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Opposition protests target First Lady

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Limpho Sello

OPPOSITION female politicians this week chose the Manthabiseng Convention Centre — the venue of the 12th Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancers in Africa Conference and Exhibition (SCCA) conference- to stage protests against the Thomas Thabane-led administration.

The protestors carried placards outside the venue of the conference which brought together first ladies and other delegates from different African countries.

They said they were unhappy with the Thabane regime’s failure to address several issues which include the recent ‘disappearance’ of the fraud-accused ‘Makarabo Mojakhomo and the June 2017 murder of the former First Lady, Lipolelo Thabane.

The First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, hosted the SCCA conference which began on Sunday and ended yesterday.

Ms Thabane was made chairperson of the Forum of African First Ladies against Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancers at the official opening ceremony of the chair of the SCCA in Maseru on Monday.

And even as the First Lady and the delegates discussed strategies to combat the deadly scourge of cancer which kills at least eight million people annually across the world, the opposition was protesting outside the venue of the deliberations.

The Lesotho Times witnessed the protests of the female politicians who carried placards listing several grievances which the government had allegedly failed to address. The protestors, who numbered eight, were drawn from the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD).

Among the grievances was the issue of Ms Mojakhomo who allegedly disappeared from police custody in May this year and Ms Lipolelo Thabane who was shot dead by unknown gunmen in June 2017.

Senqu Constituency legislator who is also the secretary of the DC Women’s League, Likeleli Tampane, told the Lesotho Times that they thought it best to picket outside the venue of the cancer conference after the government ignored their repeated efforts to address their grievances.

Ms Tampane said they chose the venue in the hope that they would attract the attention of Dr Thabane and Ms Thabane.

She said while the opposition regarded the SCCA conference as a good initiative which they fully supported, they however, wanted Ms Thabane to know that they were unhappy with her behaviour which they said was not in keeping with what was expected of a first lady.

“We held several press conferences and even wrote letters to the authorities where we raised our concerns about the disappearance of Makarabo Mojakhomo, the death of Lipolelo Thabane, the review of teacher’s and factory workers’ salaries as well as the lack of freedom of speech for opposition MPs,” Ms Tampane said.

“I for one, am being threatened for being vocal and speaking for our freedom and rights in this country. We are very worried.

“Our pleas have been taken for granted for far too long and we had to find alternative ways of getting the answers we deserve and the freedom we need as citizens of Lesotho.

“We also thought that (bringing the protest to the venue of the conference) was right as we would help the First Lady to find herself and know what she should stand for as the First Lady.”

Ms Thabane has already been subpoenaed by the Mojakhomo family to testify in the case they lodged before the High Court in which they want the court to order the police produce Ms Mojakhomo dead or alive.

Ms Mojakhomo was last seen by her relatives at the Police Headquarters in Maseru on 30 May 2018 where she was detained for allegedly defrauding the ‘Maesaiah Thabane Trust Fund of at least M200 000.

Ms Mojakhomo was arrested on 29 May this year and she was due in court on 31 May in connection with the fraud and theft of at least M200 000 from First Lady Maesaiah Thabane’s Trust Fund.  She could not appear in court after the police claimed she had escaped from custody while they were preparing to take her to court.

But Ms Mojakhomo’s family have come out guns blazing insisting there is no way that she could have broken out of tightly guarded police cells. The family has since petitioned the High Court for an order for the police to produce her dead or alive.

The family has cited social media reports that she could have been murdered by the police as one of the reasons for its bid to have her produced before the court.

The government has said that it is still investigating the murder of Ms Lipolelo Thabane.

Ms Lipolelo Thabane was shot dead by an unknown assailant as she was about to drive into her Ha ‘Masana home on 14 June 2017. The incident occurred just two days before Dr Thabane’s inauguration as prime minister.

Thato Sibolla, a companion of Ms Thabane, also sustained serious injuries in the shooting.

According to the government report to the SADC heads of state, a special team was set up on 16 June 2017 to investigate the murder of Ms Thabane and the attempted murder of Ms Sibolla.

“The team (of investigators) has conducted interviews with individuals, friends, relatives and possible witnesses.  A post-mortem was also carried out and a ‘lead’ was discovered from the deceased body (of Ms Thabane) and was also submitted to the ballistics. Another ‘lead’ was discovered from the lady (Ms Sibolla) while she was hospitalised and was also submitted to the ballistics. Investigations are on-going,” the government said in its report.

And this week, Ms Tampane said they suspect “Ms Maesaiah Thabane knows about Mojakhomo’s disappearance and Mme Lipolelo’s death”.

“We also suspect that teachers’ nurses and factory workers salaries are not being reviewed because the funds have been diverted to the Maesaiah Thabane Trust Fund. We also see her (Ms Thabane) holding parties every weekend at the State House.”

Ms Tampane further said they were worried about Ms Thabane’s behaviour of “insulting and assaulting women”. Ms Tampane also alleged that Ms Thabane also insulted doctors and nurses.

This was in reference to last week’s incident in which Ms Thabane was involved in a physical altercation with a Ha Tšolo (Maseru) woman at Maseru Private Hospital. Ms Thabane allegedly beat up the woman, ’Manthatisi Mabuthile, after a misunderstanding over the woman’s sister who was hit by one of the First Lady’s office cars which was transporting her staff from a cancer awareness road show that was held in preparation for the SCCA.

The First Lady’s office has nonetheless denied that she started the fight. Her alleged victim, ‘Manthatisi Mabuthile, nonetheless insists that she did.

On his part, the Office of the First Lady’s Public Relations Manager, Silas Monyatsi, said the protestors were simply exercising their right of freedom of speech.

“Those women were picketing in the street and they didn’t petition the office of the First Lady so it is difficult for me to comment on their concerns.

“I think they were very serious about what they were doing but I will not associate their issues with the Office of the First Lady because they did not approach the office. Again, they did not interrupt the conference as they were just out there on the street showing of their concerns,” Mr Monyatsi said.

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