Why Ramaphosa changed tune on probe terms

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Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi
Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi

Bongiwe Zihlangu

Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, chairperson of a regional Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s current security and political challenges, was the reason why South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was singing a different tune at the end of his two-day visit to Maseru last week.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Facilitator was in the country to explain the Commission’s terms of reference and submit to King Letsie III and government, a report of constitutional and security reforms the regional bloc is suggesting for the troubled Kingdom.

However, instead of tabling the Commission’s terms contained in a government gazette dated 28 July 2015 which he had endorsed, Mr Ramaphosa said the 13-member  probe team would only focus on the SADC recommendations and leave out those added by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven-party administration as well as his own.

The SADC special summit held in South Africa last month agreed the Commission of foreign legal and security experts would focus on the killing of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao two months ago, the removal and reinstatement of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as LDF commander, and claims by the LDF that Brigadier Mahao was the ringleader of a group of soldiers planning to topple the army command and had been resisting arrest when he was gunned down by the military on 25 June. The Commission was also asked to investigate allegations by opposition parties and civil society that Lt Gen Kamoli’s reinstatement in May this year following his dismissal last August for alleged disobedience, was creating tension in the LDF and instability in Lesotho.

However, Dr Mosisili had since communicated with Mr Ramaphosa and suggested additions to the Commission’s terms of reference, which largely focused on his predecessor Thomas Thabane’s alleged misconduct while in office. In addition to the premier’s suggestions, Mr Ramaphosa had also added his own observations, leaving the Commission with an expanded mandate, which was duly published in the government gazette on Tuesday last week.

But in a twist to the probe which is yet to begin, Mr Ramaphosa told reporters as he left Lesotho last Friday that the Commission would only focus on the original SADC mandate, pointing out only the regional bloc’s leadership could change its terms of reference. Mr Ramaphosa did not say why the Commission was now disregarding almost three-quarters of the gazetted terms, but the Lesotho Times has since learnt his climb-down was due to Justice Phumaphi’s refusal to take orders from anybody else but the SADC leadership.     

Government spokesperson Khotso Letsatsi yesterday confirmed the Botswana judge indicated he had a problem with the additional terms in the government gazette.

“It is true that Justice Phumaphi does not agree with the additional terms of reference contained in the government gazette,” the Communications, Science and Technology minister said yesterday.

“He only wants to use the terms of reference he brought with him to Lesotho.”

However, Mr Letsatsi was quick to add despite his reservations, Justice Phumaphi and his team would have to “compromise” and start work using the terms in the gazette.

“The Commission has to function within the confines of the laws of Lesotho so for the time being, Justice Phumaphi will have to use the terms of reference contained in the government gazette.

“We are going for a SADC summit on 16 August where a decision on the way forward  would be made regarding the Commission’s additional terms of reference.”

According to Mr Letsatsi, the government would cooperate fully with the Commission.

“I must say as the government of Lesotho, we are considerate of his concerns and willing to cooperate. In the meantime, he will pick from the gazette those terms of reference similar to what he had and work according to their guidelines,” the minister added.

Meanwhile, Basotho National Party (BNP) spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, said Mr Ramaphosa told a meeting attended by opposition party representatives last Friday that Justice Phumaphi had made it clear he would only use SADC-endorsed guidelines in his probe.

“Cyril Ramaphosa said Justice Phumaphi had told him that he did not want to use the additional terms of reference in the government gazette because they were not from SADC,” Mr Mofomobe said.

“According to Ramaphosa, Justice Phumaphi was firm that he would only work guided by the SADC terms and that any additions should be from SADC.

“Ramaphosa said Phumaphi told him that the Commission of Inquiry was established by SADC and not the government of Lesotho, and would therefore, only follow SADC instructions,” Mr Mofomobe said

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