ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane has accused the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of neglecting the recently exiled opposition leaders, saying the bloc “should not be deceived” into thinking their security is guaranteed.
Speaking on behalf of the opposition leaders who had returned from exile on Sunday, Dr Thabane said SADC had opted not to provide them with security even though they were some “people baying for our blood” in Lesotho.
However, SADC Facilitator to Lesotho Cyril Ramaphosa, said the government had guaranteed the security of the leaders, adding that the regional bloc would be “firmly involved” in assisting the Mountain Kingdom implement reforms meant to bring about lasting peace and stability.
Dr Thabane, Basotho National Party leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and his Reformed Congress of Lesotho counterpart Keketso Rantšo returned to Lesotho on Sunday from an almost two-year self-imposed exile in South Africa.
The trio fled to the neighbouring country in May 2015 saying they had been alerted of a plot to kill them by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) masterminded by then army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli. The LDF has, however, vehemently denied the allegations.
Talks between the government and opposition over the exiled leaders’ return collapsed last April after the parties deadlocked on Lt-Gen Kamoli.
The opposition leaders had insisted they would only return if Lt-Gen Kamoli was removed from the helm of the LDF, while the government argued that he was a disciplined soldier who deserved to remain in post.
The opposition alliance also cited the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation for Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal “to restore Basotho’s trust” in the LDF.
The 10-member commission, which carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015, also recommended a probe into the killing of former LDF commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, and the prosecution of those found to be responsible. The former army chief was shot dead on 25 June 2015 in Mokema by fellow soldiers who had come to arrest him for alleged mutiny.
With pressure mounting from the opposition and Lesotho’s development partners to remove Lt-Gen Kamoli, the government eventually relented and retired him in December 2016.
However, the opposition has remained concerned about their safety, claiming that Lt-Gen Kamoli was still in an influential position despite his retirement.
Flanked by his opposition colleagues and Mr Ramaphosa during the press conference held at a local hotel, Dr Thabane said they had expected SADC to provide security personnel upon their return to Lesotho.
After Dr Thabane fled the country in August 2014 claiming the military had attempted to seize power, he had been guarded by South African security agents on SADC’s behalf upon his return home the next month. The ABC leader said he expected to be under SADC guard once again.
“We are thankful that you (Mr Ramaphosa) came to be with us upon our return,” he said.
“However, contrary to our expectation, we returned home by ourselves and did not get the usual regional protection. And yet the people who want to kill us are still active.”
The former premier said they were at the mercy of their enemies without SADC protection.
“We decided that if we are going to die, we will die here in our country. If we are going to live we will live in our country.
“We will not be the first people to die in their own country for their beliefs. This is an ongoing process in Africa, but the interest that the international community takes in our issues encourages us.”
Dr Thabane also commended the South African vice-president for his “determination” in carrying out his facilitation role in Lesotho’s affairs.
“You have shown your statesmanship. You have persevered, and we thank you very much,” he said.
“But we are now on our own. We will ask for our place and rights in our country.”
The ABC leader said the opposition alliance would be victorious against its “oppressors”.
“We shall win because when you do the right thing, God usually comes to your side, but when you do the wrong thing, Satan comes to your side.
“Unfortunately, God delays a little bit and Satan is very quick. But we think that we have prayed long and hard while we were in South Africa and it is enough now.
“God will protect us from bloodthirsty people. Those people have lost their minds; they want power so badly that they will do anything to get it.”
Dr Thabane stressed to Mr Ramaphosa that he should not be “deceived” into thinking he had completed his mission merely because he had been given a warm reception in Lesotho.
He said they were some “wolves in sheep’s clothing” giving the veneer of civility, yet harbouring cruel intentions.
“There are some very dangerous people, and when they meet you as the SADC facilitator, they are nice and soft spoken. But when you leave, they show their true colours.
“You should know that your role here is not finished and your mission has not been terminated. In your roles as facilitator and deputy president of South Africa, you need to bear in mind that the problems we have here are extremely serious.”
For his part, Mr Ramaphosa said the return of the opposition leaders from exile was in fulfilment of a SADC Troika decision taken in June 2016.
“We are here as SADC to welcome back the leaders Ntate Thabane, Ntate ‘Maseribane and ‘Me’ Keke,” he said.
“They were compelled by circumstances to leave, but the SADC Troika leaders felt that notwithstanding all that, their return would be a desirable thing. They, therefore, asked the facilitator to assist in the process of getting them back to Lesotho.”
Mr Ramaphosa said the erstwhile exiled leaders would now be able to play their role in Lesotho’s body politic.
“Today, we are overjoyed that the leaders are here, they are here to continue to play their role as leaders of the people of Lesotho, leaders of various political parties that they lead and leaders of the opposition in Parliament.
“Lesotho has a long history of democracy, and in our view it is important that all political players, particularly political parties and the leaders here, play the key role they were elected for in parliament.”
Mr Ramaphosa said he held discussions with the government with regards to the opposition leaders’ security, adding that he was assured they would be protected.
“The Lesotho Mounted Police Service will provide them with security. That has given us a great deal of assurance and satisfaction that peace and stability will continue to be enhanced with the leaders here.
“We therefore expect that, as the political process unfolds in Lesotho, they will play their key role.”
He also emphasised the regional bloc’s expectation for Lesotho to implement the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
“SADC looks forward to the implementation of various proposals that were put forward by Justice Phumaphi. One of those is the investigation into the killing of Brigadier Mahao.
“We now know that general Kamoli has been removed and he has gone into retirement and that is in fulfilment of the SADC inquiry recommendations. But the investigation should also be done.”
Inclusive constitutional and security reforms, Mr Ramaphosa noted, were also key to bringing lasting peace and stability.
“We held extensive discussions with the Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili) and his deputy (Mothetjoa Metsing) to emphasise that the reforms processes needed to be inclusive,” he said.
“They need to involve the various stakeholders in Lesotho such as civil society and faith-based organisations among others. But most importantly, they should involve the people of Lesotho themselves.”
Mr Ramaphosa also revealed that the SADC region would participate in the reforms implementation process with member states sharing their experiences.
“SADC is now going to be more firmly involved in assisting in the reforms. The various countries in the region will get involved in giving assistance and guidance and sharing our own experiences in fostering the reforms,” he said.
“Lesotho now needs to get to grips with its future in dealing with the constitutional reforms, dealing with the security reforms so that peace and stability can be further assured and, more importantly, the political process can be further stabilised so that the situation in Lesotho does not require outsiders to come and play any role that the Basotho people should be able to drive the whole process in their own country.”