Police block protest march

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE police have barred a coalition of civic groups from staging a protest march next week aimed at pressuring the government into “speedily” implementing recommendations of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) commission of inquiry into Lesotho’s instability.

A number of key civic groups falling under the umbrella of the “Alliance of Non-State Actors” had planned to stage a stay away on 12 May, including a march to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office to protest what the civic groups describe as inordinate delays in implementing the recommendations of the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi commission of inquiry which was prompted by the fatal shooting of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao, by his colleagues, in June last year.

But the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) this week rejected the Alliance’s application for the protest march to proceed as planned, saying doing so would be unlawful.

The Alliance of Non-State Actors brings together different civic groups including public transport operators, trade unions and business organisations. It comprises the Maseru Region Taxi Operators, Steering Committee (representing ‘4+1’ taxis), Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, trade unions including Lentsoe la Sechaba, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union,  United Textile Employees, and businesses represented by the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

It wanted to convene a march from the main Convention Centre to Dr Mosisili’s office to submit a list of grievances.

But according to the Alliance’s spokesperson, Makama Monese, the police rejected their application, saying it had been filed late for the demo. Mr Monese said in light of the rejection of the permit for the protest action, the Alliance would have to meet to decide whether to restrict the protest action to a stay-away programme alone. A mass stay away from work would not require police permission since workers will simply be asked to stay at home and not come into town for a march.

“District Commissioner Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola told us that we were late for the march to be held on 12 May as they will not be counting Ascension Day (5 May) because it is a holiday, as well as weekend days,” Mr Monese said yesterday.

“So all the stakeholders will be meeting either tomorrow (today) or Friday, to decide on our next move because we are yet to read the Public Meetings and Processions Act and see exactly what it says regarding public holidays and weekends.

“But despite this setback, we will ultimately find a way to petition the Prime Minister concerning those SADC recommendations which we want implemented speedily because if they are not, there will be consequences for us as the business community and the nation at large,” said Mr Monese who himself hails from the  taxi industry.

On his part, Senior Superintendent Mapola confirmed turning down the application saying it did not conform with the requisite legal prescripts.  He said he expected to meet members of the Alliance tomorrow “to determine the way forward”.

Asked to elaborate on the decision to reject the permit application, LMPS spokesperson Clifford Molefe said: “The Public Meetings and Processions Act No 14 of 2010 calls for an application for a permit seven days before the date of the activity. If it’s a stay away that they want, then they don’t need any permission because we won’t have control on whether people stay away from their jobs or choose to go to work. However, anyone who interferes with other people’s freedom of movement (by wanting to stage a protest march) commits an offence and shall be dealt with accordingly (if the march is not sanctioned by the police).”

The Alliance says it fears that any delays in implementing the recommendations could see Lesotho being overlooked, if not being completely dropped, by development partners who have made it categorically clear that they want the government to implement the recommendations.

“The government’s reluctance to implement the recommendations is (as an example) threatening Lesotho’s relationship with the United States and ultimately, the country’s eligibility for AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act which allows certain goods produced in eligible countries duty-free entry into the US). If we forfeit AGOA, at least 40 000 factory jobs will be directly lost and other related businesses will be affected. This is why we have decided to call for this stay away on 12 May to call upon the government to avert such a disaster,” Mr Monese said.

“We have decided that it is time this government takes the people seriously. More than 40 000 people are bound to lose their jobs (if AGOA is lost) and question marks remain over the country’s security thereby threatening investment and more job creation. If Lesotho fails to qualify for AGOA next year, most sectors including factories, small businesses and taxis which ferry the workers on a daily basis, will be affected. We all work in this interconnected economic value chain and if we allow it to be broken, while we just sit back and watch, we will all be doomed.”

The Alliance wants the government to implement all the recommendations and set up a specific timeline by when it aims to achieve that.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times’ sister paper Sunday Express last week, Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi said the government was already working on the recommendations and had a clear roadmap. “It’s unfortunate if they (organisers of stay away) don’t recognize these efforts because they can’t be implemented overnight. We have to take them one step at a time,” he said.

RECAP OF THE SADC RECOMMENDATIONS

In the interest of finding peace for the Kingdom of Lesotho, and bringing closure to the killing of Brigadier Mahao, the Commission proffers here below, some recommendations for consideration:

  • The Government of Lesotho should ensure that the criminal investigations on the death of Brigadier Mahao be pursued vigorously and that the LMPS is empowered and resourced accordingly. The investigation should be conducted expeditiously and comprehensively without any hindrances and that all physical evidence be surrendered. The finality of the investigations should lead to a transparent course of justice.
  • The general discontent of some Basotho with the Commander of LDF, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli and the conduct of the LDF under his command is disconcerting. In the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation, it is strongly recommended that Lieutenant General Kamoli be relieved of his duties as Commander of LDF, and all LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in their cases proceed in line with international best practice.
  • The Commission has observed that some of the political and security problems peculiar to the Kingdom of Lesotho emanate from the Constitution of the Lesotho. The deficiencies and overlaps in the constitution with regard to mandates of security institutions, need to be looked into urgently with a comprehensive strategy to reform them.
  • The Commission has noted that SOMILES (SADC Observer Mission in Lesotho) report covers extensively the areas of reform (constitution, security sector, public service and information and media) pertaining to the Kingdom. To avoid repetition, the Commission therefore recommends an accelerated implementation of the reforms encapsulated in the SOMILES report. SADC should come up with a direct strategy on how to assist Lesotho in the implementation of these reforms, and that the Lesotho Oversight Committee, established by the 3rd July 2015 Double Troika is operationalised.
  • Evidence before the Commission in respect of the mutiny, is that the alleged mutineers intended to kill 13 members of the LDF. Further, it shows that some of the complainants in the court martial, participated in the arrest of the suspects, which is a clear conflict situation, as they have personal interest in the cases. When this evidence is taken into consideration with that of the suspects subjected to torture, the object being to extract confessions from them, as well as the evidence that Lt General Kamoli himself, when he was reappointed as Commander of the LDF, stated that he would deal with those who celebrated this termination in 2014, it makes the whole case of mutiny highly suspect. In these circumstances, we recommend a facilitation of an amnesty that will cover the detained mutiny suspects and ensure the safe return of all members of the LDF who have fled Lesotho in fear for their lives.

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