THE SOUTHERN African Development Community (SADC) says there is no justification for Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing and other exiled opposition leaders to continue boycotting the multi-sector reforms process.
This was said by the outgoing chairperson of the SADC Oversight Committee, Matias Matondo, in a wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times this week.
Dr Matondo made the remarks in the wake of reports that despite government assurances of their safety, Mr Metsing and other exiled opposition leaders resolved early this week that they would not return home to participate in the ongoing processes that are expected to culminate in the implementation of multi-sector reforms.
The constitutional, security sector, governance and media reforms were recommended by SADC in 2016 as part of efforts of achieving lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.
Mr Metsing has been holed up in South Africa since fleeing Lesotho last August citing an alleged plot to assassinate him. The government has nevertheless refuted his claims, insisting that he fled to escape prosecution for corruption.
Besides Mr Metsing, other opposition leaders currently in exile are LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and Teboho Mojapela of the Socialist Revolutionaries party.
The opposition set Mr Metsing’s return as one of the preconditions for its participation in the process to implement multi-sector reforms that are aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability in the country.
It had initially been agreed that Mr Metsing and his exiled colleagues would return home to participate in the reforms process after the government assured them of their safety.
However, in a new turn of events, Mr Metsing met with fellow opposition leaders in Ladybrand, South Africa early this week and resolved to boycott the reforms process to protest of the recent suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane indefinitely suspended Justice Majara from office with effect from 11 September 2018.
The suspension paves way for a three-member tribunal to try Justice Majara over a litany of misconduct charges including her alleged failure to ensure the timeous delivery of justice.
His Majesty King Letsie III, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Thabane, has since appointed High Court judge, Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, as the acting Chief Justice. King Letsie III has also appointed three experienced judges from Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to the tribunal to hear the misconduct charges against Justice Majara.
And this week, the LCD said its weekend leadership meeting in Ladybrand resolved that the party should withdraw its participation from the reforms process and that Mr Metsing will not return home due to the Justice Majara issue.
However, Dr Matondo told this publication that he saw no reason why Mr Metsing and other opposition leaders should not return home to participate in the reforms process.
He said due to its significant support base, the LCD was one of the main priorities of the SADC mission’s shuttle diplomacy aimed at ensuring its (LCD’s) participation in the reforms process.
He said SADC had been informed of the opposition’s meeting in South Africa and their appeal was that “they should uphold the spirit that has been created in favour of the national dialogue, the reforms and lasting peace and stability in the country”.
“So far, our engagement with them (LCD) has been very constructive and the simple fact that they agreed to participate in the National Leaders Forum and the National Dialogue Planning Committee is a very positive development. We are not expecting the process to be leaner, straight and rosy.
“This is unpredictable process but the bottom line is our resolve to do what is right for this country looking at the bigger picture of peace and stability. So far, the leadership of LCD has given us positive guarantees to participate in the process and the government has given security and free passage guarantees to the leadership in exile.
“Indeed, if you look at the letter and the spirit of the guarantees given by the Honourable Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, they include everybody and all the exiles must come home.
“So as far as I am concerned, we do not see any fundamental reason why the leaders in exile should not come home. We do not want anybody to be suicidal but to actually take the advantage of the platform that has been set in the country to come home and fully participate in the reforms,” Dr Matondo said.
If the exiled leaders stick to their guns and refuse to return to Lesotho, they could find themselves being thrown out of South Africa.
Three weeks ago, South Africa resolved to impose a travel embargo and to stop providing refuge to Mr Metsing, and other opposition leaders who are seen as frustrating the reforms process.
The South African Minister of International Relations and Corporation, Lindiwe Sisulu, singled out Mr Metsing as one of the politicians who should leave South Africa and take his place alongside other leaders in the reforms process.
“There will be travel bans and we will adhere to those travel bans. This is something that we would like to convey to all those who are participants in the negotiations around Lesotho because this (delays in implementing the reforms) has gone on for too long. By the time SAMPIL is withdrawn by SADC, we will be leaving Lesotho in a very vulnerable situation if we have not achieved peace there.
“So, we will put pressure to the extent that is lawful; to the extent that it assists in the resolution of the Lesotho problem. We will not take Metsing to the border but we will expect him to go to the border. He has a responsibility to go back (to Lesotho). He has a responsibility to lead his people who are in the opposition,” Ms Sisulu said.
The hardening of South Africa’s stance is in line with the position that was adopted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state at the SADC summit that was held in Windhoek, Namibia last month.
Miffed by the apparent lack of progress in implementing the multi-sector reforms, the regional leaders called on member states to take the “necessary measures” to force Lesotho’s bickering politicians to implement the reforms.
Lesotho has until May 2019 to have fully implemented the constitutional and security sector reforms.