Row over ANC honours for Leabua Jonathan

Lesotho Times
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Lesotho's first Prime Minister Jonathan

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) decision to honour the late founding Prime Minister of Lesotho, Leabua Jonathan, has sharply divided opinion locally and in South Africa with that country’s opposition Congress of the People (COPE) saying Chief Leabua was a “dictator and murderer of Basotho” who did not merit any honour.

Dr Jonathan is set to be honoured for the role that he played in the liberation of South Africa with the erection of his statue and a road named after him in the Free State province.

The ANC resolution was first announced by an ANC official, Paseka Nompondo, during Last Friday’s memorial lecture that was held in Maseru in honour of Dr Jonathan.

Mr Nompondo, who is the ANC secretary general in the Free State, said his party was grateful for Dr Jonathan’s support during the apartheid era.

The memorial lecture, which was organised by the Dr Jonathan’s Basotho National Party (BNP), was attended by guests that included Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, his deputy, Monyane Moleleki and various high-ranking officials from political parties in the country.

Dr Jonathan, who ruled Lesotho from 1965 to 1986 when his BNP-led government was toppled in a military coup, harboured political refugees in Lesotho who had fled from the oppressive white minority rule in South Africa.

In his address at the public lecture, Mr Nompondo said “the ANC shall not forget what he Dr Jonathan did for us and that is why the Free State government is planning to erect a statue in Dr Jonathan’s honour”.

But this has not gone down well with the COPE, which says Dr Jonathan did not deserve the honour on account of his human rights record in Lesotho during his tenure as Prime Minister.

In a press statement this week, COPE provincial chairperson for the Free State, Papi Kganare said the proposed honour was one of the tactics of the Free State government of siphoning money out of the provincial treasury so that part of it could be diverted to enrich the politicians.

“The Congress of the People (COPE) is dismayed at how the ANC government is determined to use any avenue to siphon money out of the provincial treasury so that is can be stolen by politicians. The decision of the Free State government to have a sequence of events to honour the late Chief Leabua Jonathan who was a dictator and murderer of Basotho is disgusting, irresponsible, insensitive and an insult to the people of South Africa and Lesotho,” said Mr Kganare.

Mr Kganare reiterated his party’s position in an interview with the Lesotho Times on Tuesday.

“The decision to spend millions of Rands to erect a statue of Leabua Jonathan, rename the Medfontein building after him, name the road between Ladybrand and Maseru after him and launching a special blanket in his honour are deliberate actions to swindle money out of the Free State treasury.”

Mr Kganare, whose party is a splinter organisation from the ANC, further said the honour was not only undeserved but was also based on the distortion that Dr Jonathan was a friend of the late ANC leader, Oliver Tambo.

“Apart from Leabua Jonathan not deserving to be honoured in any way, the claim that he was a friend of Oliver Tambo is the worst distortion of history and exposes the ignorance of the present crop of ANC leaders.”

Mr Kganare said the money should be better spent on improving service delivery than in honouring “a dictator and murderer”.

Locally, the decision to honour Dr Jonathan has also raised eyebrows.

A strongly worded letter which purportedly written by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, pleads with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to influence the Free State government to reverse its decision to honour Dr Jonathan.

The DC chairperson, Motlalentoa Letsosa, said he would only confirm if at all the letter was written by Dr Mosisili as soon the latter returns from a trip to India.

“For 15 out of his 20 years in power Chief Jonathan was a brutal, dictatorial and unconstitutional ruler, oppressing and killing his own people, while masquerading as a gracious saviour for the victims of apartheid in Lesotho. Bestowing an honour upon such a person is truly an affront to fundamental human values.

“A decision to build a statue of a former Prime Minister of Lesotho in South Africa and to name a road so close to our borders after him is bound to elicit varying opinions among Basotho. It is at best a highly controversial decision that needs proper and unfettered ventilation,” part of the Dr Mosisili’s ‘letter’ states.

Dr Mosisili further states that it is wrong to portray Dr Jonathan as an icon of the liberation struggle while history clearly shows that he violated the rights of his own people.

“Chief Jonathan declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ruled by decree after he lost elections in 1970. He subsequently unleashed a long and gruesome reign of terror in which thousands of innocent men, women and school children were killed. In his time Chief Jonathan dismantled all the pillars of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

“It would be an absolute trauma to see the statue of Chief Leabua Jonathan beside that of the highly esteemed Oliver Tambo; to say nothing about a road that is literally on the Lesotho border being named after him. This would, indeed, represent a very serious travesty of South Africa’s liberation struggle and a direct and totally unwarranted slap in the face for the people of Lesotho and democrats in South Africa and beyond.”

The letter said honouring Dr Jonathan was as good as another African country honouring one of the architects of apartheid, Daniel Malan with the justification that he (Malan) did some acts of benevolence for that country’s citizens.

“There is no way that South Africans would take this as an innocent act of appreciation of Malan precisely because it would not be. On the contrary, without a speck of doubt, it would be a heavily loaded political statement in support of Malan’s performance in his own country and what he stood for as a leader.

“In the same way that Malan envisioned, and worked for the entrenchment of white supremacy in South Africa, Jonathan aspired for and worked very hard to install himself as a lifetime totalitarian ruler in Lesotho. He was only deposed by the military on 20 January 1986.”

Dr Mosisili said that in a clear sign that Dr Jonathan’s rule was not looked upon favourably in Lesotho, the Leabua High Way and the Leabua International Airport were immediately renamed Main North 1 and Moshoeshoe I International Airport respectively after he was toppled.

“In short Mr President, we honestly and without malice to anybody, entreat you to use your high office to persuade the government of the Free State to reconsider and abandon its decision of bestowing underserved glory on the late Chief Leabua Jonathan.”

The deputy leader of the BNP, Joang Molapo has however come out guns blazing in defence of the ANC decision to honour Dr Jonathan.

The letter was basically an attempt by Dr Mosisili to convince President Ramaphosa, the African National Congress and the South African people in general to forget the history that they know and which they lived through and instead replace it with a version based on the lies and distortions peddled by Dr Mosisili and the rest of the Congress movement.   The topic of this letter to President Ramaphosa was Dr Leabua Jonathan and his legacy.

He described Dr Mosisili’s criticism of the ANC decision as a classic of sour grapes by an “envious, hostile and bitter old man”.

“One would have thought that after all those years in high public office and with his retirement from active politics just around the corner, Ntate Mosisili would have at the least begun to show signs that, somewhere emerging in him, is a potential statesman, a reconciler of Basotho.

“I was hoping that he might yet become someone who is able to rise above partisan politics and become an asset to the Lesotho nation as a whole.  How sad it is to see that he is nothing but an envious, hostile and bitter old man.

“He is envious because he can see that the nation of Lesotho ultimately holds Dr Leabua Jonathan in much higher regard than it will ever hold him.  He is hostile to any view of events that does not originate from and align with the view of history sold by the Congress movement and he is bitter that within the region he is already a forgotten figure, less than two years after leaving office, while entire nations move to acknowledge and acclaim Chief Jonathan more than thirty years after his death,” Mr Molapo said yesterday.

He further said that Dr Jonathan had made mistakes during his reign like all people do but his “enduring legacy is his love for Lesotho, his constant striving for its development and upliftment and his commitment to the liberation of the African people”.

“What can we say is that Ntate Mosisili represents zero national vision, constant self-interest and the politics of polarisation and disunity within all the parties he was a member of and the country as a whole,” added Mr Molapo who is also the Minister of Public Service.

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