Exiled opposition leaders have welcomed SADC’s decision to take government to task over its failure to ensure there is no litigation against the Phumaphi Commission.
The regional bloc on Saturday expressed concern over a lawsuit pending before the High Court in which Special Forces Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi is challenging the Commission’s legitimacy.
SADC established the Commission in July this year to investigate the circumstances surrounding the killing of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao.
Lieutenant-General Mahao was shot dead on 25 June this year just outside Maseru by LDF members who had come to arrest him for allegedly being the ringleader of a group of soldiers plotting to oust the army command.
The killing sparked outrage both in Lesotho and internationally, prompts Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to seek help from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in establishing what led to the killing. SADC responded by dispatching Botswana judge, Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi, and a nine-member team of regional legal and security experts to Maseru to probe the incident.
The inquiry was supposed to take place between 31 August and 9 November but ended prematurely on 23 October after the LDF refused to allow the commission to interview 23 soldiers who were in Maseru Maximum Security Prison and being tried in a Court Martial for the alleged mutiny.
Five of the soldiers have since been released and placed under open arrest, while the mutiny trial was postponed last week to 1 February 2016.
However, SADC is not happy that Lieutenant-Colonel Hashatsi—one of the many people interviewed by the commission—has challenged the legality of the probe in the High Court. The lawsuit has since stopped the release of Justice Phumaphi’s report to the public, leaving stakeholders frustrated.
An extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the SADC Organ Troika held in Sandton, South Africa, on Saturday resolved to send South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to Lesotho to engage government over the court case .
SADC last year appointed Mr Ramaphosa to facilitate an end to Lesotho’s political and security crises, leading to snap elections in February this year.
The Lesotho Times has been reliably informed that in addition to discussing Lt-Col Hashatsi’s litigation, Mr Ramaphosa would inform government that Justice Phumaphi is set to return and interview the mutiny suspects as it was one of his commission’s mandates. The 5 December meeting was attended by Mozambique President and SADC Organ chairperson Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, SA President Jacob Zuma and Tanzania Ambassador Liberata Mulamula. Also in attendance were Mr Ramaphosa and SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax.
Sources privy to the meeting told the Lesotho Times that Mr Ramaphosa would be arriving in Maseru next week on his latest mission to seek an end to the country’s security and political crises.
Commenting on the latest developments, All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and former prime minister Thomas Thabane, Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Keketso Rantšo and Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele ‘Maseribane, told the Lesotho Times this week that SADC’s decision was an indictment on the government.
The Lesotho Times has been reliably informed that Justice Phumaphi told the SADC Troika that despite seeking to interview the detained soldiers, the request was denied by the LDF authorities hence his report was missing this vital input.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times from South Africa where she has been living since fleeing the country in May this year after alleging some LDF members were out to kill her, Ms Rantšo said: “Ntate Mosisili has been bragging to the nation that his government initiated SADC’s intervention into the crisis simply because he did not want to admit that the opposition’s advocacy had been heard internationally.
“SADC intervened in Lesotho because of us, the opposition. We are the ones who have been telling SADC that there is no peace and stability in our country.
“To my surprise, the same person contradicted himself and proudly frustrated the commission by denying it access to the mutiny suspects and allowed the army and government officials not to cooperate in the investigation by refusing to answer crucial questions.
“My view is that Ntate Mosisili is leading government outside the confines of the law. He allowed the army to disrespect and humiliate the commission even though the LDF admitted to the murder. One can conclude that Ntate Mosisili is just a statue behind this military state being led by the LDF,” Ms Rantšo said.
Asked what she thought of Mr Ramaphosa’s facilitation which led to Lesotho’s early elections in February this year, and the end of Dr Thabane’s tenure as premier midterm, Ms Rantšo said the South African deputy president had failed dismally.
“I still maintain that Mr Ramaphosa has failed to resolve Lesotho’s security problems. He was a failure from the day he facilitated the signing of the Maseru Security Accord between Ntate Mahao, Kamoli (LDF commander) and former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana in October last year.
“The signing of that agreement now shows that Ntate Ramaphosa was biased and that’s why he made the three men sign that agreement which took them out of the country.
“The return of Justice Phumaphi to Lesotho clearly shows that Mr Ramaphosa’s facilitation has been a disaster. I was personally disappointed when opposition party deputy leaders (Tlali Khasu of the ABC, BNP’s Joang Molapo and Motloheloa Phooko of the RCL) met with Mr Ramaphosa after the murder of Lt-Gen Mahao.
“Mr Ramaphosa hypocritically told the deputy leaders that he was very disappointed by government’s decision to reinstate Lt-Gen Kamoli as LDF commander in May this year following his dismissal in August 2014 by then prime minister Ntate Thabane.”
Ms Rantšo urged SADC to appoint “a neutral person” to mediate in the Lesotho crisis “because Mr Ramaphosa has clearly shown that his interest is elsewhere and not bringing back peace and stability to Lesotho.
“I urge SADC to bring a person who doesn’t have business interests in Lesotho. Mr Ramaphosa has been busy looking for business opportunities in our country and not seeking to address issues SADC assigned him to help resolve.
“As the facilitator, he was very silent when the Phumaphi Commission was being frustrated by government, which shows he was supporting what was happening,” Ms Rantšo said.
On his part, Chief ‘Maseribane said he had confidence in Justice Phumaphi and that the Botswana judge would produce a report reflective of what is exactly happening in Lesotho.
“Justice Phumaphi is an honourable and genuine man who knows his stuff. I am confident that he will compile his report without any favouritism. His return to Lesotho to tackle the mutiny term of reference he could not address the last time he was in Lesotho will definitely determine if there was ever a mutiny plot,” said Chief ‘Maseribane, also from exile in South Africa where he has been living since he fled Lesotho in May for fear of the military.
Dr Thabane also said Justice Phumaphi’s return should be supported by every stakeholder, including government.
“Justice Phumaphi is a true professional; he is very ethical and did not show any favouritism when he was conducting his investigation. That is why I am confident that his findings will deliver Lesotho from its political and security problems.
“I have always said this and I will repeat it again. After the release of Phumaphi’s report, peace and stability will definitely return to Lesotho and all the exiles will go back to their respective homes in Lesotho,” said Dr Thabane from South Africa where he also fled to in May this year, fearing the LDF.
Asked about Mr Ramaphosa’s facilitation, Dr Thabane said: “I don’t want to get into Ramaphosa’s facilitation at the moment now that I am staying in his country. Whatever I say might risk my stay here.”