Members of the country’s opposition parties on Sunday protested outside the African Union (AU) Summit in South Africa to highlight Lesotho’s “deteriorating security situation”.
The protestors—who belonged to the main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL)—also submitted a list of their grievances to the continental body they said needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Among the protestors were BNP deputy leader Joang Molapo, ABC spokesperson Thabo Thakalekoala, several Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as rank and file party supporters.
In their petition, the demonstrators chronicled a number of incidents which they said showed Lesotho’s democracy was now under threat, as well as the plight of their leaders who fled the country last month fearing “assassination”.
Former Prime Minister and ABC leader Thomas Thabane, his BNP and RCL counterparts Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo sought refuge in South Africa on 11, 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively, allegedly after being alerted of a plot to kill them by renegade Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members. The seven-party government led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has since dismissed the accusations and appealed to the three leaders to return home, while also guaranteeing their safety.
Mr Thakalekoala on Tuesday told the Lesotho Times that the opposition achieved its “mission” by making the AU and international community at large, take note of “what is happening in Lesotho”.
“For the first time in the history of this country, the opposition highlighted its grievances in a completely different manner and I believe that shows maturity.
“It is about time people realised that Lesotho is not an island and when the country has problems, there are regional bodies that can be approached to resolve such issues.
“As opposition parties in this country, we don’t believe in violent but peaceful means to resolve whatever differences we might be having with the government, hence our decision to go to Sandton and demonstrate at AU Summit venue,” he said.
Mr Thakalekoala further said it was important to emphasise the opposition’s “disappointment” in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation efforts, which resulted in the premature departure of the ABC, BNP and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) coalition government following the 28 February 2015 elections.
South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was the SADC facilitator in the fallout between the governing parties, which centred around LCD leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s persistently complaints that Dr Thabane was not consulting him when making crucial decisions with a bearing on good governance. The breakdown in relations led to the SADC-brokered 28 February 2015 parliamentary elections, and the installation of a seven-party administration led by Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC), and also comprising the LCD, Popular Front for Democracy , Lesotho People’s Congress, Basotho Congress Party, Marematlou Freedom Party and National Independent Party.
“We acknowledge and thank Mr Ramaphosa for bringing a political solution to Lesotho but we are not happy that the issue of security has still not been resolved, yet it was always our key concern. We particularly refer to incidents of 30 August 2014, which saw LDF members attacking three police stations in Maseru, resulting in the death of a police officer. That issue remains unresolved to date, and we would want to see it investigated and the perpetrators brought before the courts,” said Mr Thakalekoala.
The former premier’s spokesperson warned continuing to ignore Lesotho’s “deteriorating” security situation would be a big mistake by both the AU and SADC.
“There is no stability in the country; the security situation has deteriorated so much. In fact, to say it has deteriorated is an understatement because actually, security is non-existent in our country today. The LDF has grabbed power and wants to plunge the country into a situation of lawlessness and anarchy. We don’t see the government running things in the country as we speak; Lesotho has actually been turned into a military state,” said Mr Thakalekoala.
According to Mr Thakalekoala, the Lesotho demonstration was “the largest” at the AU Summit and grabbed international media attention as evidenced by the interviews conducted during the protest with foreign journalists and members of different Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
“We scored points by demonstrating outside the AU Summit, and it’s important to note that we were the largest group of demonstrators there that day. There were Egyptians, Zimbabweans and Somalis, as well as the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa. We were interviewed by the world media and we told our story, and the fact that we became the centre of attention among the protesting groups means the journalists wanted to hear what was happening in Lesotho, and to us, that made the mission a huge success.
“In addition to the media, there were several representatives of NGOs who spoke with us to find out exactly what is happening in Lesotho.”
According to Mr Thakalekoala, Sunday’s protest resulted in the 53-member Commonwealth of Nations deciding to send an envoy to Lesotho to find out the reality on the ground.
“The Commonwealth mission to this country is partly a result of our efforts because we also wrote to the organisation expressing our disappointment with the way this country is being run as far as security is concerned,” said Mr Thakalekoala.
Meanwhile, the ABC, BNP and RCL petition submitted to the AU Summit and titled ‘Security Situation in Lesotho’ read in part: “We write this letter to inform Your Excellences about the unfortunate events unfolding in the Kingdom of Lesotho. These events, if left unattended and unresolved, may plunge the country into the abyss.
“Our complaints about the situation in Lesotho are supported by several statements released by civil society, church-leaders and international missions resident in the country.
“There are two key issues that we would humbly request your direct attention to; the first is the deteriorating security situation and the need to bring to book all the perpetrators of the failed coup of 30 August 2014.
“As a result of the deterioration of security, three opposition leaders were forced to flee the country and seek refuge in the Republic of South Africa amid threats of assassination orchestrated by some members of the Lesotho Defence Force.
“A reign of terror by the Special Forces and Military Intelligence operatives has spilled over into the main LDF force where soldiers are being abducted and detained.”
The opposition also alleged in the petition that the LDF “senior command” had “consistently and arrogantly” defied instructions of the Lesotho High Court to release the detained and abducted soldiers.
The petition continues: “Lawyers representing the detained and abducted soldiers have received death threats emanating from members of the LDF and many of the same lawyers are currently in hiding.
“Members of the media who cover such court cases also receive death threats. Detained soldiers brought before the courts of law come under the guard of heavily armed Special Forces soldiers with covered faces.
“The soldiers brought to court are bound in chains and leg irons; their lawyers are not allowed to confer and discuss the cases with them.
“This dire security situation has also contributed to the brutal and cold-blooded murder of more than 10 Basotho, including prominent businessman and a founder member of the ABC, Mr Thabiso Tsosane.
“A state close to anarchy currently reigns in Lesotho where a clique of soldiers runs amok, terrorises the public and subverts the Rule of Law. This is a direct result of the inability and reluctance on the part of the SADC facilitator, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, to address the issue of security in Lesotho.”
The petitioners also highlighted the failed coup and said they were “shocked” that government had not pursued the issue.
“We see the new government honouring those unspeakable deeds by returning the previously fired Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli to the LDF command even though there is still a dark cloud of leading the failed coup, hanging over his head.
“We are also distressed to see that LDF personnel who witnessed events of the failed coup are the ones who are presently being abducted and arrested under the pretence of a mutiny. This is being done by the very same soldiers who are prime suspects in the failed coup. There is a deliberate and systematic cover-up by the government and the LDF command.
“It is worth noting that the soldiers who are responsible for these malicious acts are also suspects in a series of crimes including but not limited to treason, murder, bombings, torture and attempted murder.
“We urge the African Union summit to urgently deal with the Lesotho situation by sending a fact-finding mission to Lesotho; assisting the Lesotho government to facilitate the removal of Lt Gen Kamoli from the command of the LDF; encouraging the Lesotho government to establish a special tribunal to bring to justice those responsible for the failed coup of 30 August 2014; encouraging the Lesotho government to facilitate the return of the exiled leaders and ensure their safety.”