Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo yesterday rejected a call by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) urging her and two fellow opposition leaders to end their exile before the end of August this year.
Ms Rantšo told the Lesotho Times that she and her allies would only return to Lesotho when Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli is no longer the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander.
A summit of the regional body’s Double Troika held in Botswana this week to discuss Lesotho’s political and security situation, called on Ms Rantšo, former prime minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane and Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane to end their exile which started in May 2015 amid claims some members of the LDF were out to kill them, which the military has categorically denied.
The SADC meeting, attended by the Double Troika’s heads of state and government, namely Ian Khama (Botswana), Filipe Nyusi (Mozambique), Jacob Zuma (South Africa), King Mswati III (Swaziland), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), and Kassim Majaliwa (Tanzania), pledged to facilitate the opposition leaders’ return so they could take part in “ongoing reforms”. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa, also attended the meeting.
But Ms Rantšo, who said she was also speaking for Dr Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane who could not be reached for comment yesterday, indicated SADC’s intervention was very much appreciated but did not guarantee their safety as they fled Lesotho “fearing for our lives, which were being threatened by Kamoli and his soldiers”.
The RCL leader also said SADC’s offer was not acceptable as it did not include opposition supporters and LDF members exiled in South Africa “for the same reason we have been here for more than a year now”.
Ms Rantšo further said the Double Troika’s August ultimatum was not only meant for the exiled leaders to return home “but automatically also means the government should have removed Kamoli as commander by then”.
She further said the opposition would not change its stance regarding Lt-Gen Kamoli.
“As things stand, our collective stance as the three leaders in exile, is that much as we want to go back home and abide by SADC’s resolution, we cannot do so unless and until the government has removed the army commander.
“We have always been saying this and continue to maintain that stance even now. Personally, I have always wanted to go back home from as early as two days since I was here in exile. I tried to communicate this with the government but there no cooperation to guarantee my safety back home,” Ms Rantšo said.
“Shortly after we held talks with government’s representatives in Morderport, South Africa, early this year to discuss our possible return, I wrote a letter to the prime minister to inform him that I could only return to Lesotho on condition that Kamoli is removed and all exiled soldiers and our supporters here also go home safely. The letter was never responded to.
“We are happy now that the government is being put under pressure by SADC to implement its decisions, including the removal of Kamoli, which was recommended by the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry. This effectively means the August ultimatum is also meant for the government to remove the commander.”
Ms Rantšo’s sentiments were echoed by BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, who said SADC called for the opposition leaders’ return home fully aware this was not possible if Lt-Gen Kamoli remained LDF commander.
“Speaking on behalf of our three leaders in exile, I can tell you that they will not come home until Lt-Gen Kamoli is removed as LDF commander. SADC knows quite well that the three leaders’ lives are threatened by Kamoli, especially if he is still in control of the army,” Mr Mofomobe said yesterday.
Mr Mofomobe, who was part of the opposition delegation which travelled to Gaborone and held meetings and press conference on sidelines of the SADC summit, said they undertook the journey to “expose the true situation” prevailing in Lesotho.
Although the opposition delegation was asked to leave the summit venue, Mr Mofomobe said they considered their mission a success.
“We went there to inform the world about the true situation in Lesotho as opposed to the lies the government told SADC,” Mr Mofomobe said.
“We knew the international media was going to be there so we needed to tell the world through that platform about the position of our exiled leaders, which we managed to do. That is why I am saying our mission was a success. The government now has no alternative but to remove Kamoli before the end of August, which is the deadline SADC has set for the return of our leaders. But like I said, they will only come home if and when Kamoli has been removed, which means we now have a stalemate.”
But addressing a press briefing in Maseru late yesterday, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili dismissed the opposition’s expectations about Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing “SADC has not, in any way, linked the return of exiled opposition leaders to the removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli”.
Dr Mosisili said the removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli as army commander was “a recommendation” by the SADC Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, while the August ultimatum for opposition leaders to return from South Africa was a “decision” by the Double Troika Summit, and could therefore, not be related.
“The two issues are not the same thing. The SADC Double Troika, in its communiqué or anywhere, has not linked the two issues. Our position, as government, is that we are engaged with Lt-Gen Kamoli to reach an amicable agreement concerning his removal and that cannot be determined by the return of exiled opposition leaders.
“In fact, we have managed to convince SADC that there is no way the opposition leaders can claim that their lives were put in danger by Lt-Gen Kamoli. They fled the country in May before Lt-Gen Kamoli was reinstated as army commander. It doesn’t make any logic that they can now claim they fled because their lives were endangered by his command. That’s just a tactic the opposition leaders are using to try and hold us to ransom and SADC now knows about this.”