Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane on Monday praised the country’s late military ruler Major-General Phisoana Ramaema as a man who championed political and civil rights.
Advocate Rakuoane, who was speaking at a memorial service of the former Lesotho Defence Force commander who passed away on 11 December at Makoanyane Military Hospital aged 82, said Maj-Gen Ramaema was not an ordinary soldier but a hero who brought democratic rule to Lesotho.
Addressing the mourners on behalf of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Advocate Rakuoane chronicled the history of an icon who ended military rule when he could have stayed on as ruler. Lesotho had been under military rule since 1986 when Major-General Metsing Lekhanya toppled Basotho National Party leader and prime minister Leabua Jonathan. Major-General Ramaema then overthrew Maj-General Lekhanya on 2 May 1991, but instead of clinging to power, handed authority to a democratically-elected government of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) on 2 April 1993.
“Lesotho had gone for a long time without constitutional rule, but when Major-General Ramaema came in, he turned this around and made himself a bridge that took us to the constitutional democracy we enjoy today.
“When he declared his commitment to democratic rule, many were sceptical as critics said the military had become comfortable and didn’t want to relinquish power.
“But we all remember his famous saying that his car did not have a reverse gear. He said this in reference to his commitment to ensuring there was a democratically elected government in Lesotho.
“He was also awarded a Senate position after his meritorious service. And we know it to be a huge honour to be granted such a position,” said Advocate Rakuoane.
The minister also went down memory lane and told the mourners that he was a practising lawyer in the late 1980s, when he realised that Lesotho was faced with many challenges when it came to both political and civil rights.
However, Advocate Rakuoane said when Maj-Gen Ramaema came to office in 1991 as Chairman of the Military Council, the situation changed.
“He started by repealing the infamous Order Number Four, which did not only outlaw political parties and their activities, but also criminalised any public display of party emblems. Maj-Gen Ramaema also repealed an order that suppressed communist activities, which was more targeted at congress parties.
“Coming to civil rights, Maj-Gen Ramaema showed that he was prepared to take the bull by the horns as he changed laws that did not allow female public servants to have pensions if they were married. He also made an order that granted widows the right to land ownership. When one looks at political and civil rights changes he brought to Lesotho, we will forever be indebted to him for his contribution to the country’s governance,” said Adv Rakuoane.
In his address, former army commander, Lt-Gen Thuso Motanyane, said Maj-Gen Ramaema was a humble man who never uttered insults even when he was angry.
Lt-Gen Motanyane, who was speaking on behalf of former LDF commanders, further said Maj-Gen Ramaema’s greatest challenge in office was when he had to return power to civilian authorities in 1993.
“When he realised the complaints that came when control of the government was supposed to be returned to civilian authorities, Maj-Gen Ramaema made a bold declaration at one meeting and told us that his vehicle did not have a reverse gear when it came to democracy.
“He worked hard to ensure a smooth transition from army to civilian rule,” said Lt-Gen Motanyane.
According to Lt-Gen Motanyane, during the 1993 elections, Maj-Gen Ramaema went to hard-to-access constituencies to supervise the delivery of election material to show his commitment to democratic rule.
On behalf of the family, Dr Thuso Ramaema, told the mourners that his uncle was a fair and humble man who loved the beautiful things in life.
“My uncle loved development and progress, which is why he became famous for telling disgruntled soldiers that his vehicle did not have a reverse gear. During his time in office, he worked hard to ensure the eradication of poverty and hunger,” said Dr Ramaema.
Meanwhile, Monday’s memorial service was also attended by several senior government officials, among them Justice and Correctional Services Minister Moeketse Malebo, Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, Police and Public Safety Minister Monyane Moleleki, and Health Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane.