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THE removal of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli was a key demand by All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane for his return home from his South African exile. Slightly more than two months after Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal, Dr Thabane is still in exile. Promises of his return have not materialised. The Lesotho Times this week tracked Dr Thabane to explain why he is still in exile despite Lt-Gen Kamoli’s departure. Dr Thabane did not mince his words, alleging that even though Lt-Gen Kamoli has been removed from the LDF, he still believes the government has retained him in some influential role. Dr Thabane nonetheless promised he will return sooner. He also urged Prime Minister Mosisili to retire and allow a new path for the country. Excerpts;
QUESTION: Your much anticipated homecoming has not happened despite expectations that you should long have been home. We get both official and unofficial statements that you are headed home, then it doesn’t happen. The latest report was that you would have been home this past Sunday (29 February 2017). Again it did not happen. There has been a report from your party that you will now be home on 12 February 2017. We won’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen again. What’s the problem here? Will you ever return home?
Dr Thabane: Your question is difficult for me. Most of what happens in my situation depends not only on what I do but on others’ involvement. If I had my way I would just rise up and go. But it’s not so easy. I did not leave home because I wanted to but because of circumstances. The process of my returning involves other situations. It involves SADC and the facilitator (Cyril Ramaphosa). It also involves my family and supporters in the party. It’s not my decision alone. My coming home is overdue and I think it is high time I come home to lead my party and to be with my supporters and family and interact with other leaders with whom I both agree and disagree. I want to be home sooner rather than later?
QUESTION: Surely your party must be missing you and others might even say it is suffering in your absence?
DR Thabane: I think that the ABC, despite my absence, has been growing in membership, not only in terms of numbers but national spread into the different constituencies. In the beginning, there was a belief that the ABC would only attract young people from the urban areas, but the ABC is attracting all and sundry. It has universal support from the lowlands up to the mountains. It is supported by church goers and non-church goers, professionals and non-professionals, men and women, people from across the board.
The failure rate of the present coalition led by the Democratic Congress (DC) has led the population into seeing the need for enlightened leadership. The ABC is the best equipped party now to meet the needs of all Basotho, educated and uneducated, rich and poor. There have been some negative reports in the media about the leadership of the ABC. These should not be taken at face value.
The events that affected the party’s top leadership (resulting in the ouster of ABC deputy leader Tlali Khasu) was like the action of the sea when it cleanses itself. It throws out what it no longer wants and keeps what it needs so that the fish can live and grow and that all other beings living in that sea mature to their very best levels.
ABC membership has been growing phenomenally and the claim that we are a lowlands party has been disproved. We have support across the 10 districts of Lesotho and the ABC is both the party of the moment and the future.
QUESTION: The removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli was your pre-requisite for coming back home. Lt-Gen Kamoli is long gone but you are still in exile. Why?
Dr Thabane: His removal is a very large part of what we need. I have been out of the country for quite a while alongside other civilians, my party officials, other politicians and members of the army and many others who have been in exile. It is necessary that a comprehensive arrangement is made as quickly as possible so that my coming home is not just about Thomas Thabane but also about all the Basotho who have been forced out of their motherland. Many of these people are in exile because of me. They followed me because they were deemed to support me and they were victimised because of their support of me. We need a comprehensive arrangement for all of them to return home.
QUESTION: And what’s that comprehensive arrangement?
Dr Thabane: It is SADC’s responsibility to guarantee our safe return. SADC would understand what that means.
QUESTION: Has SADC come to the party?
Dr Thabane: We have seen very slow progress from SADC concerning the matter of our return. But I am thankful that they (SADC) took an interest in the matter. Recently, I had a meeting with church leaders from Lesotho (Christian Council of Lesotho) who met me and asked me and my colleagues in exile to return home. The church leaders felt they need to add their voice to our calls for a safe return. When people of that calibre take an interest in you, then you know you are fighting a just war. The just war I am fighting involves other people. The process of coming home must therefore be inclusive and involve all people in exile. I am referring here to members of the security establishment who followed me into exile because they were being victimised, my bodyguards, other political colleagues and many others. They also need free passage home and they need to get their jobs back. Just like me, they had done nothing wrong….
QUESTION: Again we are compelled to ask you; Shouldn’t Kamoli’s removal be enough to get you back home since his departure from the LDF was your main demand?
Dr Thabane: He needs to be stripped of all government powers. I was not afraid of Kamoli as a person. I was worried about his propensity to abuse the apparatus of the LDF to target me. As LDF commander, he was a threat to my life and the lives of my family members. That is why I took my wife into exile. As an ordinary citizen, I have no problem with him and I can meet him in the street and not worry about him…..But they must strip him of all powers that he currently enjoys….
QUESTION: Are you suggesting that he still has power and his removal from the LDF was merely cosmetic as others have suggested?
Dr Thabane: He has been removed from the LDF but from what I gather, he is still retained in some capacity in the government and is enjoying a lot of government perks including state sanctioned security when he is now supposed to be a private citizen. Since when do private citizens get state protection? He certainly still has some capacity. If there is no clarity as to what this capacity is, then it makes me question the sincerity of the government in removing him from the LDF. This partly explains why we still want to rely heavily on SADC in ensuring our safety.
QUESTION: So in a nutshell, when can we expect Tom Thabane back home?
Dr Thabane: It is my belief that the prime minister and his advisors will give this matter, their most urgent attention. Because I am extremely anxious to come home and participate in the developments that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the current crisis and lead to the creation of an environment for a prosperous Lesotho.
QUESTION: Dr Mosisili claims that he has done all he can to bring you back home and given you all safety guarantees but you have either not cooperated or you have reneged on agreements you have entered with him?
Dr Thabane: It is not helpful for me to enter into a debate with the prime minister because I have personal responsibility for my own personal safety and the safety of those who are dependent on me. I sincerely want to repeat my appreciation of his having listened to me and that’s why I am urging him to complete the task in a manner that will be open and transparent and to the best interests of all of us who are involved in this matter. But after all is said and done, I am the one who is responsible for my own safety and I am the one who can make the call on when it is best for me to return and not anybody else…..
QUESTION: Your deputy, Mr Khasu has moved on from the ABC after his suspension to form a new party with your former minister Pitso Maisa. Does that weaken the ABC?
Dr Thabane: On the contrary, it will stabilise the two constituencies these two gentlemen represented the ABC in. They were both ineffective and they interfered with the work and independence of their constituency committees. I am glad that they have gone. I thank them for that because the ABC can now function normally in their constituencies without fearing for their dictatorial approach which was affecting our supporters in those two constituencies.
QUESTION: Do you think your party has suffered in your absence?
Dr Thabane: Yes, my absence has been an issue of great pain to members of my party. Because unlike other parties, they have been functioning without their leader whom they elected. If this issue had taken a few days, the pain would have been lessened. But it has dragged. It is of great significance that whenever ABC supporters meet at rallies on Sundays, they ask me to speak to them via the telephone. This is an indication of the strong bond between me and the ABC membership. I only wish I was home to interact with them more directly.
QUESTION: Trade Minister Joshua Setipa recently accused you of frequently changing goalposts over your coming home. He effectively implied that you must shoulder the blame if Lesotho is thrown out of AGOA partly because of perceptions that the opposition is being persecuted. How do you respond to that?
Dr Thabane: I don’t have the capacity and facilities to measure people’s mental capabilities. So I am in no position to measure the mental faculties and capacity of that gentleman. If I had such facilities, I would have done so and then given a reply to your question after using such facilities to determine his mental capacities.
QUESTION: How do you assess the performance of the coalition government thus far?
Dr Thabane: My original departure from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was an act of complete desperation arising from the failure of any organisation led by Pakalitha Mosisili to deliver anything to the nation. It is on record that no one has broken away from the Congress movement and then won 17 constituencies as the ABC did in 2007. The number then grew to 26 seats in the 2012 elections and then 40 seats in the last elections. All indications are that the ABC will win a landslide in any upcoming elections
QUESTION: Yes, that is all about the growth of your party which anyone can acknowledge. The question was about your take on the performance of the present coalition government?
Dr Thabane: The present coalition has been a complete disgrace and failure. The most outstanding testimony to this fact has been the breakaway of the deputy leader of the main coalition partner, the DC, and his highly successful formation of a new party, the AD. The LCD always boasted that if you broke away from it, then you had signed the death warrant to your political career. I broke away and got 17 seats in only three months. The deputy leader Moleleki has just left and taken away with him many seats from Parliament. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that in the next nine months or so, the Mosisili group would have become history.
QUESTION: Why do you mention nine months in particular? Do you know something we don’t?
Dr Thabane: It’s a rough estimate, and a very generous one. Mosisili’s demise can even come sooner.
QUESTION: Dr Mosisili has said he can dissolve Parliament to circumvent any no confidence vote. That surely can forestall his demise?
Dr Thabane: Any such decision to dissolve Parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote would be a gross abuse of power. It will be a 100 percent self-serving decision. It’s wrong for Mosisili to assume that Lesotho can only survive if he is Prime Minister. It seems that is how he perceives himself and, I want to state categorically that he is wrong.
QUESTION: Are you saying that he should let parliamentary processes take their course and let a no-confidence motion be debated openly?
Dr Thabane: If he is sensible enough, that’s what he must do. He should stop this connivance with the Speaker to try and circumvent our parliamentary processes and procedures. He should let democracy prevail and let a no-confidence vote be put to a vote if that’s what MPs want. Better still, he should just walk away.
QUESTION: What do you mean?
Dr Thabane: He must go. He must retire. He has stayed in power too long and he must go home and rest and give the nation a chance to proceed without him?
QUESTION: But you also did the same when your power was threatened? You prorogued Parliament. Are you saying it’s right for Thabane to prologue Parliament when his power is threatened and wrong for Mosisili to dissolve Parliament when his power is threatened?
Dr Thabane: So he must prorogue it (parliament) too and call for an election. It is the quickest way out of our current morass. I don’t regret having done what I did. He is free to do the same. After all, after that prorogation, I added so many constituencies. He could perhaps add one or two. But let him be man enough to make a decision instead of engaging in all sorts of unnecessary dance acts.
QUESTION: It has also been suggested that you and others have been away from Parliament for too long that you must now be ejected and have fresh elections in your constituencies?
Dr Thabane: All that is plain foolish. Only the electorate has the decision to eject MPs in free and fair elections.
QUESTION: But there is a constitutional provision that if you are absent from Parliament for a certain period of time, then you can be ejected from Parliament and have fresh elections in your constituency?
Dr Thabane: If there is such a provision in the constitution, I would like to see it. And I would want to challenge it in the courts and say that I just did not run away from Parliament because I wanted to but I ran away from Kamoli because he wanted to kill me….. and both Mosisili and Metsing did not save me. I just did not walk away. I walked away because I was going to be killed by Commander Kamoli ……
QUESTION: Lesotho is now in a stalemate. How do we break this logjam?
Dr Thabane: I am looking to the intervention of SADC to help break that logjam in a satisfactory manner. I still keep my confidence in SADC, in the AU, in the United Nations system and in members of the UN Security Council including Britain, which is our former colonial master, and America which is our main development assistance partner.
QUESTION: You say you are confident of SADC. But there is a view that unlike Ecowas, which saw off Yayha Jammeh when he wanted to cling to power in Gambia, SADC is a timid and supine body?
Dr Thabane: I have confidence in SADC as a regional body. As an organisation it has capacity to do good. It’s in its own interests to do good for the people of this region.
QUESTION: Your alliance with Mr Moleleki. Does it still subsist seeing that it was entered when he was still in the DC and when he was trying to overthrow Mosisili from within?
Dr Thabane: Our agreement with Moleleki was based on the fact that even though he was still in DC, he was on his way out. That has now happened. So our agreement still subsists from our side. Everything is the same.
QUESTION: Is there no danger that the ABC and AD will split votes in an upcoming elections to your detriment?
Dr Thabane: That is speculation which misses the point. We are leaders of parties and we have the agreement of our people to negotiate a relationship. The terms of that relationship are laid out in our agreement. We are serious people with a track record of service. I am putting my integrity on the line in terms of what we have agreed and I expect the same of him. I will live to what I have signed up with him and I expect the same of him.
QUESTION: The issue of the Amnesty Bill has been cited as a potential destroyer of your coalition with Mr Moleleki before it even takes off. Mr Moleleki has spoken well of the Amnesty bill while you have said it’s a non-starter?
Dr Thabane: We did not form a coalition on one issue but on very broad principles. Seriously each party retains its own autonomy to make decisions. We are not a male choir in which everyone sings the same note. We will agree on certain things and agree to disagree on others?
QUESTION: Should there be amnesty for those who have been implicated in atrocities including Kamoli?
Dr Thabane: NO.
QUESTION: What should happen then?
Dr Thabane: There must be a fair and equitable process and structure like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to unearth the truth and strive towards healing those who have been hurt. It must be a process with international participation from our cooperating partners.
QUESTION: Your last word for Basotho?
Dr Thabane: Basotho particularly members of ABC should know that my return home has reached its final stages of negotiations and it’s a matter of time before I return. It’s their entitlement to know when and they will know soon. I am not coming home for holiday. I am coming home to join ABC and making sure that we win elections decisively.