THE opposition is hoping government would be using parliament’s Easter break to brainstorm the return of their leaders who fled to South Africa in May last year.
All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and former prime minister Thomas Thabane, and his Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) and Basotho National Party (BNP) counterparts Keketso Rantšo and Thesele ‘Maseribane respectively, have vowed to continue living in the Free State until their assassination concerns are addressed.
When the three leaders left the country, they claimed some members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) were planning to kill them.
The government has since denied the claims and is now engaging the opposition, through Home Affairs Minister Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane and Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane, regarding the return of the three leaders.
The first meeting between the two parties took place in Modderpoort, South Africa, on 2 March where the government is said to have guaranteed the leaders’ safety should they return.
The Christian Council of Lesotho was also represented in that meeting through Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi of the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop Adam Taaso of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and Reverend Tšeliso Masemene of the Lesotho Evangelical Church of Southern Africa.
Dr Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane did not attend the meeting but Ms Rantšo was part of the RCL delegation that also comprised deputy leader Dr Motloheloa Phooko, and secretary general ‘Mamolula Ntabe.
The ABC delegation to the talks comprised deputy leader Tlali Khasu, secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele and chairperson Motlohi Maliehe, while the BNP was represented by deputy leader Joang Molapo, chairperson Dr Nthabiseng Makoae and political consultant Professor Kopano Makoa in the meeting.
A follow-up meeting had been expected last week, but the Sunday Express learnt this was not possible because government was engaged in discussing the 2016/17 budget in parliament.
But with August House breaking for Easter last Friday, the opposition says it hopes government would use the recess to discuss their leaders’ safe return home.
According to Chief Molapo, following a meeting held between Advocate Rakuoane and Dr Phooko after the Modderpoort talks, the opposition alliance agreed to wait for written communication from the government on the way forward.
“I never met with Ntate Rakuoane personally about this but I was informed about the meeting by Ntate Phooko. I then informed the deputy leader of the ABC, Ntate Khasu, about it and it’s then that we agreed Rakuoane puts their issues in writing. He has not done so as we speak,” said Chief Molapo yesterday.
On the other hand, Dr Phooko said his interaction with Advocate Rakuoane “was not a meeting as such” but a follow-up on how far the government had gone with the opposition leaders’ return and other concerns the alliance had raised at the Modderpoort talks.
“We just needed to know how far the government was because we had not heard from them since we met two weeks ago in South Africa,” Dr Phooko said yesterday.
“Since the matter needed to be treated with urgency, we felt we should find out how things were progressing and Ntate Rakuoane said they were busy with the budget and were still to deal with our concerns.
“We hardly discussed anything in depth, and we were surprised to notice that the government’s priority was the budget over our leaders’ safe return. However, we are still hopeful that these talks will yield positive results.
“We just do hope this Easter break will be utilised by the government, for taking the talks forward.”
Chief Molapo shared the same sentiments with Dr Phooko, and said the opposition alliance was hoping the talks would be fruitful.
However, Chief Molapo cautioned: “While we hope the talks are going to yield positive results, we will not compromise that our biggest bone of contention is the removal of army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli. That is our biggest concern.
“We might compromise on other issues, but not the removal of Kamoli. We want Kamoli to go. My understanding is these talks are very technical and we have to understand one another, hence we want Ntate Rakuoane to write to us so that everything is clear. We appreciate his talking to us but would appreciate it more if he went on record and wrote a letter to us, as the opposition, to this effect.
“We shall be patiently waiting for the government’s letter. We are hopeful that all is going to be well. We just hope that the Easter break will mean more time for the talks.”
The opposition has been demanding the removal of Lt-Gen Kamoli whom they accuse of being behind the alleged threats against their leaders.
The BNP deputy leader further said he hoped the opposition and government representatives would meet for the second round of talks next week.
“We are hoping to meet again next week with the government representatives, but no date has been set as yet.
“We are still waiting for the government to give us the precise date for the meeting,” he said.
However, contacted for comment yesterday, Advocate Rakuoane denied ever being asked to write a letter to the opposition regarding the talks.
“I know nothing about any letter, I just read about it in the papers and even in those papers, it didn’t make any sense at all,” Advocate said.