ORGANISERS of a protest march aimed at pressuring the government into “speedily” implementing SADC commission of inquiry recommendations, say they are going ahead with the demonstration today despite the “stringent” conditions.
The protest march is being organised by key civic groups falling under the “Alliance of Non-State Actors” umbrella. It comprises of 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.
The Alliance has also called for a stay away in protest for what they 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 last June.
However, after the police turned down the Alliance’s application to hold the march last Friday, arguing the request did not meet requirements of the law, the civic groups filed an urgent High Court application on the same day seeking to overturn the decision.
While granting the Alliance’s application, the High Court on Tuesday set conditions stipulating that the protest-march would only start at 9.30am and end at 11am.
The court ruled that the protest would start at the Maseru Race Course and end at the Moshoeshoe Statue Park, with the protestors supposed to quietly disperse in groups of three people at most after the set time.
The conditions also barred the protestors from using tree branches and sticks, singing mocking or abusive lyrics, interference with by-standers or passers-by and engaging in sit-ins.
According to the Alliance’s spokesperson and member of the Maseru Region Taxi Operators, Makama Monese, they had considered postponing the protest march in light of the “stringent” conditions.
“After the stringent conditions were laid out to us, we could tell they were just an indirect way by the police to deny us the permit,” he said.
“But all the same, our resolve to urge the prime minister to implement the SADC commission of inquiry’s recommendations and address the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) issue have not been dampened.”
Mr Monese said the “hurdles” put in their way had emboldened them to practise their constitutional right to protest peacefully.
“After consulting with our legal representative, we were urged by our supporters to continue with the protest march; whether it’s hot or cold, conditions permitting or not permitting,” he said.
The Alliance, Mr Monese said, had chosen today “strategically” since it coincided with the visit of a delegation from the United States government to assess Lesotho’s eligibility for AGOA. The facility gives duty-free and quota-free access to the US market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho.
While the US government has renewed Lesotho’s eligibility for trade preferences under AGOA for 2016, the economic powerhouse also expressed “serious concerns” about the government’s alleged failure to adhere to governance criteria, saying they would monitor the implementation of reforms ahead of the next eligibility review process.
Mr Monese said they intended to hold a peaceful protest.
“We are not going to challenge the route we have been given, even though we are fully aware that the time given to us is very constricted. “However, we are ready for whatever consequences that may come our way should the police resort to violence.”
Meanwhile, police Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola urged the protestors to abide by the conditions set by the court.
“Now that they (Alliance) have decided to continue with the protest march, they should adhere to the set conditions. In the likely event that one of the conditions is broken, the procession will be stopped forthwith,” Sen Sup Mapola said, adding that the given route and conditions were meant to ensure public safety.