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Civil society battles to clear name

by Lesotho Times


…accused of sabotaging Lesotho’s SADC Organ chairmanship

Billy Ntaote

THE Lesotho Council of Nongovernmental Organisations (LCN) leaders are fighting to clear themselves of any wrongdoing after being accused of influencing Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to deny the country chairmanship of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation last weekend.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was supposed to have assumed the chairmanship of the Organ during the 34th Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government held in Zimbabwe’s resort town of Victoria Falls from 17-18 August — only for member-states to deny him the opportunity citing the country’s political instability.

The regional bloc felt a country failing to resolve its own internal challenges could not be trusted with the leadership of such a critical institution, and awarded the Organ’s one-year chairmanship to South Africa, instead.

Lesotho was then made South Africa’s deputy, while Namibia completed the troika.

However, the LCN has since been blamed for this “embarrassment” after it emerged its leadership went to Victoria Falls four days before the summit, to lobby for Lesotho’s isolation due to a number of issues, among them the feuding between the leaders of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and Basotho National Party (BNP) which had reportedly destabilised government, and the acrimony between the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) that continues to threaten the country’s security.

In their defence, the LCN leaders say they did not have any sinister motive when five of them went to the SADC meeting, and also deny that three of their members were ever arrested while in Victoria Falls and later deported from Zimbabwe for being in the country illegally and improper conduct, as has been alleged by the Lesotho government.

The LCN Executive Secretary, Seabata Motsamai, and Development for Peace Education Director Sofonea Shale, were reportedly deported last Friday after being detained by the Zimbabwean police “for hours”.

However, both Mr Motsamai and Mr Shale have denied the allegations, which they say are disturbing and meant to intimidate them. Both men say they are considering taking legal action against those “peddling these falsehoods”.

Mr Shale said: “I learned about my alleged arrest and deportation from Zimbabwe while listening to a local radio station on Monday morning. It was the prime minister’s Press Secretary, Thabo Thakalekoala, saying civil society officials namely Sofonea Shale, Seabata Motsamai and one unknown official had been arrested in Zimbabwe and deported from that country.

“He went on to say we had been on a mission to lobby SADC not to hand over the Organ’s chairmanship to Lesotho, yet the truth of the matter is we were never arrested as he claimed. We were only questioned by the police about our presence at the summit venue, and never detained as Thakalekoala is claiming.”

Mr Shale insists the LCN delegation never went to the summit to press for Lesotho’s humiliation and the country to be denied the Organ’s chairmanship, but to show SADC how efforts to find a lasting solution to the ABC, LCD and BNP impasse, which resulted in Dr Thabane asking King Letsie III to suspend parliament for nine months two months ago, should be handled, as well as highlighting the problems between the LDF and LMPS.

On his part, Mr Motsamai said the LCN delegation did not have any ulterior motive when going to Victoria Falls, but simply to ensure Lesotho’s challenges were properly articulated.

“We never had any hidden agenda when we went there as the LCN, and neither were we arrested nor deported from Zimbabwe, which we only learned from Thakalekoala’s reports on radio,” said Mr Motsamai.

The LCN leaders’ mission to the summit, Mr Motsamai further contends, was a success, and their return home on Friday was as per their initial itinerary and not through expulsion.

“Our letter to SADC was handed over to Lieutenant Colonel Tanki Mothae, the outgoing Director of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, and it was very clear on why we were there at the summit, and it was never a secret. We are also going to be making follow-ups on our letter, and we will not be intimidated from executing our mandate as civil society,” he said.

“The letter only briefly showed how SADC should approach the Lesotho issue and also recognise, support and enhance the already existing efforts to bring normalcy to the country by different players. There was nothing sinister about it at all.”

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times has obtained a copy of the letter the LCN submitted to the SADC summit.

Part of the letter reads: “When the SADC mission to resolve the Lesotho post-2007 general election discontent was prematurely retired, it was civil society that saved the process from complete collapse and brokered a new face of political dialogue that kept SADC as a guarantor. At the same time, civil society meticulously facilitated the dialogue which did not only resolve hard-core issues, but also ushered Lesotho into a new political dispensation marked by free and fair 2012 general elections and a peaceful transfer of power and removal of Lesotho from the SADC list of flashpoints.

“We recognise the recent political developments in Lesotho characterised by the following: the short-lived tranquillity of the free and fair 2012 general elections and peaceful transfer of power to the coalition government; the intricacies of managing Post Elections parliamentary and extra-parliamentary political power configurations, including the challenges faced by the coalition government and efforts undertaken by various actors to resolve the current situation.

“We are convinced that the different bouts of political tension, as evidenced by the standoff between the military and the police, disagreement over prorogation of parliament and a fallout among members of the coalition government parties, are not only causes and simultaneously effects of the political quagmire but a manifestation of the following: the challenges of handling intra and inter conflict of coalition parties; operationalisation of the coalition government itself, all of which are a result of constitutional and institutional arrangements which have not yet matured to a level required by the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Representation in parliament and currently emerging political attitudes.

“We strongly believe that SADC’s approach to Lesotho should recognise, support and enhance the already existing efforts by different players. In more specific terms, civil society calls upon the SADC summit to design their approach in a manner that ensures that conflicts that exist among the coalition political party leaders (trust, honesty and transparency) and operational and capacity conflicts and challenges of the coalition government, are both distinctly and holistically addressed.

“We also strongly believe that a mediator/facilitator is carefully selected to ensure that all traits of an  effective mediator are met, and these are non-partisanship, acceptability by parties, knowledgeable, non-interest in the matter, authoritative and non-punitive.

“If South Africa is chosen as mediator, the summit should, on the basis of history, proximity, relevance, geography and the level of integration of the two countries, extend the mandate beyond the political situation to doing the following:

  • Effectively deal with the issue of Free Movement between Lesotho and South Africa.
  • Decisively resolve the cross-border taxi-operators’ challenges at the borders between Lesotho and South Africa.
  • Address the exploitation of Basotho immigrants in South Africa who, under International Law, have rights within the Joint Bilateral Cooperation Commission.”


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