DESPITE loud calls for his resignation by his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, coalition partners, the opposition and civic organisations, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is stalling in the hope that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will help him secure immunity from prosecution.
However, analysts warn the regional body against supporting such a deal. They say this would set a dangerous precedent where politicians would be emboldened to commit crimes safe in the knowledge that they are guaranteed immunity when they leave power.
Analysts further warn that SADC risks soiling its own image by practicing double standards. This is because the regional body has previously recommended the prosecution of Mr Thabane’s political rivals and members of the security agencies accused of serious crimes and fueling instability from 2014 to 2017.
Since the beginning of the year, Mr Thabane has come under intense pressure from his own ABC party to step down. The party considers him a liability especially after he and his wife, Maesaiah Thabane, were implicated in the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
The party says it cannot have a murder suspect in charge of government. Even before this, the veteran leader was already under intense pressure to go from the party faction aligned to his ABC deputy Professor Nqosa Mahao.
The pro-Mahao ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) accuses Mr Thabane of dictatorial tendencies and flouting the will of party members after he refused to accept the February 2019 election of Prof Mahao and others into the NEC.
The ABC has since agreed a deal with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) to form a new government which excludes Mr Thabane. Two of Mr Thabane’s three current coalition partners, namely Thesele Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Keketso Rantšo of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) support the moves to oust him.
They have also been joined by the Lekhetho Rakuoane-led opposition Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).
This leaves Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) as the only party backing Mr Thabane’s bid to remain in office.
Despite all the forces ranged against him, Mr Thabane continues to cling on, insisting that he will only consider stepping down at the end of July 2020 and even then, he will only go on his own terms.
The ABC and the opposition are having none of this and insist that he should go without further delay. Over the past three weeks the South African-led SADC mediation team has visited the country twice to break the deadlock and expedite Mr Thabane’s departure.
South African special envoy, Jeff Radebe has even issued a communique, saying Mr Thabane must be allowed to leave office with “dignity, grace and security”.
This has been interpreted by some analysts as an indication that SADC favours a compromise deal to allow Mr Thabane to go in exchange for immunity from prosecution for Lipolelo’s murder.
But such a compromise would be a big mistake, according to political analyst and Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director Tsikoane Peshoane.
Mr Peshoane says SADC appears to be contradicting itself and practicing double standards by calling for Mr Thabane to be guaranteed a safe, dignified and secure exit when the regional body is fully aware that he faces murder charges.
“SADC’s apparent endorsement of a deal to give Thabane’s safe exit is an oversight on the part of the regional body,” Mr Peshoane said in an interview this week.
“SADC is likely to find itself practicing double-standards as it had already prescribed mechanisms for dealing with such alleged crimes,” he said.
He was referring to the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC commission of inquiry’s 2016 recommendations for the prosecution of politicians and members of the security agencies accused of the June 2015 murder of army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe as well as other human rights violations.
Former army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, was forced to retire on 1 December 2016 by SADC. He is one of those who have been charged with murder in line with the SADC recommendations. Lt-Gen Kamoli has also been charged with treason in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against Mr Thabane’s first government. He has been charged alongside Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing and his Movement for Economic Change (MEC) counterpart Selibe Mochoboroane.
SADC has also assisted the police to investigate the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo allegedly by Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and other soldiers.
The regional body also helped the police to investigate the Lipolelo murder. Overally, the approach of SADC has been that all crimes must be investigated and prosecuted. Any attempts to shield Mr Thabane would thus contradict this approach, analysts say.
Mr Thabane thus far appears determined to avoid prosecution.
He has filed a Constitutional Court application to stop the courts from trying him while he remains in office. In a bid to ensure that he will never be prosecuted even after he leaves office, Mr Thabane has told the SADC mediation team that he is prepared to leave immediately only if he is guaranteed immunity.
But as analyst and prominent lawyer Advocate Letuka Molati says, SADC had already set a precedent where politicians and others are tried for their alleged crimes. He warned the regional body against double standards just to save Mr Thabane from prosecution.
“SADC set a precedent through the Phumaphi Commission’s recommendations and its subsequent assistance to Lesotho to investigate other crimes. All suspects should be tried for their alleged crimes regardless of their status.
“Why should Thabane be treated differently now? The prime minister should be prosecuted in terms of the applicable laws of Lesotho even when he leaves office,” Adv Molati said.
National University of Lesotho (NUL) Political Science lecturer, Mohlomi Mahlelebe, said SADC should not even be listening to Mr Thabane’s demand for immunity in the first place. He said Lesotho was a sovereign state which has its own laws regarding the prosecution of suspects.
He said the fact that the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security is currently led by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa- himself a man with a long record of human rights abuses- probably explained why SADC was even willing to listen to Mr Thabane’s demands for immunity.
He however warned that the regional body’s credibility, which has already taken a huge battering for its failure to resolve the crises in Zimbabwe and other member countries, would suffer more if it protected Mr Thabane.
“Prime Minister Thabane is among the African leaders who are said to have committed serious political offences in the past and he should be made to account for his iniquity.
“Should Thabane be offered immunity from prosecution, SADC’s credibility would suffer more. SADC should allow the courts in Lesotho to deal with the Thabane (murder) case,” Mr Mahlelebe said.
What is sauce for the goose should therefore be sauce for the gander. SADC should not risk further soiling its image by allowing one set of rules for Mr Thabane and another for the rest of Lesotho’s politicians who have already been prosecuted for crimes at the behest of the regional body.
Lesotho will not know peace and stability if SADC helps to set a new precedent where some politicians are shielded from prosecution for their alleged crimes.