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DC leader returns from exile

  • Mokhothu return a breakthrough for SADC mediation
  • says he is “testing the waters” for other exiled leaders

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) has achieved a major breakthrough in its mediation efforts between the government and exiled opposition leaders after the Democratic Congress (DC) Deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, returned home on Friday after eight months of self-imposed in exile in South Africa.

Upon his arrival in Maseru on Friday, Mr Mokhothu, immediately told party supporters that  he only returned to the country after lengthy negotiations with SADC who assured him of his safety after talks with the government.

He also said that his return would enable the opposition to “test the waters” ahead of the possible return of fellow exiled leaders who include Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing.

SADC Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo, last week alluded to the SADC mediation efforts at a press conference in Maseru when he revealed that the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) had held talks with self-exiled opposition leaders about their return which was crucial to ensuring that Lesotho’s multi-sectoral reforms process were all-inclusive.

Lesotho is in the process of implementing constitutional, security sector, media, public sector and governance reforms which are seen as crucial in achieving lasting peace and stability without which economic growth will not be possible.

“We have been engaging the leaders in exile and the civilian component of SAPMIL has been playing its role to make sure that all the grey areas among all Basotho stakeholders (in the reforms process) are addressed,” Dr Matondo said.

His remarks were on Friday confirmed by Mr Mokhothu who said he only returned to the country after negotiations with SADC who assured him of his safety after talks with the government.

Mr Mokhothu, who recently won his court challenge to remain the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, skipped the country in August 2017, citing a tip-off from a “trusted source” about a plot to assassinate him.

He also alleged that there was a deliberate government policy to persecute opposition leaders.

He fled shortly after Mr Metsing had also skipped the country claiming there was a plot to assassinate him. The government however, indicated that Mr Metsing and other exiled leaders’ were not under threat and Mr Metsing fled at a time when he was wanted in connection with a corruption case.

Mr Mokhothu however, returned to the country on Friday to a rousing reception from at least 100 DC supporters who immediately broke into song and dance at the Maseru Border gate as disembarked from an official ministerial vehicle which bore the official registration number 10.

After what seemed to be an eternity with the immigration officials, Mr Mokhothu was then whisked away to the party’s Puma House offices, where another 200 party followers awaited him.

Addressing the party faithful, a tearful Mr Mokhothu said he had only returned because of lengthy negotiations with SADC who had assured him of his safety after their own talks with the government.

“I have not come back because there is now peace in the country- actually things are even worse than they were before, Mr Mokhothu said, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

“I only came back because SADC held lengthy talks with us and my leader (former Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili) and they promised to work with the government to ensure my safety.

“Since you all know that I did not leave alone and there are still others outside the country, I came first to test the waters for my colleagues and they may come back after I give them positive feedback.”

Mr Mokhothu also said his return was motivated by the need to fight the governing parties’ strategy of weakening the opposition by offering inducements to their legislators to defect to them.

“I maintain that there is no peace and it defies all logic that while we are busy having talks with the government, on the other hand they are busy buying our legislators by offering them ministerial positions. Doing so is showing fickleness and hopelessness in the talks.

“We are not even saying that they should not be playing politics and make people cross the floor in parliament but this is just not the time. This is taking advantage of people in their time of weakness on the basis of their hunger.”

He said the Tele legislator, Mothepu Mahapa, who was sworn in as the second deputy minister of education last week had no political justification for defecting to the Alliance of Democrats (AD).

“Mahapa had no valid political reasons to do what he has done. The AD may have won him but they shall never win the Tele constituency. He just defected because he wanted to be a minister, he did so for his selfish reasons.

“The government is inconsiderate of its people. I could forgive them for having won him, but what hurts me most is seeing a government that is draining the coffers to appoint a deputy of a deputy minister when the people are jobless, poverty stricken and there are no roads and electricity.

“This is a heartless and brazen government and this is reason enough for me to come back. They have turned the DC into a child that can be abused by anybody and I will not allow that.

“I am also praying that the rest of our MPs will not allow themselves to be turned into dogs that can be lured with bones like Mahapa. Please be loyal to your voters and stick to your ideology instead of going after promised riches. It is very obvious that even tomorrow, Mahapa can leave the AD if it falls out of government. All parties have problems. I therefore urge you to please give this party a fair chance to fight its own battles.”

Meanwhile, Communications Minister and government spokesperson, Thesele ’Maseribane, welcomed Mr Mokhothu’s return, saying it demonstrated that his and other opposition leaders’ lives were never in danger in the first place.

“We are happy and we welcome him back home because in the first place we don’t even know why he left. And it is not just him but all the others because we don’t know why they ever fled.

“His return is what we have been calling for. We have been pushing for a political dialogue and this is a sign that we are headed in the right direction,” Chief Maseribane said.

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