…‘I don’t want to return to Lesotho as an old man’
FORMER Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing says he does not want to return to Lesotho as an old man and longs to come back “as soon as possible” to participate in reforms aimed at building a stable and prosperous nation.
Mr Metsing, who is also the leader of the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), poured his heart out in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week.
The former deputy prime minister fled the country for South Africa citing an alleged plot to assassinate him. The government has nevertheless refuted his claims, insisting that he fled to escape prosecution for corruption.
He spoke about the pain of a life in exile, saying being away from home was “frustrating”.
“There are varying perceptions of and speculations about who and what I am and what occurred over time that led me to tragically live in South Africa as I am presently doing,” Mr Metsing said.
“However, it is most important that everyone appreciates that in any multi-party country, the collective grouping, thinking and actions of all parties make up the collective leadership of the country, not any individual party or person.
“Instead of pointing fingers at one another, what we (political parties) need to do as a critical first step towards a new and prosperous future, is to acknowledge and accept that our collective thinking, behaviour and efforts are failing Lesotho. I have accepted this principle and make a plea to everyone to acknowledge and accept this.
“(Life in exile) is frustrating, sad and not easy. Yet being away from home has strengthened my resolve to be part of and to contribute towards a future Lesotho that is stable, prosperous and which provides a high quality of life for its citizenry.”
He said he never imagined a life of exile for himself and others who had experienced it.
“I recall with sadness the number of years the founder of the congress movement (Ntsu Mokhehle) spent in exile, only to come back home in his old age.
“I do not want to return to my beautiful country as an old man. I want to return as soon as possible to be part of building a future Lesotho that is stable and prosperous.”
He said it was wrong to think that he was getting his comeuppance after the previous government that he was part of, caused current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his political allies to flee the country in 2015 in fear of their lives.
“No person can fairly or factually make such a conclusion (that the former government was at fault). The three leaders (Thabane, Thesele Maseribane and Keke Rantšo) left Lesotho under different circumstances. Each stated a different reason for leaving and everyone’s circumstances were unique.
“An effective way to deal with all the speculation and rumours once and for all would be for Lesotho to commission a truth and reconciliation process like that which was done in South Africa.”
He commended mediation efforts by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between him and the government, saying this would hopefully allow him to return to Lesotho and lead his party in the reforms process.
He however, said there was a contradiction in that the government was talking to him and yet it had applied for his extradition to enable him to stand trial for alleged corruption.
“That’s a contradiction (to apply for extradition) and it is yet another test of the government’s commitment to the talks. Extradition by its nature precludes negotiations,” Mr Metsing said.
Last month, SADC heads of state gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms. The multi-sector reforms were recommended by SADC in 2016 but the implementation has stalled on account of bickering between the government and opposition.
Mr Metsing and other opposition leaders have issued a string of demands as preconditions for their participation in the reforms process. The opposition demands include the dropping of corruption charges against Mr Metsing, the removal of SADC troops from Lesotho, the safe return of exiled opposition leaders, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the creation of a government of national unity (GNU).
And this week, Mr Metsing reiterated his demands for a TRC and a GNU.
He said a TRC was best placed to uncover what actually transpired during the tenure of the seven parties’ government which has been widely accused of gross human rights violations.
“Who are those ‘who say’ that and on what basis are they saying what they say,” Mr Metsing asked in response to a question about widespread allegations that he was part of a government that used the police and army in violating human rights.
“These (allegations against the former government) come back to speculation versus fact and this highlights and motivates the need for a TRC process like what was done in South Africa.”
Mr Metsing also said that murder-accused former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was arrested and detained on the basis of allegations that were “politically orchestrated to protect the political interests of those needing such protection”.
He added: “A truth and reconciliation process will reveal the truth. Anything else is pure speculation”.
Commenting on why a GNU was necessary now when he and his colleagues had rejected the idea of establishing one when they were in power, Mr Metsing said, “the road traversed by the current government leads to the GNU as the only option that may bring stability into governance and enable the reforms process to go ahead”.
“Despite what our critics said, in the previous government there was a modicum of stability and there were not as many uprisings among the police and teachers at the university. We may have differed with the university administration but we often tried to find each other.
“If we are to consolidate systems of governance that will adequately respond to the requirements of the reforms, we need to look holistically at all issues that negatively impact on the whole governance system to ensure that the process is steered in the right direction.
“The GNU is the only vehicle that can help curb all excesses that have so far paralysed the current government. If I could think of a different alternative, I would advance it for the sake of the nation. So far, the GNU is the only viable option unless new and fresh thinking of the collective delivers a better solution. The days of ‘what is best for me are over’. We have entered an era of the common good – a possible new dawn for the Kingdom of Lesotho.”
Commenting on the May 2019 deadline that SADC gave for the full implementation of the security sector and constitutional reforms, Mr Metsing said he “did not know the rationale and background that has resulted in such a tight schedule and therefore I cannot pass any judgement on it”.
“All I know is that the (reforms) processes are nebulous matters that can hardly fit into a timeframe and I assume that there must be structures that I am not privy to that will drive the reforms with the speed determined by SADC.
“My fear is that if these reforms are to enjoy the necessary ownership of the collective, the drafts must go for popular approval in one way or another. We shall see if May 2019 is feasible,” he said.