Basotho National Party (BNP) spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, has dismissed allegations that the BNP had organised a protest march this week aimed at derailing tomorrow’s reopening of parliament following its nine-month prorogation on 10 June this year.
Weekend media reports suggested the BNP intended to stage the march in Maseru on Monday, under the guise of delivering petitions to various stakeholders calling for Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli to step down as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, when the party’s “real motive” was to create conditions that would make it impossible for parliament to reopen on 17 October as per the Maseru Facilitation Declaration.
The march, it was further reported, was to culminate in a sit-in at the Royal Palace, where the protestors would then request an audience with King Letsie III.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired Lt Gen Kamoli on 29 August this year for alleged insubordination and replaced him with Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.
However, Lt Gen Kamoli has since refused to accept the dismissal citing its illegality and remains firmly in control of the LDF, while Lt Gen Mahao has still not been able to exercise his new authority.
According to Mr Mofomobe, the protest march claims were only meant to tarnish the image of the BNP.
“It is just a myth and propaganda by rival political parties out to tarnish the image of the BNP. According to the Public Meetings and Processions Act No 14 of 2010, the police can approve a request to hold a procession and they can deny such a permit whenever they deem it fit. They also determine which route a protest march should take. The police recently denied the congress parties’ application to hold their demonstrations and gave clear reasons for doing so (that it might turn violent).
“On our part as the BNP, we have never had any plans to hold a march. And on the part of Lt Gen Kamoli, we don’t see any reason to hold a demo to ask someone who has been dismissed to vacate office. We expect the man to do the honourable thing and simply go home, and as of claims that the march was meant to disrupt the reopening of parliament, like I said, these are unfounded allegations,” Mr Mofomobe said.
“What is surprising is that the army issued a statement about the alleged protest march, soon after some congress parties’ Members of Parliament (MPs) had said over some local radio stations, that we had planned a demo so we could kidnap the King and derail the reopening of parliament. We are concerned the LDF has recently been releasing too many press statements as though they are the government.
“The army has no powers over protest marches except the police, unless we are now under a military junta, so why should they issue a statement about a march? The opposite of civilian control of the military is a military dictatorship; de-facto lack of control over the army may result in a state within a state.”
However, according to a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) MP, Tšoanelo Ramakeoana, the BNP march was “real” and not a myth as claimed by Mr Mofomobe.
“We know there was such a plan by the BNP; maybe the suggestion that they had already secured a police permit for it was the exaggeration, but we know for a fact that they had such a plan.
“We got this information from very reliable sources who tipped us that the Police Training College would be used to cook food for the protestors who would stage a sit-in at by the King’s Palace after they had delivered their petitions to different stakeholders. The petitions were intended to mount pressure on Lt Gen Kamoli to step down.
“We know they had also planned to frustrate the processes leading to the opening of parliament on Friday (tomorrow) by making the King leave the country so that the House would not be reopened,” Mr Ramakeoana said.
According to Mr Ramakeoana, the BNP and All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Dr Thabane, were against parliament’s reopening on 17 October because they feared it signalled the premature end of the premier’s rule.
Dr Thabane suspended parliament for nine months on 10 June this year to dodge a vote-of-no-confidence in his leadership but was obliged to reopen it tomorrow through SADC mediation. After its reopening made possible by the Maseru Facilitation Declaration signed on 2 October 2014 by various party leaders in the presence of SADC facilitator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the House is set to be dissolved in early December, with snap elections following in February 2015, which would officially mark the end of the BNP, ABC and LCD coalition government formed in June 2012.
Meanwhile, in a statement released on 11 October, the LDF indicated it had taken “cognisance of the deteriorating security situation in the country as a result of lack of a culture of tolerance and cooperation amongst cross-sections of society”.
The statement, signed by the LDF Public Affairs Officer, Major Ntlele Ntoi added: “This is clearly demonstrated by failure by their failure to cooperate with national leaders, including international organisations on their concerted efforts aimed at promoting peace and stability in the country.
“This state of affairs does not only touch on the foundations of democracy which the LDF unconditionally supports, but also suffocates efforts geared towards peaceful resolution of conflict.
“Given the continual utterances and war of words mediated through the print, electronic and social media, including different public gatherings, the LDF would like to remind that it would be laudable for everyone to acknowledge the recommendations and decisions of the SADC summits arrived at in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Pretoria, South Africa, respectively. This also includes the Maseru Facilitation Declaration that was endorsed by national leaders from the broader political spectrum which, among others, clearly encourages all to work for peaceful resolution of conflicts by way of desisting from actions that are likely to instigate violence.”
The LDF Command, the statement further noted, was “mindful of the fact that freedom of expression and association constitute fundamental tenets of democracy”.
It continued: “However, under the prevailing situation, the LDF Command does not only appeal but also advise the organisers of the contemplated procession to abandon it for the sake of peace.
“This would give an ample opportunity to national leaders from across the social strata to fulfil their mandate of providing leadership for promoting peace and tranquillity in the country.
“The Lesotho Defence Force will, at all times, reiterate that the Constitution of Lesotho read with Sections 5 of the LDF Act No. 4 of 1996, will always remain a source of its obligation for the maintenance of peace and security in the country.
“The LDF Command is optimistic that everyone of us is eager to embrace peace, which is not only a foundation but also an anchor of our national heritage.”