joining our parties are leaving the Congress parties? We are attracting people from the Democratic Congress and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy. At our rally in Tsikoane last weekend, you could see that our supporters had defected from the Congress parties through their dance and you tell us we are afraid of going for elections!
LT: So who are you saying is afraid of the elections?
Molapo: Above and beyond the fact that the BNP and ABC are also contesting, we are going to the elections with a responsibility as government, to guarantee that the vote is free and fair and represents the will of the people of Lesotho. When soldiers are pointing their guns at us inside of our workplaces and say they want to mount roadblocks and determine who can go where, this can’t be allowed. The army cannot genuinely say with the manner in which they treated us over the past year that we can genuine believe they can be trusted to be referees of Lesotho’s affairs. They nominated themselves referees. No, they don’t have credibility especially because yesterday they were chasing us in the night and they cannot be fair. It is ridiculous to think that we would allow the army to be seen anywhere in public during this crucial time.
LT: We have learned that the Army Police Joint Operations Centre was amongst issues raised in the meeting with the SADC facilitator. What exactly was discussed?
Molapo: We have said as government, and the police agree with us, that there can be no peace in Lesotho without justice. Yes; the police can make a joint operations with the army, it is not a problem for long as the soldiers in the Joint Operations Centre are not the soldiers who were involved in the brutal shooting at police headquarters (on 30 August 2014) and attacks at other police stations across Maseru on the same morning. The police have said they don’t have a problem being in the Joint Operations Centre with LDF members for as long as they are not the soldiers the police have opened criminal dockets against. Now the problem with this relationship or what Mr Ramaphosa was trying to do is that it is now being used as a shield for people who are criminals. Soldiers who want to escape punishment are abusing this initiative by Mr Ramaphosa. However, clean soldiers without issues can be in the Joint Operations Command and if there is an operation led by such soldiers it would be fine and not those with criminal dockets.