Exiled All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane has met twice with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in South Africa over the past three weeks to discuss his return to Lesotho.
According to sources privy to the discussions, the latest of the meetings took place on Wednesday last week at the Lesotho High Commission in Pretoria, where Dr Thabane is said to have set conditions for his homecoming.
Dr Thabane fled the country on 11 May this year allegedly after his military intelligence sympathisers had alerted of a Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) plot to assassinate him.
The former premier’s opposition colleagues, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) later joined him in exile on 13 and 26 May respectively, allegedly also after being alerted of a plot to kill them by the LDF. Government, through Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, has since denied these allegations and challenged the exiled leaders to provide proof of their claims.
But with the plight of the exiled leaders—as well as LDF operatives, police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana, journalists and members of the opposition who have also sought refuge in South Africa fearing for their lives putting Lesotho under international scrutiny—government has decided to end the acrimony hence Dr Mosisili’s latest overtures, the sources further told the Lesotho Times.
“The first meeting also took place in Pretoria three weeks ago, while the latest one happened on 5 August at the same High Commission in Pretoria.
“Not much happened in the first meeting but last week, Dr Thabane told his successor that he was only willing to return to Lesotho if certain conditions were met by the government,” said one of the sources.
“Among the conditions, Ntate Thabane repeated a request he made before fleeing the country that he wanted his security to be provided by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and not the army since the LDF is the reason why he is in exile in the first place.
“As a former prime minister, Ntate Thabane is entitled to VIP security but has repeatedly said he is not comfortable being guarded by the LDF as provided for by the constitution. On Wednesday, he repeated this once again, and said if he returns, he would want the police to be his security.
“Ntate Thabane also told Ntate Mosisili that he wants reassurance that the issue of security, which went out of control in January last year and culminated in the killing of former LDF Commander Maaparankoe Mahao in June this year by his colleagues after he was accused of plotting to overthrow the army leadership, would be dealt with decisively and those responsible for the instability brought to book.
“In response, Ntate Mosisili assured Ntate Thabane that the security issue was being dealt with by SADC (Southern African Development Community) and also offered him a government house once he returns home.
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“Although no deal was reached during the two meetings, it appears Ntate Thabane is going to be back home soon because the leaders were honest with each other and are going to meet again over the issue.”
Repeated attempts to reach Dr Thabane for comment were unsuccessful but his spokesperson, Thabo Thakalekoala, who is also in exile, on Tuesday confirmed the meeting between the two leaders.
Mr Thakalekoala, who also revealed that Dr Thabane was not in South Africa but Botswana “for a short visit”, told the Lesotho Times: “I am not in a position to comment or give details suffice to say Wednesday’s meeting was a closed one and was strictly between Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili.
“Afterwards, Dr Thabane said he could not reveal details of the discussion because he wanted to keep it as confidential as possible. However, what he did say was that no definite date about his return was discussed but the issue was top of the agenda.”
Asked if he was aware of Dr Thabane’s meeting with the prime minister, Chief ‘Maseribane told the Lesotho Times: “I am not aware that Ntate Thabane met with Ntate Mosisili over our return to Lesotho from here. Or maybe they met over Ntate Thabane’s return only because he (Dr Thabane) didn’t tell me anything about it.
“Remember we did not escape from Lesotho on the same day with Ntate Thabane because we received different threats and I think our return will also be treated as such.
“I haven’t met with Ntate Mosisili myself but I would want to make it very clear that I will only return to Lesotho when peace and stability has returned to the country and all the murderers, especially (LDF Commander Lieutenant General) Tlali Kamoli, have been arrested and jailed.”
Ms Rantšo also said she was not aware of any meeting between Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili.
“I have been patiently waiting for SADC to intervene and facilitate our safe return as per the Double Troika’s commitment made in Pretoria on 3 July 2015.
“The Christian Council of Lesotho offered to facilitate talks between us here in exile and government regarding our return home.
“The government then came afterwards to lay the groundwork for the talks, but has not returned to update us on anything or the way forward. I had hoped after last month’s SADC Double Troika extraordinary summit in Pretoria, where our exile and Ntate Mahao’s shooting by the army were discussed, by now, we would be home. But nothing has been said to this day and I hope now that the SADC Commission of Inquiry into our country’s instability has been sworn in, our plight is going to be attended to,” Ms Rantšo said.
Contacted for comment on the meetings between Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili, the Prime Minister’s press attaché, Motumi Ralejoe, said: “I only comment about issues that my boss has spoken to me about or told me to, so I can’t confirm anything or comment about what you are asking me.”