MASERU — Two journalists from Lesotho Television were attacked on Thursday while covering a protest march in Maseru.
The protesters wanted to hand a petition urging Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to intervene to end labour stalemates at Lesotho’s two universities.
The protest however turned violent after Mosisili declined to personally accept the petition at his Qhobosheaneng office complex.
The protest was a continuation of a march that began on August 14 by a coalition of taxi operators, trade unions, concerned youth in tertiary institutions and other civil society groups.
The protesters wanted the government to address a raft of demands that include a review of taxi fares by 100 percent and stop the introduction of toll gates on Lesotho’s roads.
But the demonstrators turned their anger at the Lesotho Television news crew that had come to cover the event.
Using unprintable expletives, the angry marchers threw missiles at Lesotho Television journalist Ntšiuoa Sekete and photographer Tšiu Setho.
They also beat Sekete with sticks and broke Setho’s camera.
The two were only rescued by the police who escorted them away from the furious crowd.
Sekete and Setho escaped unhurt.
Speaking to the Sunday Express after the attack, Sekete said she was disappointed by the protesters’ behaviour.
“I don’t think we deserved to be attacked merely because we work at Lesotho Television. This is very disappointing. Why do people behave like this?” Sekete said.
She said the attack came at a time when the television station had just introduced a current affairs programme that sought to make it respond to the public’s concerns.
The protesters who had gathered in their thousands at Moshoeshoe I Statue insulting Mosisili became unruly when they heard that the premier had sent government secretary, Tlohang Sekhamane, to receive their letter of grievances.
They said they wanted Mosisili to personally receive the letter himself.
One of the protesters’ representatives, Seabata Likoti, told the demonstrators that Mosisili had refused to come out of his office to receive the petition.
It was then that the protesters began pouncing on the journalists.
The mob shouted that they did not want to see the Lesotho Television crew because they would not broadcast the event “as is always their custom”.
They said the station had failed to broadcast the August march saying the station always avoided “broadcasting news that show the extent to which many people are fed up with the government’s inefficiency”.
Lesotho Television in August only screened Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Motloheloa Phooko, receiving the protesters’ petition and not the march which observers had described as the biggest in Lesotho’s history.
“We do not want the government media here. They should go and cover activities of government ministers because that is where their mandate ends,” the protesters shouted.
“It is enough that you captured Sekhamane as Mosisili’s representative. You have no mandate to be here,” they said.
Sekhamane met a five-member delegation of the protesters at the Prime Minister’s Qhobosheaneng office complex to receive the letter on Mosisili’s behalf.
Ramohapi Shale, who was representing protesters from the Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union, told Sekhamane that they did not want to hand over the petition to him but to Mosisili.
“The people we are leading have sent us to the Prime Minister and we want to give him this letter and not you because you are not the prime minister,” Shale said.
Sekhamane however told the delegation that Mosisili had also sent him to receive the letter as they had been sent by the protesters.
“If you do not hand the letter to me there is nothing I can do,” Sekhamane said.
“You and I are not at war, we are just messengers,” Sekhamane said after Shale told him that the delegation would rather return with the letter instead of giving it to a person who was not the addressee.
The protesters then marched back to ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre where the rally had begun.
On their way back, they also attacked a Lesotho Correctional Service truck and broke its windows.
The truck was transporting inmates from the Maseru Magistrate’s Court to prison.
They also attacked a Lesotho Defence Force truck which was delivering meals to various posts where soldiers are assigned.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Lesotho director, Tsebo Matšasa, condemned the attack on the journalists.
Matšasa said if the protesters are not happy with the television station’s coverage they should lodge a formal complaint to the authorities instead of attacking journalists.
“These journalists cannot be blamed for the government’s public information policy. They are mere workers not policy makers,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of the very same protesters to join hands with other stakeholders to push for a policy change at the state media through proper and lawful channels.”