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‘I will never betray fellow exiles’

by Sunday Express
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thabaneKeiso Mohloboli

Former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says he would never betray his fellow exiles by returning to Lesotho alone.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader was heavily criticised by supporters of the tripartite opposition alliance for meeting with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili early this month and only negotiating his safe return from South Africa.

Dr Thabane has been living in South Africa since he fled the country on 11 May this year, claiming the military was out to assassinate him for falling out with its command while he was premier. Dr Thabane was succeeded by Dr Mosisili after his alliance, which included the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), failed to garner the majority seats it needed in the 28 February 2015 snap elections to remain in power.

However, after claiming the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) was plotting to kill him prompting his flight to South Africa, Dr Thabane was soon joined in exile by BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo on 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively. The two leaders also made claims similar to Thabane’s for their flight, which has put Lesotho under the spotlight while also being condemned by the international community.

After Dr Mosisili held a press conference last Monday to confirm he held talks with Dr Thabane in Johannesburg for his return—and that the ABC leader tentatively agreed to end his exile after government accepted the conditions he set for the homecoming—the opposition alliance was quick to condemn the deal as a betrayal because it did not include Chief ‘Maseribane and Ms Rantšo.

Another bone of contention was that the discussions did not touch on the plight and return of members of the LDF and opposition, and journalists who also fled the country fearing for their lives at almost the same time as the three political leaders.

The outrage prompted Dr Thabane to hold a press conference in Ficksburg, South Africa, on Thursday to “set the record straight”.

Chief ‘Maseribane and Ms Rantšo were also present at Thursday’s highly anticipated briefing.

According to Dr Thabane, what the premier referred to as an agreement for his return were mere minutes of their meeting. He would never betray his colleagues by signing a deal that excluded them, the ABC leader added.

“It is my responsibility, as a leader, to account for all the decisions that I make and can’t be happy to be back home while there are other Basotho in exile fearing for their lives.

“I was happy that the prime minister invited me to come home because I thought it was the beginning of the return of the others. But I am not the only one in exile; I am with Chief ‘Maseribane, Ms Rantšo, journalists, lawyers, Lesotho Defence Force members and government officials so I cannot be returning home on my own.

“Lesotho’s security has deteriorated and it was the main reason why we could not reach a conclusion on the return of us all. I was very frustrated to realise that Dr Mosisili announced that I would be the only one assisted on returning home; I really wonder how he separated me from the others.

“I urge him to review his decision and consider including all Basotho who are with me in exile. I cannot leave these men and women behind while I come home alone. We are in this struggle together and want to be treated as one,” Dr Thabane said.

Dr Thabane further insisted it was Dr Mosisili’s responsibility, as the country’s prime minister, to make sure all Basotho are safe and free to enjoy their democracy.

“Facilitating my return alone would create problems not only between me and my allies in the opposition but also among our supporters,” Dr Thabane said.

On his part, Chief ‘Maseribane said it was unfortunate Dr Mosisili had though he could divide the opposition by only facilitating Dr Thabane’s return home. In addition to being offered free accommodation in a government house, Dr Thabane had also been promised police protection around the clock by Dr Mosisili’s seven-party administration.

Ntate Thabane knows the principles of the opposition pact and can’t just discard what we have and return to Lesotho alone.

“It’s unfortunate that Ntate Mosisili is misinforming the nation about our exile.

“At his press conference on Monday, the premier said he was made aware by the national intelligence that Dr Thabane still comes in and out of the country as if he was not in exile.

“He also said I was recently at a traditional cleansing in Mount Moorosi bathing in blood. I must make it clear to the premier that on the  Saturday he referred to, I was in Ficksburg where Ntate Thabane stays; he was never at Mapoteng Adventist Hospital like Ntate Mosisili alleges.

“On the other hand, he must know that I am a Christian who attends the Roman Catholic Church; I was baptised there. I would never be cleansed with blood; I am a grown man who can bath himself with water and soap. I don’t need blood to be clean,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

In her address, Ms Rantšo urged Dr Mosisili to “take responsibility” and solve the security problem that resulted in some Basotho escaping to South Africa where they remain to this day.

“Dr Mosisili is too arrogant and doesn’t take us seriously at all. We are allies of Dr Thabane in the opposition, and we are also leaders of political parties. This man doesn’t seem to take our plight seriously,” Ms Rantšo said.

Meanwhile, in his media briefing last Monday, Dr Mosisili said: “You all know how the All Basotho Convention leader fled the country and sought refuge in South Africa under the pretext that his life was in danger here.

“You also know that he was followed by Honourable Thesele ’Maseribane of the Basotho National Party, and Honourable Keketso Rantšo of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

“As government, we are concerned about this issue, especially because Honourable Thabane is the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, while the other two are Members of Parliament (MPs). Their positions mean they have an important role to play on national issues in Parliament.

“The government has been exhausting several means and efforts, together with the Christian Council of Lesotho through heads of churches; SADC (Southern African Development Community) Facilitator in Lesotho (South African) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and others, to bring these leaders back home.

“I can also not exclude myself in the effort; I initiated communication with Ntate Thabane through  telephone but he refused to talk to me, although he had been claiming that I hadn’t called him since he fled. However, I persisted and eventually received assistance from our mutual friends with Ntate Thabane, who made our meeting possible in Gauteng. We were so happy when we met; our conversation went on well; we told each other all we could tell especially because we have worked together in the past on many issues in government and our families.

“Out meeting resulted in a document, which we both signed. The gist of our agreement is that government will provide Ntate Thabane with security from members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service whose number and identity will be determined by the Commissioner of Police and that a government house will be provided for Ntate Thabane, guarded by the police at all times.”

Dr Mosisili further said the ABC leader had agreed to return to Lesotho “soonest” after the signing of the agreement.

“Actually, I had suggested that he returns home within seven days after signing the document. But he changed that, and instead chose to sign that he would return soonest after the signing of the memorandum,” said Dr Mosisili.

On the other exiled leaders, Dr Mosisili said: “As I have already indicated, Ntate Thabane, apart from being the official leader of the opposition in Parliament, is a former prime minister. It is therefore the responsibility of this government to protect him in a special way.

“By that we do not mean Chief ’Maseribane and ’Me Rantšo are not entitled to protection. As MPs, and of course Basotho for that matter, they are entitled to protection. We are simply prioritising Ntate Thabane as someone with a greater national status of being a former prime minister. For him, we are requested by law to give him protection.”

Dr Mosisili is yet to respond to Thursday’s pronouncement by Dr Thabane.

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