LEADERS of the tripartite opposition bloc have met SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, and reiterated they won’t return home unless the pre-conditions they set are implemented forthwith.
A double troika summit of SADC convened in Gaborone, Botswana, on 28 June 2016 had, among other things, urged the exiled opposition leaders to return to Lesotho by the end of August 2016 to participate in the ongoing constitutional and security sector reforms as per the recommendations of the regional body’s commission of inquiry into Lesotho’s instability.
The three leaders, Thomas Thabane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Thesele ’Maseribane of the Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho’s (RCL) Keketso Rantšo were coy about the details of their meeting with Mr Ramaphosa, preferring to only say in a joint statement yesterday their summit with the facilitator was meant to discuss “in particular the safe return of all exiles to Lesotho, the worsening security situation, political, security and administrative reforms and the urgent need to resolve these in the shortest time possible”.
The Lesotho Times is nevertheless authoritatively informed the leaders had told Mr Ramaphosa the removal of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli remained a non-negotiable pre-condition for their return as they would never feel safe as long as he continued to wield military power.
Sources privy to the talks, held at Mr Ramaphosa’s Pretoria residence, yesterday said the leaders maintained their stance that the security situation in Lesotho was ever deteriorating, citing several examples to buttress their arguments. Among these examples was the increasing number of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) fleeing for the neighbouring country citing attempts to assassinate them.
Last month, ABC MP for Maseru Constituency Number 32 Lesego Makgothi fled the country, while Khafung Number 23 legislator Habofanoe Lehana went into hiding claiming their lives were in danger. Their departure brings to seven, the number of ABC MPs hiding in South Africa.
Just before the 28 June double troika summit, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had told Parliament his coalition government had opened discussions with Lt-Gen Kamoli over his tenure at the helm of the LDF in light of the international pressure that he be removed, even though the premier also emphasized his government disagreed with international perceptions of the army commander.
No further statement has since been made on the status of those negotiations. The opposition leaders are said to have insisted to Mr Ramaphosa that SADC should implore Dr Mosisili to pronounce himself on the matter to ensure Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal from the army is effected forthwith.
The only other instance Dr Thabane, as the main opposition leader, would consider to return while Lt-Gen Kamoli remains at the LDF was if he was given SADC security, an option that seems to have already been shot down.
Mr Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, told the Lesotho Times last night the meeting between his boss and Lesotho’s opposition leaders was meant to help in the preparation of reports to be submitted at the SADC summit in Mbabane, Swaziland later this month. He declined to comment any further, saying any other details of the discussions remained confidential.
ABC Secretary- General Samonyane Ntsekele said the meeting with Mr Ramaphosa had been convened at his request and was attended by leaders of the opposition and their respective parties’ executive representatives.
He said the meeting had discussed the issue of the return of all exiles to Lesotho, among other things, but could not shed any more light on the details.
BNP deputy leader Joang Molapo described the meeting with Mr Ramaphosa as “fruitful” but said he would leave it to Mr Ramaphosa to communicate details of their concerns to the government of Lesotho.
“We are hopeful that the government will know our stand on the issues discussed. Their (the government’s) communication lines with the facilitator are open,” he said while also declining to comment substantively on the discussions.
“The facilitator is the right person to comment on whether we shall beat the (end of August) deadline and have the leaders back in the country.”
Meanwhile, the government’s spokesperson, Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi, said he was not aware of the opposition’s meeting with Mr Ramaphosa.
“I was not aware of such a meeting, and even if I were, I am sure it had nothing to do with the government. It was their meeting as the opposition.”
He said the government had nonetheless always wanted the opposition leaders to come back but the latter had decided to stay in South Africa.
“We have always been saying they should come back home and they have repeatedly decided not to. It’s therefore quite difficult to know what they really need to return,” Mr Letsatsi said.