THABA ‘NCHU-Former Prime Thomas Thabane decided not to testify in public when he appeared before the SADC Commission of Inquiry probing Lesotho’s instability.
The exiled All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader did not give reasons why he chose to give his side of the story regarding the country’s security and political challenges in private—much to the disappointment of scores of party supporters who had descended on Black Mountain Hotel in Thaba ‘Nchu where the hearings had been taking place since the 10-member commission moved from Maseru on Thursday last week.
After the commission had met Dr Thabane in private for close to three hours, its chairperson, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, gave the former premier time to address the audience. It was an anticlimax to the hearings after Dr Thabane’s fellow exiled leaders—Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho respectively—had given their testimonies in public.
Dr Thabane’s wife, ‘MaIsiah, several exiled Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and ABC members also gave their testimonies in public. In Maseru, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi also testified in public.
However, in his address to the crowd and commissioners, Dr Thabane first gave an overview of African politics, as well as the role of the military in a democracy.
The former premier also spoke about his turbulent relationship with LDF Commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli whom has has since accused of attempting to overthrow his government in August 2014. Dr Thabane has also claimed Lt-Gen Kamoli was out to kill him, prompting his decision to flee to South Africa in May this year.
Dr Thabane told the audience: “The immediate history of Africa is changing very rapidly… from an Africa of coups and disturbances, failed governance, corrupt leaders, corrupt regimes and so on, to an Africa that will be democratic, competitive, produce economic results, reduce poverty and deal with essential issues like disease and children who don’t have parents. There are children in our different countries that don’t have parents. I don’t know how that happens because a child can’t just be born. But there are children who don’t have parents.
“Looking at all these issues, and all of us who are seeking leadership in our respective countries, we have had sets of priorities that were relevant at some point in time. There were times when Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and so on had to throw away the colonial yoke; those days are gone. The challenge now is to improve the lives of the people and yet after winning elections, we forget about the people who lined-up in the sun and voted for us.”
Dr Thabane then spoke about the military and how it has presented challenges in several African states.
“I realise that we have still not been able to tell our military officers that their job is in the barracks and obeying orders from people running governments and elected by the people. Lesotho, in particular, is an example of countries where the military think they must have a say in the running of the country; they don’t have it,” Dr Thabane said.
“Part of the problem that brought the government that I led to an early end was I had an argument with the commander of the military—the very same person I recommended for the position. Indeed, if my country is to progress, we have to deal seriously with the role of the army in our country.
“Even today, there is still so much instability in Lesotho. The commission is here in South Africa and I am happy because sitting in Lesotho could have been a problem.
“After this, I am confident the people of Lesotho will sit down and question why they elect certain people as their leaders, including myself, and why they don’t elect certain people, including myself.
“If we don’t realise that we have poverty, orphans, HIV/AIDS, and that families are being devastated because they don’t have breadwinners, and we still want to govern by force, then we have a long way to go as a people.”
The ABC leader then turned to Justice Phumaphi’s native Botswana—a country he called a model of democracy.
“You were a very good choice (for the position of commission chairperson) because there is nothing that can be pointed at your country, the Republic of Botswana. There was a time when we had a common university and some of your leaders would walk around with us as buddies. People from Botswana came to Lesotho and married in our country. Why those Basotho girls decided to go to the desert, I don’t know, but the issue here is Basotho have to sit down and think about their country.
“Our country supplies water to the biggest industries in South Africa yet some people still sleep hungry in Lesotho. Some people are eating more than their fair share; the distribution of wealth in Lesotho is wrong. In Sesotho, we say ‘Bana ba monna arolelana hloho ea tsie’, meaning we share a locust’s head if we are brothers.”
Dr Thabane thanked the commission for its crucial undertaking initiated by the fatal shooting of former LDF commander Maapankoe Mahao by soldiers who had come to his Mokema home to arrest him on suspicion he was planning a mutiny alongside several other military personnel.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would want to thank you for the work you are doing for us. We will go back home and promise to behave ourselves,” Dr Thabane said.
Meanwhile, after Dr Thabane’s address, Justice Phumaphi said the commissioners were moving back to Maseru where they would resume hearing testimonies next week. The Thaba ‘Nchu hearings had initially been scheduled to end tomorrow.
Justice Phumaphi said: “Ntate Thabane has submitted his testimony in camera, and this marks the end of our work here in South Africa. We will resume the hearings next week in Maseru; we are going back to Lesotho now.”