Exiled leaders seek audience with Metsing

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Billy Ntaote

BASOTHO National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane says a closed-door meeting between the exiled opposition leaders and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing upon their return is imperative in ending the country’s political and security problems.

Chief ‘Maseribane also told the Lesotho Times that rapprochement between the three leaders of the first coalition government was key to bringing stability in the country in light of their bitter falling out.

Having set the 12th of February 2017 as their date of return from their sojourn in South Africa, the exiled opposition leaders, who also include Thomas Thabane and Keketso Rantšo of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) respectively, have remained apprehensive about returning home fearing lingering threats to their safety.

Lesotho’s first coalition government was formed after the 26 May 2012 general election had resulted in a hung parliament.  Dr Thabane’s ABC cobbled together a governing coalition with Chief ‘Maseribane’s BNP and Mr Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

However, the coalition government was short-lived primarily due to a nasty fallout between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing which prompted Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention.

Among the reasons for the fallout was Dr Thabane’s decision to suspend parliament without first consulting Mr Metsing.

SADC’s intervention resulted in the bringing forward of the general elections – initially slated for 2017 – to 28 February 2015. The snap polls once again resulted in a hung parliament, with Mr Metsing’s LCD joining an alliance of six other parties led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress to form government.

Barely two months after the seven-party coalition attained power, Dr Thabane fled the country on 11 May 2015, after alleging an LDF plot to assassinate him for falling out with its command while he was premier. He was joined in exile by Chief ‘Maseribane and Ms Rantšo on 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively.

Negotiations between the government and opposition over the exiled leaders’ return collapsed last April after the parties deadlocked on the latter’s insistence that LDF commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli be removed from the helm of the LDF.

A June 2016 summit of the SADC Double Troika held in Botswana also called on the leaders to end their exile by August 2016.

However, the opposition leaders had doggedly maintained they would only return after Lt-Gen Kamoli’s exit, whom they accused of masterminding the alleged plot to assassinate them.

Dr Thabane had accused Lt-Gen Kamoli of refusing to submit to civilian authority after the latter did not acknowledge his dismissal by the then premier on 29 August 2014.

The opposition also cited a recommendation for Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal by a SADC Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability. The Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi-led commission recommended that Lt-Gen Kamoli be dismissed “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation”.

With Lt-Gen Kamoli’s retirement last December, the stage was set for the opposition leaders to end their exile.

However, Chief ’Maseribane has insisted that a tete-a-tete between the exiled leaders and Mr Metsing was imperative to resolve their differences which he said could jeopardise their safety.

“Enough is enough of this discord. I don’t have anything against Ntate Mosisili, but this person from Mahobong (Mr Metsing), I want an appointment with him,” he said.

“We have agreed with Ntate Thabane that we should have an appointment to meet with this person from Mahobong. We need to sit down together as the three leaders (of the first coalition government). We want to iron out our differences and sort out what has been happening in the country.”

Chief ’Maseribane said the meeting was key to ending the country’s political and security problems.

“I want to talk to him as one Christian to another. I know he is a devoted church-going Christian. As leaders, we are seeking an appointment to bring an end to this country’s political and security problems. He shall get a letter from us requesting this meeting formally.”

The BNP leader also bemoaned the “atmosphere of intimidation” in the country, saying dialogue was imperative for peace-building.

“We continue to encounter situations where opposition officials are being arrested such as the case of (BNP spokesperson) Machesetsa Mofomobe who was arrested for speaking out.

“We need to bring things like that to an end when we return.”

The Mount Moorosi constituency legislator said the opposition alliance was ready to fight for their parliamentary seats if they were expelled by National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai.

Last November, Ms Motsamai asked 13 opposition members of parliament (MPs) — who include the exiled opposition leaders — to “show cause” why they should not be expelled from the august house for alleged absenteeism without her permission.

However, Ms Motsamai has since made an undertaking before the High Court to suspend acting on the letters until a ruling is made on the MPs’ court challenge.

“If we don’t win the case, we are prepared to take political action to protect ourselves from being fired from parliament by the speaker,” he said.

“We have a right to protect ourselves against the speaker because she is now used to running the business of the National Assembly according to her personal interests and not within the confines of the law.

“We shall come to a decision on what course of action to take when we get back to Lesotho because we want to see whether she will dare remove us from the National Assembly,”

Contacted for comment, Mr Metsing’s Private Secretary Lesolle Phalatsi said the deputy prime minister’s office had always been open for the opposition leaders.

“The DPM never shut the door on them. He just disagreed with their tendency of making decisions behind his back while they were in government together,” said Mr Phalatsi.

“His principles could not agree with their decision to have parliament suspended. There has never been a time the deputy prime minister refused to meet them.

“He also facilitated for meetings between government and opposition to take place. He was the first to seek the assistance of the Christian Council of Lesotho and the SADC Facilitator to Lesotho (South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa).”

He also slated Chief ‘Maseribane for telling the media about the request for a meeting first before Mr Metsing’s office.

“This was just a publicity stunt by trying to recreate connections that were never lost. It is surprising that they used the media to restore a communication channel that was never cut,” Mr Phalatsi said.

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