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Renewed calls to get back conquered land from SA

Ntsebeng Motsoeli/‘Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN)-hosted consultations on the proposed multi-sector reforms ended in Maseru on Thursday with calls from one of the participants for the government to begin consultations with the South African government for land that was allegedly taken from Basotho during the colonial era in the nineteenth century.

The four day consultations, that complemented the in-district consultations that were held in May this year, were aimed at soliciting public opinion and input towards the multi-sector reforms that the country is expected to implement as per the recommendations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In 2016, SADC recommended the implementation of constitutional, security sector, media, judiciary and governance reforms aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability in the country.

Last year, the regional leaders went as far as giving Lesotho a May 2019 deadline to have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms. But the deadline is set to be missed due to an interplay of various factors, chief among them the bickering between the government and the opposition. The opposition initially boycotted the reforms processes to force the government to make concessions that included the formation of a government of national unity, a truth and reconciliation commission, safe passage for exiled leaders and the release of what the opposition calls political prisoners.

The opposition eventually relented even if some of the demands including those for a GNU and TRC were not met, and the reforms process eventually got underway late last November with the holding of the first plenary session of the Multi-Stakeholders National Dialogue.

The national dialogue agreed on the district consultations to ensure that Basotho of all backgrounds were afforded the opportunity to be part of the dialogue process leading to the implementation of the reforms.

The month-long district consultations were expected to end in April but had to be extended by another two weeks due to what NDPC official Boitumelo Koloi said were hurdles that include the treacherous weather conditions and terrain which made it difficult to access some of the places.

There has however, been an outcry from some sections of society that they did not get the opportunity to participate in the consultations.

It was against this background that the latest consultations which got underway on Monday and ended on Thursday were held.

One of the interest groups, Basotho Lead Petitioners called on the government to begin consultations with the South African government for land that was allegedly taken from Basotho during the colonial era in the nineteenth century.

Basotho Lead Petitioners’ National Coordinator, Mpho Serobanyane, said it was high time the government engaged South Africa to recover Basotho land which he said now formed part of South Africa’s Free State and the Eastern Cape provinces.

Mr Serobanyane said they have already obtained the input of the United Nations (UN) on the matter and getting the land back was feasible.

“The government should get back the conquered land on behalf of Basotho. These territories are in parts of the fertile Free State which will enable crop production and the Eastern Cape will give us access to the sea,” Mr Serobanyane said.

“These territories can help enhance Lesotho’s economy. Access to the sea can help reduce the red tapes and costs that Lesotho incurs when transporting goods to and from the ports. Access to the sea can also open tourism opportunities,” he said.

Last year in June, Basotho Petitioners handed over a petition to the British embassy in Pretoria demanding the return of land they said was taken away from Basotho when former colonial power Britain entered into an agreement with the Afrikaners in 1854.

The 1854 agreement, known as the Orange River Convention, led to the creation of the independent Afrikaner republic known as the Orange Free State.  The Basotho Petitioners said the agreement led to the loss of their ancestral lands in the areas that are now in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa.

Early this year, opposition Democratic Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu said he would push an aggressive foreign policy to “get our conquered land back and ensure Lesotho has access to the sea”.

“As a party we are going to work on bettering our bilateral relations with South Africa and advocate fiercely to get back our conquered land and get a strip to the sea,” Mr Mokhothu told this publication soon after beating Tlohang Sekhamane to clinch the DC leadership post in January.

Another interest group which comprised the media associations deliberated on the need for a comprehensive media policy to pave the way for the enactment of a law to enhance media freedom as outline the responsibilities of journalists.

Journalists also want the establishment of a dispute resolution body that is independent of government and free of political influence.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Acting National Director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane said the proposed law would also help address some of the public concerns of bias and unethical media practices.

“There is a recurring concern from media content consumers that the levels of ethical practice are at their lowest ebb. The concern stems from a view that media practitioners present information that is factually skewed, lacks credibility, has political undertones and is fraught with biases.

“The media policy will address some or all of the concerns through the provision of guidelines for media practitioners.

“Without a media policy, courts of law pass verdicts based on universal codes that are applied internationally. This lacks domestic flavour,” Mr Ntsukunyane said.

Other sectors that participated in the consultations programme included the labour organisations, healthcare professionals, churches, academia, transport associations and women and children’s associations.

LCN Director Seabata Motsamai said the programme went on well despite objection by some political parties that the LCN had no business conducting the consultations and that they were solely the responsibility of the National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC).

On Monday some opposition political parties that are not represented in parliament called a press briefing to distance themselves from the consultations.

Mr Pelele Letsoela of the Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP) charged that “LCN is just a stakeholder like all of us and they have no business holding the consultations. Their consultations have caused a lot of confusion to parties that have pledged to see to the success of the reforms. These consultations are parallel to what was agreed and we are not going to take part in them,” said Mr Letsoela.

However, Mr Motsamai said the LCN “has business in administering some of the processes in the reforms”.

“In fact, these consultations are supplementary to the in-district consultations which were conducted by the NDPC in May. Whoever says that we have no business with the reforms clearly has no knowledge of the reforms processes,” Mr Motsamai said.

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