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IN a dramatic development last Friday police blocked supporters and well-wishers of Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader Monyane Moleleki from entering Moshoeshoe I International Airport to welcome him home from a working visit to Russia and Iran.
The armed Special Operations Unit and regular police officers eventually fired water cannons and teargas to disperse the gathering.
Apart from DC supporters from Mr Moleleki’s Lirurubele (butterflies) faction, the crowd also consisted of All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) and Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) members among others.
The crowd eventually converged at Mr Moleleki’s Qoatsaneng Hill home where the Police and Public Safety minister addressed them.
Among the prominent personalities who were present at Mr Moleleki’s house was the retired Major-General Sam Makoro – who is a former Maseru District Administrator and now an active ABC member. The retired major-general speaks to Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about his views regarding the Friday incidents in this wide-ranging interview.
LT: What are your views regarding what happened at Mr Moleleki’s home where different political party supporters, including the opposition, gathered in large numbers to welcome him?
Makoro: There is a valid reason why the situation was the way it was at Ntate Moleleki’s place on Friday. In my opinion, there was nothing sinister about it. Oftentimes I don’t want to identify people based on the political party regalia they are wearing. I always prefer to identify them as Basotho, because that’s what we are – one nation. However, we support our respective political parties. Looking at what happened at Ntate Moleleki’s place, I feel like it is a step towards realising that we are actually one nation and shouldn’t be polarised due to the political parties we support. We should first value the fact that we are all Basotho. For a long time we have allowed ourselves to be polarised over petty political issues. The founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I, fought for the unity of Basotho. We should value that. The formation of my political party, ABC, sought to unite Basotho from different political parties, especially the then main rival movements; the nationalists and the congress.
LT: How serious is the issue of political polarisation among Basotho?
Makoro: The polarisation even extends to people from the highlands of the country against people from the lowlands. It is that deep. If the situation is not quickly arrested, Lesotho risks splitting into two nations. A typical example of that is Sudan which has since split into two nations the other being called South Sudan.
LT: But don’t you find it strange that the opposition parties’ supporters joined hands with the DC and showed support to the party’s deputy leader?
Makoro: Actually, this is how it all started. The DC Youth League President Thuso Litjobo made announcements on different media platforms, calling upon party supporters and all other people of goodwill to join them as they welcomed the Ntate Moleleki from his trip. Mr Litjobo articulated three reasons for inviting every person of goodwill to join them in welcome Mr Moleleki. He indicated they received information that the police were possibly going to arrest the minister; that there were people plotting to assassinate him upon arrival; or that he was going to be fired as cabinet minister immediately when he landed. Again, we should highlight that, in his invitation, Mr Litjobo did not specifically say he was inviting people from the ABC, BNP, RCL or any other party. He invited people of goodwill. But these other parties realised the importance of unifying against the alleged arrest, assassination or firing of Ntate Moleleki obviously due to divisions within the DC. This, to me, was a good gesture.
LT: From a security point of view, especially considering what the police did to the supporters during the event, what is your comment?
Makoro: The allegation that Ntate Moleleki was going to be arrested, fired or assassinated was also a concern for our security institutions. If, for instance, it was true the police were going to arrest Ntate Moleleki, it must have proved difficult for them to do that in the presence of scores of his supporters watching.
But again the police were bound by law to control the prevailing situation so that it doesn’t get out of control. Where there are a lot of people gathered, there is always a high likelihood of criminal acts being committed; hence the police were bound to keep their presence there. People think the police were there simply to block Ntate Moleleki’s followers. But the truth is they were there to protect the very supporters. The duty of the police is mainly to protect people and their property. So, in this case, they protected not only Ntate Moleleki’s followers, but even other people around the area and their property. Police were also there to protect the Moshoeshoe I International Airport. No one can assure us that of all the masses of people who showed up at the airport, there were no criminals who could have taken advantage of the situation and attack anyone or their property.
LT: What about the issue of a permit? The police had warned the supporters against conducting the march without first securing a permit, but they went on without it.
Makoro: Whether those people had the permit or not, it was the responsibility of the police to make sure everyone was protected. Yes, the police first wanted them to have a permit for the march. Actually the law says where a lot of people have gathered that way; there should a permit. In other words, the police were still not wrong by advising Ntate Moleleki’s followers to apply for a permit. But since they had not done so and yet were determined to go and show support to their leader, the police had to do something so that the situation remained under control. Like I said, in my understanding of security issues, where a lot of people have gathered there is potentiality of crime being committed.
LT: The supporters have accused police of harassment and intimidation while blocking their convoy. What do you say to that?
Makoro: It was 100 percent correct for the police to be there. There were there to maintain law and order, and according to me they did that quite professionally. I studied the situation and observed that the number of police present at that event was almost proportional to the masses who came to show support to Ntate Moleleki. That is called ratio. The police were strategic and professional. They did their assignment well in advance and applied proper tactics of controlling the crowd. One of the tactics they used was to first make sure they showed their presence at the Lesotho Cooperatives College where Ntate Moleleki’s followers were supposed to begin their convoy. By doing so, the police knew the number of people who intended to join the convoy would be reduced because they would be intimidated by the police presence. And believe you me, some people changed their minds when they saw the police. The police’S mission was to reduce the crowd so that it was easily controllable.
The next tactic they used was to hold several road blocks between the place of departure and the airport. This they did not necessarily do to stop people from going to the airport, but alert them of their vigorous presence as a control measure. It is like a control valve – open the movement slightly and then close so that you are fully in control of the situation. If you just open wide, you are going to lose control of everything. The third tactic they used was to completely hold the crowd a distance away from the airport. They only allowed a few leaders to pass that mark. This way, the police were protecting the airport premises. This is where one teargas canister was opened as a sign of “show off force”. The teargas was not even opened by the police towards the direction of the crowd because the police’s intention was to alert the crowd to maintain order. If the crowd could have undermined that show of force by the police, I believe the police were next going fire warning shots in the air. They also made sure their water cannons were present and visible to the crowd. If you could look at how massive the crowd was and the cars that were there, you can imagine how chaotic it was going be if they were allowed entry into the airport premises. One other thing ordinary people might not have been aware of is that intelligence officers from the army and National Security Services were present within the crowd disguised to collect information.
LT: In his recent campaigns, Mr Moleleki has repeatedly said he was on a mission to unify Basotho despite their political differences. He talked about lessons learnt from the past 50 years of Lesotho’s independence. Do you think he will succeed?
Makoro: His thinking is absolutely right. I believe it is high time all our leaders realise that it was wrong for them to have fuelled political divisions among Basotho in the past 50 years of our independence. Some of the leaders have continually implied the nationalists and the congress movements cannot come together in solidarity. I find that to be an unfortunate statement that encourages polarisation within the nation. Ntate Moleleki’s philosophy is right because it relates to King Moshoeshoe I’s values to unite Basotho. However, I think it will take some time for some of our political leaders to admit that time has come for change and that every political party needs the other to resuscitate the spirit of solidarity among Basotho. Some people are diehards; they won’t easily accept change. They still think nationalists and congress movements are water and oil. But we should be patient with them like drops of water which eventually break a rock. If you want to do things right, be patient.
LT: If I may drag you to another burning issue related to security issues, what can you say about the recent Amnesty Bill that proposes immunity for members of the security sector facing mutiny, murder and other crimes, which the government has proposed?
Makoro: Allow me to start by saying a good leader in any nation must be sensitive to public opinion. He or she should be mindful of the fact that he or she is a leader because there are people following him or her. Such a good leader cannot impose laws without consultation with the people. The general issue about the blanket amnesty is wrong in my opinion because I think the government has not consulted the people about it. Secondly, it is wrong because it sets a bad president. People in the security agencies are going to continue to organise ill-conceived operations and kill people on the understanding that they will be granted amnesty.