Exiled leaders meet Ramaphosa

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Cyril_Ramaphosa…Thabane, ‘Maseribane and Rantšo also set to meet British High Commissioner to South Africa Judith Macgregor on Monday next week over Lesotho security

Keiso Mohloboli

LADYBRAND-Lesotho’s opposition leaders who fled to South Africa last month fearing “assassination” met South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Rampahosa last Saturday in Pretoria to discuss their plight and the way forward.

Former Prime Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane, his Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) counterparts Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo sought refuge in South Africa on 11, 13 and 26 May respectively, allegedly after being alerted of a plot to kill them by renegade Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members—an accusation government has since denied.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times in Ladybrand, South Africa, on Tuesday this week, Chief ‘Maseribane said they decided to approach Mr Ramaphosa since he was the architect of the roadmap which led to the 28 February 2015 snap elections. Mr Ramaphosa had been appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate in the bitter power-struggle between then Prime Minister Thabane and his deputy and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, resulting in elections two years ahead of schedule.

According to Chief ‘Maseribane, the meeting in Pretoria sought to further alert the region of the “deteriorating” security situation in Lesotho, which has seen LDF members being arrested, detained, and tortured by their colleagues for allegedly plotting to topple their commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, as well as last month’s fatal shooting of staunch ABC supporter and prominent businessman Thabiso Tšosane by unknown gunmen.

Chief ‘Maseribane said Mr Ramaphosa listened to their grievances, and the three Lesotho leaders were now waiting to hear from SADC over the issue.

According to Chief ‘Maseribane, the three of them were also supposed to meet British High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith Anne Macgregor, in Pretoria yesterday over the same issue, but the meeting was moved to Monday next week due to Ms Rantšo’s unavailability.

Chief ‘Maseribane also confirmed meeting Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) officials on  29 May 2015 in the Free State, during which they discussed their return home.

“First of all, let me start by making it categorically clear that we have never been in touch with anybody from the Lesotho government since our escape last month.

“I have heard that there are government officials claiming that they have reached out to us here in South Africa, but this is not true at all,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

According to the BNP leader, the meeting with Mr Ramaphosa had taken place “in the late hours of Saturday in Pretoria to table our concerns over peace and stability in Lesotho and the security fears which resulted in our escape to South Africa last month.”

“As we have previously mentioned, we had been tipped off by our military friends, about the plot to assassinate us by members of the Lesotho Defence Force, so we had to leave the country on different dates. According to our friends, we were not supposed to travel at night anymore because that was when the assassinations were going to take place. We were also advised not to attend political rallies, which is why we could not hold “thank you celebrations” after the elections, because we had been told by the same friends that that’s where we could also be killed.”

However, the BNP leader insisted Lesotho had been in turmoil long before Mr Rampahosa’s intervention late last year.

“The situation became worse when the prime minister removed Lt Gen Kamoli as LDF commander in August 2014, so his reinstatement by the current prime minister (Democratic Congress leader Pakalitha Mosisili who was sworn-in on 17 March 2015), meant our lives were now in danger.

“Like we have always been preaching, even before ‘M’e Keke joined us in the opposition from the LCD, there was never peace and stability in the country and the security crisis is getting worse by the day.

“In our meeting with Mr Ramaphosa on Saturday, we made him aware that Lt Gen Kamoli had been returned to his old post and that LDF members were being abducted, tortured and detained at the Maximum Security Prison since 18 May 2015.

“We also told him that government’s claim that the abductions and torture of the soldiers were a result of a planned mutiny to overthrow Lt Gen Kamoli was just a lie. We told him the truth of the matter was that certain politicians had taken control of the LDF for their own selfish means, and wanted to intimidate everyone so that they could not answer for their various crimes.

“We brought up the issue of Lt Gen Kamoli before Mr Ramaphosa because it was during his command that LDF members attempted a coup in August last year, three Maseru police stations were attacked by soldiers resulting in the death of one police officer, and the house of Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, who had just been made commander, was attacked, his cars and house damaged.

“We asked Mr Ramaphosa why nobody ever asked us during SADC’s facilitation about the attempted coup, which resulted in our seeking refuge in South Africa in August last year. We pointed out to him that real issues were ignored and elections forced on us to resolve the crisis the country was facing at the time. It was and still our expectation that people responsible for those treasonous acts appear before courts of law.”

Chief ‘Maseribane also said the SADC leadership did not even ask why Dr Thabane prorogued parliament for nine months in June 2014.

“During SADC’s facilitation, nobody ever asked Dr Thabane about the prorogation, and like I said, the attempted coup was also never discussed. SADC was only interested in the removal of the prorogation and not about the death of Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko during the August attack on Police Headquarters by LDF members, and other treasonable cases which were destabilising the country at the time. We raised all these issue when we met Mr Ramaphosa on Saturday, and also our reservations regarding the mediation that the CCL wants to lead for our return home.”

According to Chief ‘Maseribane, they told Mr Ramaphosa that the CCL had since been compromised and would not negotiate a fair deal for the opposition.

“A good example is that of a certain Anglican Archbishop who was leading prayers during Mosisili’s inauguration in March this year. The prayer was clearly singing the praises of the coalition of Congress parties and it was a shock to hear such a so-called prayer from a head of the church.”

Chief ‘Maseribane also said Dr Thabane’s government had persistently been accused of politicising the country’s security agencies, adding: “Look at what is happening now in the police and army… Is that not politicising these critical institutions?”

Chief ‘Maseribane further said despite assurances from Deputy Prime Minister Metsing, Minister of Defence and National Security Tšeliso Mokhosi and  the premier about their safety, they would not return to Lesotho unless there is SADC guarantee of their security.

“Claims by the government that they want to meet us for discussions of how best we could be assisted back home are a farce. No effort has been made by the government of Lesotho to meet us; not even one representative from government has ever contacted us to find out anything about our escape. Our respective political parties wrote to Mosisili and the Speaker of the National Assembly Ntlhoi Motsamai about it but there was no response. Nobody has ever even called us for a mere meeting to discuss our issue.

“So we can’t just pack our bags and come back to a country where our lives are not safe. We advised Mr Ramaphosa that we would want Lesotho’s security issues to be discussed thoroughly and a SADC team sent to Maseru to find out for itself the problems our people are facing as we speak.”

According to Chief ‘Maseribane, the “instability” is being deliberately created by “some politicians to avoid being arrested for the various crimes such as corruption, which they committed.

“There are some politicians who want to hide criminal cases by killing others. I would recommend such immoral politicians to hire themselves good lawyers who might be able to save them because they will surely be brought before the courts one day. After all, those politicians have a lot of money and can easily afford to hire expensive international lawyers to represent them before the courts, so they should stop killing innocent souls and face their day in court.”

Chief ‘Maseribane also appealed to “soldiers to stop harassing my wife and children.”

He added: “Some soldiers are being seen near my home in Naleli, yet I left the country last month. They should come for me in South Africa and stop making suspicious movements at my home and scaring my family. My children and wife are not me because it’s me they really want, so they should simply cross over here and face me and stop harassing innocent women and children.”

Asked about allegations that SADC Chairman President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe had refused to meet them in Botswana last month to hear their case, Chief ‘Maseribane said: “We are not stupid and know procedures to be followed in order to have talks with SADC. We (Dr Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane) went to Botswana to meet the Executive Secretary, Lawrence Tax. Coincidentally, Mr Mugabe was in Botswana at the time and he asked us why  we were in that country. We told him about our issue and he promised to get back to us, which he did a few days later through his envoy, which is why we are also saying we await SADC’s response.”

According to Chief ‘Maseribane, there would be no more “secret” meetings as far as Lesotho’s security issues are concerned.

“We made it clear to Mr Ramaphosa that we no longer want secret meetings when resolving our issues because agreements we would have signed end up not being respected. A clear example is the reinstatement of Lt Gen Kamoli, when it had been initially agreed by the SADC Heads of State and Government that all the three security chiefs—Lt Gen Kamoli, Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao and Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana—would be sent on retirement after the elections. Mr Ramaphosa gave us the impression that he was shocked that Mosisili reinstated Lt Gen Kamoli despite that agreement but like I said, we won’t have any secret meetings about such issues again.”

Contacted for comment on Tuesday, Mr Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa confirmed the meeting in Pretoria but would not give any details.

“Yes, Deputy President Mr Ramaphosa met with Lesotho’s opposition leaders on Saturday in Pretoria since he was the SADC Facilitator in that dispute. But that is all I can say because the discussions were confidential,” said Mr Mamoepa.

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