Cracks emerge in the ABC-DC coalition

  • DC angered by moves to prosecute Metsing, Mochoboroane for treason,
  • slams ABC for “persecuting” its political rivals.

Pascalinah Kabi

SIX months after its establishment, the Moeketsi Majoro-led governing coalition faces the biggest test to cohesion. This as the two biggest coalition partners, Dr Majoro’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s Democratic Congress (DC) cross swords over the judiciary’s decision to prosecute former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and current Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane for treason.

All along the two parties have enjoyed a seemingly solid relationship. The only threats to the stability of the coalition have come from within the fractious ABC whose members remain split between two main camps backing party leader Thomas Thabane and his deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao.

But the impending treason trial of Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane has now driven a wedge between the two biggest parties in the governing coalition which came to power on 20 May 2020.

Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane are set to be prosecuted alongside former army commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Tlali Kamoli and three other soldiers, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.

The treason charges are in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister and current ABC leader, Thomas Thabane.

Mr Metsing, who leads the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), was deputy prime minister at the time of the attempted coup while Mr Mochoboroane was Communications Minister and LCD secretary general. The LCD was in a coalition with Dr Thabane’s ABC and the Basotho National Party (BNP). Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired by Mr Thabane from his post as army commander on 29 August 2014 before allegedly orchestrating the 30 August 2014 attempted coup allegedly with the support of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane, Captain Nyakane and others. Mr Thabane and Mr Metsing had fallen out after the latter alleged that he was not being consulted on key decisions.

Lt-Gen Kamoli and the other soldiers are already in prison charged with the murder of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko which occurred on 30 August 2014 during the attempted coup. In the murder trial, they are charged along with other soldiers, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.

It had appeared that Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane could be spared prosecution for the foreseeable future after the previous Thabane administration inked a deal with the opposition to stop the trials of all politicians at least until after the completion of the multi-sector reforms. The constitutional, security sector, media, governance and judicial reforms were recommended by SADC in 2016 as part of efforts to achieve lasting stability in the Kingdom.

Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane are key players in the reforms process in their capacities as leaders of the LCD and Movement for Economic Change (MEC) parties.

Clause 10 of the October 2018 government-opposition agreement brokered by SADC, states that “Mr Metsing and similarly placed persons in exile will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.

The Constitutional Court previously outlawed this particular clause 10 of the government-opposition agreement.  In their 22 November 2018 judgement, Justices ‘Maseforo Mahase, Semapo Peete and Molefi Makara declared clause 10 of the government-opposition agreement unconstitutional.

This after the late Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng’s father, Thabo Khetheng, had petitioned the court to declare the clause unconstitutional saying self-serving agreements between politicians could not outstrip the constitution. PC Khetheng was killed by fellow police officers on 26 March 2016.

Earlier this year in February when the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane indicated her intention to join Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to the treason trial, the duo filed a Constitutional Court application seeking the rescission of the same court’s 22 November 2018 judgement which outlawed clause 10.

Their application was again dismissed by the same judges on 12 November 2020. In dismissing their application, the judges rejected their argument that the 2018 government-opposition agreement was an international agreement brokered by SADC and therefore superseded any local law which prescribed that they be tried for their alleged crimes.

The judges ruled that for any international agreement to be binding in Lesotho, it would have to be first domesticated into local law through an act of parliament.

The ruling cleared the way for Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to be tried alongside Lt-Gen Kamoli, Captain Nyakane, Lance Corporals Ntsane and Motsieloa.

The trial was supposed to have commenced on Monday but it has been postponed because of a fresh application by Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to stop the DPP from joining them to the case.

The trial has also driven a wedge between the ABC and DC who have up until now appeared to enjoy a solid working relationship as the two main coalition partners.

Although the resumption of the trial has been prompted by the Constitutional Court ruling, the DC lays the blame squarely at the feet of the government.

Addressing the media this week, DC secretary general Tšitso Cheba warned that prosecuting the duo would fan instability in the country.

Mr Cheba, who said he was communicating the party position endorsed by all its members, said they did not form a coalition with the ABC in May this year to “politically persecute other people with these treason charges”.

“We sat with the ABC to discuss these issues. Even when the DC was in opposition with our leader as the official leader of opposition, we took a stand that people should not be persecuted.

“When we were on the verge of forming a coalition government with the ABC, one of the things that we discussed was this very same (treason) matter. We asked each other what must be done to heal this country.

“The issue of politically persecuting other people with treason charges stemming from the August 2014 attempted coup is not part of the things we (ABC and DC) agreed to do. We did not form government to implement this thing,” Ms Cheba said.

He said instead of persecuting political rivals, the coalition was formed to deliver services and encourage reconciliation among Basotho.

“What we agreed to do was to deliver services and address complaints from Basotho. The culture of persecuting each other no longer has a place in our country. There is no longer any reason for Basotho to flee to South Africa and other countries over issues that we could have solved internally. We shouldn’t wait for foreigners to tell us how to solve our problems.

“Persecuting people is not a priority. The most important thing is to heal this country and if there are people who have to be compensated, let us embark on a process which will eventually help us get there so that we can turn a new page as a country. We should take advantage of the multisectoral reforms to turn a new leaf. Pursuing charges against Ntate Metsing and Ntate Mochoboroane will affect the stability of this country.”

Mr Cheba also alleged that the treason charges against Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane were part of a plot to eliminate their rivals ahead of the high stakes 2022 general elections. He did not say who wanted to eliminate their rivals. He said once charged, the duo was likely to be detained just like Lt-Gen Kamoli and others who have been repeatedly denied bail since their detention in 2017.

“Lt-Gen Kamoli and other soldiers are incarcerated and unfortunately the case has not been heard. Yet the soldiers have spent more than three years in prison. As if that is not enough, they have been denied bail. We also note that lawyers representing these soldiers withdrew their services citing that they do not trust that the soldiers will be fairly tried in the local courts.

“It is amid this confusion that the government joins the leader of Movement for Economic Change (MEC), Honourable Selibe Mochoboroane, and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing to the case. The MEC and its leader are part of this government and there is no doubt that going after the MEC leader will affect the stability of this government.

“This type of charge, treason to be specific, denies a suspect the right to bail. This means the primary objective of this case is to incarcerate these leaders. Today we know that these soldiers have spent more than three years in prison and it is our understanding that these leaders are facing the same fate,” Mr Cheba said, adding when the two politicians are jailed, their parties’ elections preparations will be negatively affected.

He said while the DC fully supported the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, it was his party’s wish for every suspect to be afforded a fair trial.

He also repeated the demands the DC had made while in opposition for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as the best way of addressing past injustices.

“Now that lawyers representing the soldiers have lost faith in the processes of trying their clients, we strongly urge the government to establish a truth and reconciliation commission as a platform for uniting and healing the nation. This commission will help bring an end to these long-drawn-out cases which have kept some people in prison without being tried.

“We also appeal to the government to see reason and abandon the route it has taken of dealing with a political issue through the judicial process. We advise them to use the TRC route to address this matter. The peace and stability of this country will not come as a windfall; it must be toiled for.  Every patriotic Mosotho and all government institutions and departments must work towards the stability and peace of this country,” he said.

Mr Cheba also suggested that there was preferential treatment for ABC leader Mr Thabane who has still not been arrested or appeared in court for the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo.

Mr Thabane’s current wife, ‘Maesaiah, was arrested and appeared in court in February this year in connection with Lipolelo’s murder. She is out on bail while awaiting trial.

Although Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli had named Mr Thabane as a suspect, he remains free to this day.

Commenting on the issue this week, Mr Cheba said, “that is a puzzling issue and one asks himself how justice is administered in this country”.

“One wonders how issues of justice are handled in this country. The DC never opposed the arrest of the soldiers suspected of crimes because justice must be served. But we have a problem when people who did not resist arrest are denied bail, kept in custody and separated from their families for more than three years without being prosecuted.

“That is not justice, it is pure cruelty. This is bad. This is not justice. Secondly, joining Ntate Metsing and Mochoboroane in this case is simply a trap. The DC strongly believes that they are just being removed from the political scene to be kept in prison. The case against them will not be prosecuted to finality.

“They will be kept in custody while we shout on top of our voices complaining that they have been unfairly arrested. No one will listen to us. This might be a trick to give some people an added advantage on the political landscape. This is not justice. That is why we strongly recommend the establishment of a TRC to deal with these issues to finality,” Mr Cheba said.

DC treasurer Hlalele Letšaba concurred saying the party was very clear that the detained soldiers should be granted bail like any other suspects who are out on bail.

Mr Cheba refused to say what action, if any, the DC would take over the matter. DC deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa, yesterday said Mr Cheba had indeed articulated the party position. He too, refused to say if they would take any action.

ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele failed to honour his promise to give an interview on the issue yesterday. ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa’s mobile phone rang unanswered when this publication called him for comment.

SADC has also weighed in on the issue, saying Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane should not be prosecuted for any crimes until after the implementation of the multi-sector reforms.

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