Date set for Thabane return
EXILED leaders of the tripartite opposition bloc are set to return to Lesotho on 29 January 2017 to end a 20-month sojourn in South Africa, the Sunday Express can reveal.
Former premier and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and his Reformed Congress of Lesotho counterpart Keketso Rantšo sought refuge in South Africa in May 2015 saying they feared for their lives.
The leaders said they had been alerted of a plot to kill them by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). However, the LDF has consistently denied the allegations.
However, according to BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, the trio decided to return home after representatives of their parties held a series of meetings with various stakeholders including civic groups falling under the Alliance of Non-State Actors (ANSA) to facilitate their return.
Negotiations between the government and opposition over the exiled leaders’ return collapsed last April after the parties deadlocked on the latter’s insistence that Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli be removed from the helm of the LDF.
A June 2016 summit of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Double Troika held in Botswana also called on the leaders to end their exile by August 2016.
However, the opposition leaders had doggedly maintained they would only return after Lt-Gen Kamoli’s exit, whom they accused of masterminding the alleged plot to assassinate them.
Dr Thabane had accused Lt-Gen Kamoli of refusing to submit to civilian authority after the latter did not acknowledge his dismissal by the then premier on 29 August 2014.
Dr Thabane had replaced Lt-Gen Kamoli with the now-late former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao who was a brigadier at the time.
However, in the early hours of 30 August 2014, the military attacked and took over three key Maseru police stations.
That same morning, the residence of Lt-Gen Mahao in Koalabata was also attacked, with one of his dogs being shot and killed.
Thereafter, Dr Thabane, Lt-Gen Mahao, Chief ‘Maseribane, Ms Rantšo, former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana and several senior government officials fled to South Africa amid allegations of an attempted coup.
Dr Thabane and the other leaders eventually returned home in September 2014, albeit under South African Police Service guard, only to flee again in May 2015.
The opposition also cited a recommendation for Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal by a SADC Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability. The Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi-led commission recommended that Lt-Gen Kamoli be dismissed “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation”.
The Commission was established by SADC after Lt-Gen Mahao was fatally shot by his colleagues on 25 June 2015 outside his Mokema farm. The LDF says he was resisting arrest for suspected mutiny when he was gunned down.
For its part, the government dismissed the opposition’s expectations about Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal, arguing SADC had not linked the return of exiled opposition leaders to the removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had said the removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli as army commander was “a recommendation” by the SADC Commission of Inquiry, 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.
However, with intensifying pressure from Lesotho’s development partners and civil society for Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal, the government eventually retired the army chief last month and replaced him with his former deputy Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo.
Lt-Gen Kamoli’s retirement, which the government said was in line with its reforms roadmap, paved the way for the exiled leaders return, with Dr Thabane having told various media outlets his return was imminent.
BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, told this paper a tentative date for the exiled opposition leaders’ return had been set for 29 January 2017.
“All the opposition leaders are expected to return by 29 January, barring unforeseen circumstances,” he said.
Mr Mofomobe also revealed that SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa, would play a role in liaising with both the opposition and government. He said a representative of the opposition bloc would soon meet with the South African vice-president to map out a framework for their return.
“Our envoy has an appointment with the SADC facilitator to Lesotho, Deputy President Ramaphosa and their meeting is expected to take place next week,” said Mr Mofomobe.
“The thinking at the moment is that 29 January 2017 will be an appropriate date. However, I also want to stress that the date is not definite.”
He said ANSA had waded into the issue of the return of the exiled leaders with the intention of fostering Lesotho’s political stability. ANSA, which consists of representatives of traders, labour unions, civil society and opposition political parties, has been lobbying government and the opposition to ensure Lesotho meets the governance benchmarks stipulated by the United States to ensure African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility.
AGOA provides for duty-free entry of goods into the US from designated sub-Saharan African countries, including Lesotho. The Mountain Kingdom’s textile and garment industry, which is anchored on AGOA, employs more than 40 000 people, in addition to other downstream sectors.
Among the main eligibility criteria for the facility are a market-based economy, rule of law, systems to combat corruption, and not engaging in gross violations of internationally-recognised human rights.
This was after the US government stipulated last month that Lesotho would need to “take concrete steps” in addressing governance benchmarks in the first quarter of 2017 to safeguard its eligibility for trade preferences under AGOA for the full calendar year.
“We have been working tirelessly with the Alliance of Non-State Actors and other stakeholders to show that the opposition bloc is committed to fostering Lesotho’s stability.
“We are also keen to do our utmost to ensure the exiled leaders return home so that we are not accused of changing the goal posts now that Lt-Gen Kamoli has left office,” Mr Mofomobe said.
For his part, ABC Secretary-General Samonyane Ntsekele said preparations for the exiled leaders’ return were at an advanced stage, with a “grand entrance” being planned for the Maseru Bridge border post. However, he refused to divulge any further details for “safety reasons”.
“Our wish is for our leaders to return home as soon as possible. We are working hard to ensure their safe return to Lesotho since they fled the country fearing for their lives,” said Mr Ntsekele.
The return of the opposition leaders coincides with a mooted no-confidence vote on Dr Mosisili’s seven-party coalition government in the National Assembly which is expected to be reconvened next month.
A faction in Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress led by Monyane Moleleki split to form a new party last month after ganging up with the opposition to topple his one-and-half-year old government.