SADC’s decision to dispatch its facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa, shows the regional bloc has seen through government’s attempts to delay the release of the Commission of Inquiry’s report, analysts have said.
According to the analysts, Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi’s court challenge, to declare the SADC inquiry into the death of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao illegal, was a delaying tactic government was using which could backfire.
Mr Ramaphosa, who is also South Africa’s vice-president, was on Saturday delegated to “expeditiously communicate the concerns of SADC to the Kingdom of Lesotho” over the court challenge during a SADC Organ Troika Summit held in Sandton, Johannesburg.
The summit was attended by Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi, in his capacity as chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, South African President Jacob Zuma, SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax and Mr Ramaphosa. According to the troika’s communiqué, the summit received the Commission of Inquiry’s report, but noted with concern the court application block the proceedings of the commission.
“Summit noted with great concern that the Commission of Inquiry has been taken to court, and mandated the Facilitator to expeditiously communicate the concerns of SADC to the Kingdom of Lesotho,” the troika’s terse statement read.
Chaired by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, the commission was established to investigate the assassination of former Lt-Gen Mahao by his colleagues on 25 June this year. Government has said the former army commander was resisting arrest for suspected mutiny when he was gunned down outside his Mokema farm. However, Lt-Gen Mahao’s family disputes this claim.
The commission was supposed to hold its hearings until 10 November 2015, but wrapped up its operations ahead of schedule on 21 October, after the army refused to release 22 detained soldiers who were supposed to testify. The inquiry also fell foul of the government after moving the hearings to Thaba ‘Nchu to interview exiled leaders, their supporters and soldiers living in exile in South Africa.
This prompted Lt-Col Hashatsi to file an urgent application on 16 October 2015 seeking to block the proceedings of the inquiry accusing Justice Phumaphi of bias against him among other issues. The case has since been postponed to 18-19 January 2016 due to the unavailability of a lawyer representing one of the respondents.
According to Professor Mafa Sejanamane of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), the government has not been sincere in its efforts to end the political impasse in Lesotho.
“The government has spent a lot of time playing games without addressing the serious issues that are affecting this country,” he says.
“Our government has failed to be accountable following the death of Lt-Gen Mahao. This is the situation which led to the formation of the SADC Commission of Inquiry.”
Prof Sejanamane says it is the duty of every government to protect its citizens and prosecute perpetrators of violence.
“However, in the case of Lt-Gen Mahao, the government did not even attempt to arrest his killers,” he says.
“Our government has something to hide. That is the only conclusion one can draw from their conduct. During the commission’s hearings, they refused to reveal the people who killed Lt-Gen Mahao. Even though the Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili) cooperated with the commission more than the other government officials, he also refused to say the names.
“As an observer, it is clear to me that since the report has been tabled before SADC, our government is playing all manner of tricks to avoid being accountable. The government continues to refuse to cooperate with SADC on this matter.
“In my opinion, Mr Ramaphosa’s mission to Lesotho is to read the riot act. He will tell government of the consequences of their refusal to comply.”
Prof Sejanamane also surmises that Lt-Col Hashatsi’s court challenge is “a trick” by the government to delay and discredit the report.
He says: “It is a gigantic plot to obstruct justice. The fact that Hashatsi uses the same lawyers who represented the government before the commission highlights that this is part of a broader plot by government.”
Transformation Resource Center (TRC) Director, Tšoeu Petlane, echoes the same sentiments, saying the regional bloc was determined to end Lesotho’s political impasse.
“Dispatching Ramaphosa is a commendable move by SADC to try and find a political solution to the impasse. The government avoids discussing issues concerning the report by citing Hashatsi’s case and the principle of sub judice,” he said.
“SADC, on the other hand, uses its protocols to exert its influence over member countries. They are likely to argue that the commission is not under the jurisdiction of Lesotho courts.
“The Hashatsi case was supposed to be urgent. But, all of sudden it seems to be no longer urgent. Otherwise it would not have been postponed to January next year. The government shot itself in the foot again on the Hashatsi issue; they cite the case as the reason they cannot discuss the report, yet they weaken their case by failing to show the significance of that case and its urgency.
“The Prime Minister and Attorney-General (Tšokolo Makhethe) are respondents in the matter, but I understand they have not filed their responses concerning the matter. You just have to ask yourself why the government has not filed their response to this case.”