SA brokers deal for Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane's 'dignified' retirement
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South African envoys of President Cyril Ramaphosa held a second day of discussions Monday in Maseru with embattled Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas (Tom) Thabane and key stakeholders, including the country’s security chiefs. Representing Ramaphosa as AU Chair and SADC Facilitator for Lesotho, the envoys arrived in Lesotho on Sunday to assess the situation and ensure a peaceful outcome to the current political tension that has the country on a knife-edge.
Former Minister Jeff Radebe, Deputy Minister Mashego-Dlamini of DIRCO, and Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa of State Security have met with Thabane, political parties, and top security officials in an attempt to avoid a continued stand-off between the military, which is largely loyal to Thabane, and the National Executive Committee of Thabane’s own party the All Basotho Convention, as well as a coalition of opposition parties that want to see him step down.
Following the meeting between the South African envoys and the Basotho parties, Radebe reported in a briefing on Monday that the Basotho parties had agreed to facilitate Thabane stepping down. Radebe said parliament will start the process to ensure Thabane's retirement with “grace, dignity, and security” within three days of its opening.
It is unclear exactly when parliament will reopen, but it is expected to be as soon as possible. If parliament does not open immediately, it is expected that the 10 applicants engaged in court action to reopen parliament will go back to court. The applicants include the National Executive Committee of the ruling All Basotho Convention, the Democratic Congress, the Basotho National Party, the Popular Front for Democracy, and individual members of parliament.
Concern remains that despite the agreement reached among the Basotho parties in the presence of the South African envoys, Thabane may renege on his promises as he has done in the past.
Having lost two critical court cases, the legal avenues for Thabane to stay in power seem to have closed. Thabane is likely trying to push for immunity from prosecution for any alleged involvement in the murder of his first wife Lipolelo Thabane once he stands down from office. Thabane’s second wife Maesaiah Thabane has been charged with murder and is out on bail.
Thabane lost his court bid to remove the Police Chief, and the Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that he had acted “irrationally” when he prorogued parliament until June. Thabane deployed the army on Saturday in a bid to cling to power, which he justified as an attempt to “restore law and order.” Chaos ensued after the army commander refused orders to arrest the police chief. Soldiers returned to their barracks later in the day, however, after accusations swirled that Thabane was enacting a de facto coup in order to avoid or delay murder charges against him.