Thoughts on the current discourses on reconciliation and unity

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Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane

A SPECTRE is haunting our Mountain Kingdom. It is a spectre of muddled discourses on national reconciliation and unity. But we have been here before. Yet as Marx would write, all great episodes of history happen, as were, twice: the first time as tragedy, and the second time as farce. We have had a string of National Dialogue Conferences between 1990 and now, with themes variously straddling the subjects of stability, reconciliation, unity, and peace; and our substantially neglected if not vastly betrayed National Vision 2020 says we should by now be a National at peace with itself and its neighbours. Soon after adoption of the Vision, the bearers of state power and high officials swiftly went from thieving on the National Treasury to bold, unashamed, daylight partitioning of the national bounty among themselves, as a long train of Public Accounts Committee reports would show.

The State itself as the mould of Society was demonstrating to all and sundry that no other enterprise mattered, that honour, rectitude, moral uprightness, value-laden education, and integrity in public office all came a distant second; and youth, elders, men of the cloth and of law, were all touted into these ranks regardless of the colours, slogans, mottos, prescripts and scriptures they donned and chanted.  All ethic, morality, standards had to be, and were, quashed in order for this project to succeed; and no segment of community and profession or vocation was spared, including the judiciary and the security forces.

The courts are the ultimate arbiter of citizens’ rights in a functioning democracy, constraining the state which always bears an insatiable appetite for closing up spaces that exist for common self-expression of citizens for enhancement of their welfare; the security forces have a monopoly of instruments of coercion and even death, with which they can prevail on everyone else and impose their will on the entire society to the detriment of its very survival, if not restrained only by professional standards which must remain inviolable at all times.

That is why there is no room for remonstration and debate between the command and the troops, and between the command and the civilian authority. Yet our state bearers have so ransacked the courts and the forces that well over a decade ago we have gone from judges partaking of morally decadent state perks like the “residual value” cars given the tragic nickname of Likhapha tsa Basotho (literally meaning Tears of the Basotho), and declaring in open court that they have duty to prevent the ruling party that dishes out those questionable perks from splitting; down to such judges blinking while lawless army commanders defy court orders to release the persons they abducted and kept for themselves in secret places; while the prime minister, his deputy and their defence minister, and the prime ministers adviser who boasts a Ph.D in politics and government — all said in Parliament question and elsewhere that the state had no place to “interfere” in the affairs of the army.

The defence minister has since been named for indictment in crimes of police killing their own juniors and taking their concealed bodies on a long “tour” before burying them in secret places and defending against court applications for their production before courts, till they exhumed them without effort after the change of government in 2017, while the then police commissioner is still on the run among others in relation thereto. The Government held a superstar farewell celebration for the disgraced commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli after the Phumaphi Commission of inquiry recommended him for discharge and indictment for high crimes.

The chickens come to roost

The climax was the use of the army by the erstwhile one-party rulers to hound their first coalition Government partners including the Prime Minister in the first coalition government of 2012-15, to force the 2015 elections, return of Lt-Gen. Kamoli, murder of Lt-Gen. Mahao — resultant upon which the SADC decisions consolidated in the Phumaphi Commission have since become the compact between Lesotho and SADC, and the World. Key among these is visitation of justice upon all suspects of the high crimes spawned by the previously outlined deterioration in the management of state affairs and in state-society relations.

The anti-climax was when the two-time deputy prime minister, also twice blamed for bringing down his own prime minister, rightly or wrongly, Mr Mothetjoa Metsing, told loyalists in his defeat-admitting speech just outside the election results centre on June 4, 2017 that he was doing his utmost to cobble a coalition to stay in Government if only to protect the soldiers who had “put their necks on the block to ensure that we returned to power”.

Perhaps the anti-climax to the anti-climax was when the genius confessor Mr Metsing led a news conference of the defeated governing parties of Khokanyan’a Phiri to call for the TRC, GNU, and audit of the voters’ roll, while also complaining of machinations of frustrating his supporters’ votes, but stopping just short of outright rejection of the election results. It will be remembered that the AU election observer mission of 2015 had hinted on the advisability of a GNU or Grand Coalition following the acrimonious poll of that year, but was not heeded.

Mr Metsing and his former second coalition Government partners went on to pack these and other phony demands including release of the Phumaphi Commission suspects and free-rein broadcast for MoAfrikaFM (proudly dubbed “opposition broadcaster”) as conditions for his return from his inexplicable exile and participation in the National Reforms process — until SADC resolved that these were frivolous and sanctions should be imposed on all those who stood in the way of the Reforms, and explicitly said the Reforms should proceed with or without Mr Metsing. Mr Metsing himself was wanted on an extradition warrant at the request of the DCEO, and his indictment was suspended until after the Reforms, following SADC mediation.

That makes him birds of a father with criminally charged soldiers whom he also publicly confesses prostituting in his designs to return to power.  At one point, it will be remembered, a Maseru communiqué signed by the SADC Facilitator and Government and Opposition contained the notorious Clause 10 which was successfully challenged in law courts for its unconstitutionality, stating that Mr Metsing “and similarly placed persons” who were still in exile would be afforded guarantees of safe return, stay of court cases against them, and security for participation in the Reforms. It was also this clause that imposed a definitive ultimatum on Mr Metsing.

With the recent sustained fall of ratings for the main ruling ABC as it is torn almost symmetrically, and the criss-crossing of the political grid by all the main political actors seeking to maximize their fortunes in the ensuing uncertainty and tailor the principal outcomes in their favour, Mr Metsing and his lieutenants have upped their game in calling for the TRC, GNU, and freedom for their military handlers and hangers-on; including propagating messages that they have ultimately clinched a deal with the Government to arrive at these ends taking things in strides.

The recent return of two officers of the police and prison services has been held out as witnessing the materialisation of this much-vaunted State-LCD intercourse, and the inevitability of it running its full course with the effluxion of time.  I have given official responses to media enquiries about such palavers, and won’t return to that subject as it isn’t the gist of the current contribution to the ongoing conversations about the subject of this piece. The MEC’s leader Mr Selibe Mochoboroane has since entered the fray too, calling for what he calls a Transitional Government, which for all intents is the same platform as that of the LCD, planked on the same opportunism that presupposes a foreseeable and inevitable collapse of the ABC unit in Parliament, and naturally of the Government majority unless it is rescued by realignment of forces on the Parliament floor and elevation of the new compact to Government supporting majority a la the new-born DC of February 2012.

So, we’re now in a position to state unequivocally that the galloping LCD crusade for the TRC, GNU and concomitant elements, has its roots in Mr Metsing’s publicly regretted failure at the elections and his publicly declared debt to criminally-charged soldiers; and takes heart in the faltering fortunes of the ABC and its refusal to find organic solution to its very artificial, silly, problems. Whether and how the two find each other, and the desirability thereof, is not subject of my concern.    

The import of history and discourse

A GNU is a government of all parties that are willing to be part thereof, usually formed to assist a nation to pass through a critical, all-encompassing challenge that threatens collective survival; and requires everybody to pull in one direction and subscribe to the same policies and laws for their common good. Needless to say, it is temporary, and has virtually no opposition since almost all parties are in it. A government is defined by the spectrum of parties that sponsor its subsistence, not necessarily whose members physically take seats in Cabinet, though the latter complexion is the more common.

Thus you can have a minority government which enjoys support of some who don’t want to be part of its Cabinet but give it going support to pass laws and other decisions in Parliament. Thus you might have a GNU where not all subscribing parties are on Cabinet, thus dispensing with the myth that a GNU goes with a bloated Cabinet, and perhaps that it passes without any opposition to it.  But by definition those questions which separate the parties must not be allowed to come to life, and cannot be transacted, until the sunset of this project. That is perhaps also the reason why the TRC coincided with the GNU in the neighbouring South Africa.

These are pragmatic ways in which proponents of the GNU today circumvent hurdles to prosecution of their project, but I’m more interested in the philosophical question of how we view the world and relations among members of society, than in those technical quizzes. In short, Lesotho doesn’t face an existential threat that requires a GNU right now. We might have had ominous moments like the 1993 transition, the 1994 “palace coup”, the 2007 reign of terror which didn’t really come to end until 2017, but not before the killing of two army commanders in two years.

Over the period spanning these watershed moments, a national reconciliation commission (before the 1996 TRC of South Africa) was proposed by some among us at the September 1995 National Dialogue which came long after it was recommended by the local Non-State Actors following the August 1994 “palace coup”. Those calling for it now were briefcase carriers feverishly repeating their state incumbent elders’ forceful rejection of the proposition. Some of the first proponents of the GNU back in 1998 were repulsed as among those burning towns for political anger back then, while their current principals were still trainee (assistant) ministers naively but stridently ululating at their bosses’ kneejerk rejection of the same.

These current leaders later rejected it in their own right when some Block parties like the PFD tossed it in June 2014, because they were too keen to sell their own coalition government; and they rejected it again in their March 2015.  Perhaps this was natural, because a GNU must be built on common values, and if you can’t agree on fundamental principles like value of human life and respect for its sanctity; and atonement or retribution for its wanton violation, you can’t start thinking of forming a common government. Such is the irreconcilable rift between the proponents and opponents of GNU inside and outside of Government today.

Similarly, an advocacy for a reconciliation commission is putatively premised on a genuine commitment to consigning a long abiding hurt to oblivion.    Yet its current, key party political promoters consistently  do so on the podium of opening up the barely healed wounds of the most easily remembered cases of the brutality of their recent stay in power. They have been repeating to nauseating degrees that the bodies of Constable Khetheng and the Mohale Dam three were not real, but a publicity stunt of the Government, and the TRC will bring closure for the families — well after the families positively identified their murdered kin and drew slight comfort from at least dispatching them in dignity, while awaiting the rollout of justice where the cases are already being variously prosecuted.

This is done by persons who have already lost a case against their propagation of an unproven, hair-raising claim that some Basotho of Congress political persuasion were buried alive in Hlotse more than 40 years ago, and only a TRC can heal that.  The same people who disowned their guerrilla fighters, and passed a law insulating from courts all acts arising out of their clashes with that time’s regime.  Of late they’re popularising a myth that mundane incidents of self-evident, malicious charges of “disappearance” like that of ‘Makarabo Mojakhomo who has since been unmasked as being in voluntary safe keeping by her lawyer, make a case for the TRC.

The January 2016 forced acceptance of the Phumaphi Commission report and the deserved felling of their intractable Government in March 2017, these people lost more than a year refusing to implement Reforms and prosecute heinous, apparently state-sanctioned, crimes; thus alienating our Country from its diplomatic and economic allies, and international organisations globally. The new Government lost another 13 months begging them to get into the fold of Reforms whereas everybody else was already on board, and they’re continuing to be divisive, backward-looking, and subtly derailing the process which has luckily stayed on course despite obstacles from them.

Today they summon the unbridled audacity to fly off at a tangent and ask that the Nation direct its energies to a truth and reconciliation commission. They paradoxically seek the truth by deliberately composing falsehoods meant to scorch with insolence the victims of their brazen cruelties of very current times. They ironically seek reconciliation by dispersing the already converged national energies and playing lone wolf in the face of collective endeavours to define “the Lesotho we want”, not the one wanted by themselves, and not the one to which they believe everyone else must subscribe simply because they can project themselves as victims of a history really wrought by themselves.

Mr Selinyane is the Government Spokesperson. He has however, written this article in his personal capacity.

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