MASERU — Police have banned a protest march that a coalition of labour unions and civic organisations had planned for Tuesday.
The coalition had planned to march to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office to pressure him to address a medley of concerns that they have had since August. They were however stopped in their tracks yesterday afternoon when the police rejected their November 22 application for a march. District Commissioner Senior Superintendent Tšeliso Tšita for Maseru Urban rejected the application on grounds that he suspected the coalition wanted to use the march to “disrupt peace in the country”. He told the coalition leaders that he was worried the march could be used to topple the government. Lebohang Moea, the coalition’s spokesperson, confirmed that their application had been rejected but added that they were “not going to give up”.
He said the coalition which is made up of the Voice of the Voiceless (VOVA), Lesotho Labour Council (LLC), Concerned Youth, Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO), Congress of Lesotho Trade Unions (COLETU) and Lesotho Congress of Trade Unions (LECODU) was going to fight the police’s decision. “We are going to fight,” said Moea who is also the spokesperson of the MRTO which has been the driving force behind the planned march. Moea said coalition leaders met yesterday afternoon and decided to approach the courts to overturn the police ban. “We are now going to instruct our lawyer to make an application with the courts. We don’t agree with the reasons the police are giving for blocking our march,” Moea said. When asked what the coalition will do if the court does not overturn the police’s decision, Moea said they have a “Plan B”. “The Plan B is to organise public gatherings across the country and call for a countrywide stayaway,” he said. “The good thing about a stayaway is that we don’t need a police clearance to have it, people will just stay away at their homes.” Prior to his decision to ban the march Tšita had written to the coalition leaders asking them to clarify allegations that they were planning to stage a vigil at the palace as part of the protest. In his November 23 letter Tšita wanted the coalition to explain if it was associated with some people who wanted to stage a “demonstration and or vigils at the Palace Gates” for the “purpose of causing the government of Lesotho to fall from public power”.The coalition responded to Tšita on November 24 telling him that they had no intention of marching to the palace or toppling the government. “We have not made an application for peaceful procession to the palace and we do not wish to go there,” the coalition said. But by Friday afternoon it seemed there were some coalition members who believed the plan was to march to the palace. Vuyani Tyhali, secretary general of Coletu, who has been at the forefront of the coalition’s previous marches announced that his union will not be participating in any demonstration that includes a vigil at the palace. “We wish to state categorically that we dissociate ourselves from the alleged vigil at the palace,” Tyhali said in a statement.
When asked if the coalition had ever discussed a vigil at the palace Tyhali said: “Not to my knowledge”. We asked what then prompted him to issue a statement disassociating Coletu from something that the coalition was not planning to do. “Well anything can happen in Lesotho. We are just making it clear that we are not going to be associated with anything that involves going to the palace. If the plan is to march to the prime minister’s office then we will participate,” Tyhali said.