SA delegation in Lesotho after brief army deployment

Lesotho's Prime Minister Thabane File picture: Reuters

Lesotho's Prime Minister Thabane File picture: Reuters

Published Apr 19, 2020


Maseru - A South African delegation arrived in Lesotho on Sunday after the prime minister of the smaller nation deployed, and then withdrew, the army.

A delegation headed by South Africa's former energy minister Jeff Radebe met Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, then members of the opposition and civil society. South Africa surrounds Lesotho, and is its largest trading partner. 

The South African envoys, who were urgently dispatched to help defuse weeks of political tension in the mountain kingdom of 2 million people, would continue talks for a second day on Monday.

A day earlier, armoured vehicles drove through the capital Maseru after Thabane announced he had deployed the army to "deal with rogue individuals."

Without any official announcement, the army withdrew hours later. Their deployment came after Thabane lost a court bid to remove the chief of police.

It was apparently the latest twist in a murder drama that has ensnared Thabane and gripped the country.

Thabane is being investigated in connection with the murder of his first wife, Lipolelo Thabane, in 2017. Thabane appeared in court last month, but was not charged.

Thabane's second wife, Maesaiah Thabane, has been charged with the murder and is currently out on bail.

Last month, Thabane also attempted to prorogue parliament, suspending the sitting without properly dissolving it. Last week, a court prevented this after lawmakers from the opposition and from within his own party challenged him.

President of the Lesotho College of Chiefs, Khoabane Theko, urged King Litsie III's advisory committee to meet before "Thabane plunged the country into further darkness." Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy.

The country has experienced several coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966. In 1998 at least 58 people and eight South African soldiers died and parts of Maseru were damaged during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.

Thabane, 80, had been scheduled to address the people of Lesotho at 1530 GMT on Sunday, but this was postponed until Monday, his spokesman Relebohile Moyeye said.

"We are not sure when the statement will be tomorrow because the PM is meeting the (South African) envoy again tomorrow at 8am," Moyeye added.

The latest upheaval follows Thabane's decision to suspend parliament without consultation over the coronavirus pandemic. Last month's move was challenged in the constitutional court by coalition partners and some 20 rivals within his own party.

The court ruled against Thabane's decision on Friday, calling it "irrational", paving the way for a threatened vote of no-confidence against Thabane once parliament reconvenes.

A parliamentary caucus meeting scheduled for Sunday by the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) was postponed because of the visit by South African envoys, a senior lawmaker said.

Internal divisions persist between Thabane loyalists and those who want him ousted. While no date has been set, Lesotho's assembly is expected to meet this week.

"ABC is divided and we can no longer pretend," said Lepota Sekola, adding that some members refused to honour Thabane's call for the meeting as a show of dissatisfaction.

"We have had enough and we are just waiting for parliament to reopen ... This is where he will meet us, not anywhere else," Sekola said.

"He has nowhere to hide and has lost it. The electorate is against him, the judiciary and all other strategic institutions ... meaning that the PM is finished," Sofonea Shale, an independent political analyst, said on Sunday. 

dpa and Reuters

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