Mystery over SA police in Lesotho
Share this article:
Maseru - Mystery surrounds the deployment of South African police to Lesotho, with government officials clamming up and refusing to provide details.
The deployment was announced by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe 10 days ago after an attack by Lesotho’s defence force on police headquarters sent Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fleeing to South Africa – as well as the commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Force, Khothatso Tšooana.
One police officer was killed and nine were injured, and in the days that followed residents said there were no police to be seen on the streets of Maseru.
They returned to their stations when SAPS officers were sent to Lesotho, reportedly heavily armed.
“The decision that the SAPS and SANDF members should be here was taken at the highest level during a meeting held in South Africa on Monday this week,” said Tšooana at the time. “They are here for security purposes…”
Details about that mission have been scant ever since.
This week, the Weekend Argus sent a number of questions to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, the police ministry and the SAPS to ask for details.
Particularly, we asked what the mandate of the mission was: to provide VIP protection for diplomats and government officials, or to help in the search for Tlali Kamoli, the army chief reportedly fired by Thabane the day before his troops moved on the police. Reports claimed Kamoli then fled to the mountains, raiding weapons along the way, a story he has since denied.
“This mandate of the SAPS officers is important given the precarious situation in the country,” said Southern Africa researcher for the Institute for Security Studies Dimpho Motsamai. “They’re there to restore public order, but must they also be ready to respond to a threat? If so, can they shoot to kill? And what are the implications of that?”
The department, however, referred all our questions to the SAPS. The police ministry said 55 officers had been sent to Lesotho, but the SAPS would have to fill in the rest. The SAPS referred all questions to the head of government communications, Phumla Williams.
And Williams, in turn, told the Weekend Argus: “All your questions are operational and such detail is not available.”
Earlier this week, the DA’s international relations and co-operation spokesman Stevens Mokgalapa submitted questions to Parliament about the deployment. “The time has come for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation to lift the veil of secrecy around South Africa’s involvement in Lesotho. South Africans want answers,” he said.
Next week, the party’s police spokeswoman, Dianne Kohler Barnard, is also expected to submit questions probing not only the Lesotho mission, but any SAPS deployment abroad.
Motsamai said the deployment was not unusual.
“This is actually quite normal, believe it or not.”
“The option of military intervention is an absolute last resort. This was a bilateral arrangement, honouring a request from the prime minister to deal with the public security vacuum in the capital in the absence of a SADC decision. The Lesotho police force was not operating at the time and the prime minister needed to return to his country.”