Johannesburg - South African security forces escorted Lesotho’s deposed Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, from his hideout in Ladybrand yesterday to participate in a regional meeting which President Jacob Zuma was chairing in Pretoria to try to resolve the crisis in the country.
Top officials in Lesotho said South Africa was ready to provide Thabane a military escort to return him to Lesotho.
Thabane fled Maseru just before his official residence was attacked by Lesotho Defence Force soldiers led by army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli on Saturday.
Zuma called a meeting of the security organ of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which South Africa chairs, to find ways to restore order in Lesotho.
The other two members of the troika are Lesotho itself and Namibia. Lesotho Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who is widely believed to be behind the coup, was also attending. Namibia was represented by its foreign minister and so is Zimbabwe which is attending as it chairs the Sadc.
Top military official sources in Lesotho said Zuma had authorised South African special forces to provide Thabane with security when or if he returned to Lesotho. His planned return date remains uncertain amid confusion and danger.
South Africa also issued a stern warning to Kamoli that it would not tolerate any further disturbances.
Thabane said on Saturday he had requested South Africa’s military intervention to enable him to return in safety as he feared he would be killed otherwise.
But as more details of the coup emerged, it appeared that Kamoli’s intention was not to kill Thabane but to capture him and frogmarch him to the national radio station, Radio Lesotho, and force him to publicly announce his resignation and the reopening of parliament.
Thabane’s decision in June to suspend parliament to prevent it passing a motion of no confidence in him, thereby bringing down his government, is understood to be the chief reason for the coup.
The sources said, however, that Kamoli’s intention was not to seize power for himself but to facilitate the formation of a new government by Metsing and former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, leader of the main opposition party. Earlier, the two had formed a coalition which would probably have outvoted Thabane in parliament.
The military sources said Kamoli had personally led the group of soldiers which attacked Thabane’s official residence.
“The LDF were never going to harm Thabane personally because of the problems that would arise,” a senior Lesotho Defence Force official said.
Thabane fired Kamoli after he fled on Saturday but Kamoli rejected the move, insisting he was still army chief. Metsing’s LCD party also said it did not recognise Kamoli’s dismissal, reinforcing impressions that it was behind the coup.
Lesotho was generally calm on Saturday with little activity at the main border post at Maseru Bridge which is usually a hive of activity on Sundays as Basotho return from South Africa for work.
On the South African side the SAPS and SANDF mounted two heavy roadblocks, one near the border post with Lesotho and the other one on the way to the border post.
The situation in the country remained tense and uncertain with reports that Kamoli had arrested two senior military commanders who refused to take his instructions during Saturday’s coup attempt.
The security vacuum remained as many police stations were still deserted and top police brass remained in hiding.
The police were struggling to regroup after a deadly attack by the military on key installations, which resulted in an arsenal of weapons being seized. District police commissioner Mofokeng Kolo confirmed that one officer died in the attack. Twenty-four hours later, the police headquarters was still abandoned and most officers remained in hiding.
Amid the political turmoil, Maseru’s residents stocked up on food and basic necessities.
Worshippers filled the city's cathedral as normal, but many feared the spasm of political violence was not yet over.
Lesotho has had a series of coups since independence in 1966, and the political temperature has risen rapidly in recent months.
In 1998 South Africa launched an ill-fated invasion of Lesotho when the “kingdom in the sky” was in the midst of another political crisis, reducing the capital to rubble.