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Opposition sees red over Zuma

Bongiwe Zihlangu

 MASERU — Lesotho’s opposition parties yesterday accused the government of blocking them from meeting President Jacob Zuma to raise concerns over the border crisis during his two-day state visit.

Zuma was in Lesotho on a state visit which saw the South African president addressing a joint sitting of parliament on Thursday.

The visit has however left the opposition seething in anger.

Opposition leaders who spoke to the Sunday Express yesterday accused the government of barring them from meeting Zuma.

Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla yesterday however rejected the charges.

Speaking under the banner of the Lesotho Opposition Parties Forum, opposition party leaders said Zuma’s visit had not “yielded anything of substance”.

The opposition leaders said Zuma’s visit was a damp squib and had done nothing to resolve the major issues confronting Lesotho.

Basotho National Party leader Metsing Lekhanya said they were completely “enraged by the outcome of the Zuma visit”.

“We were promised that we would have a chance to talk to Mr Zuma about the current state of affairs at our borders. But when the day came, we were completely embargoed,” Lekhanya said.

“It was made clear that we would not be allowed to talk to him. Apart from that, the visit itself has not benefited Lesotho in any way.”

Lekhanya said it was a “shame” that the border crisis was not discussed.

He however said when everything was said and done the crisis at the border should “be attributed to the incompetence of the Lesotho government”.

Lesotho should clean its house, Lekhanya said.

South Africa tightened its borders in the run-up to the World Cup in June.

It also indefinitely suspended the issuance of new six-month permits which allowed Basotho to cross into the country without having their passports scanned.

Under the new measures Pretoria also banned the use of temporary travel documents by Basotho nationals.

The measures triggered serious chaos at the border with motorists spending hours to get cleared.

Although the situation has since improved significantly the opposition said they still expected Zuma to address some of the border concerns during his visit.

Moeketse Malebo, the leader of the Marematlou Freedom Party, also expressed disappointment with Zuma’s address in parliament on Friday.

Malebo was scathing in his criticism saying Zuma skirted the “fundamental and current issues” affecting Basotho.

“Zuma refrained from addressing the hottest and most current topics. Instead he chose to touch on issues that could have been discussed by any other visitor,” Malebo said.

“Mr Zuma said nothing about the ongoing inter-border crisis; the Lesotho government also did not want the matter to be discussed. We were also barred from talking to Zuma,” Malebo said.

The opposition also claimed Zuma’s visit was driven by self-interest as he sought to safeguard South Africa’s interests in relation to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

The LHWP is a multi-billion-dollar water project that seeks to transfer water from Lesotho to South Africa.

The project also generates hydro-electric power for Lesotho.

South Africa and Lesotho last week signed a further agreement called the Declaration of Intent on Phase II of the LHWP (the Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong).

The two governments also signed an agreement on the implementation of the Advanced Infrastructure Component of the Metolong Dam and Water Supply Programme.

The deputy leader of the Lesotho Workers Party, Sello Maphalla, said Zuma’s visit was clearly intended to “secure more water for South Africa”.

“His focus was mainly on water prospects for South Africa. What he said about improving tourism through construction of the Sani Pass Road was nothing new,” Maphalla said.

“Mr Zuma’s visit disappointed us immensely. He failed to talk about problems affecting Basotho.

“He did not say anything of fundamental importance. He also did not touch on solutions for the ongoing border crisis which has inconvenienced Basotho.”

Khauhelo Ralitapole of the Basutoland African Congress said the border crisis “should have been given preference over all other issues”.

“We also wanted to discuss the matter with Mr Zuma but our request was declined on the basis that our government did not like it,” Ralitapole said.

“It was wrong for Mr Lehohla to mislead people by giving the impression that we would have access to Mr Zuma.”

Ralitapole also complained that Zuma’s visit “was nothing out of the ordinary”.

“I feel let down by the visit. It was a wasted journey which has done nothing for this country,” Ralitapole said.

The opposition forum’s spokesperson, Majara Molapo, said the opposition “is going to meet to discuss the way forward”.

“We are not going to sit around and do nothing. We are meeting on Monday (tomorrow) to discuss the way forward and explore other means of dealing with this issue,” Molapo said.

Lehohla has however rebuffed opposition charges that they had been blocked from meeting Zuma.

“They did not ask for permission from me. Even if they had, it would ultimately have been President Zuma’s decision whether or not to indulge them,” Lehohla said.

“Besides, they had been requested prior to Zuma’s visit to make a submission of their grievances and issues they felt were worth discussing. But they failed to do so.”

Lehohla said he had never at any time promised opposition MPs that they would “talk directly to Zuma”.

He also accused opposition MPs of deliberately “failing to grasp the contents of my letter of response to their request” to reconvene parliament to discuss the border situation.

“I said we should await Zuma’s visit and his address of both parliament and the state banquet, analyse his speeches and form our opinions from there,” Lehohla said.

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