Opposition leaders seek SA asylum

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All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane,  Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo

All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo

Bongiwe Zihlangu

Lesotho’s three opposition leaders who fled to South Africa two months ago fearing for their lives have allegedly applied for political asylum in that country.

Former prime minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane, his Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) counterparts Thesele ‘Maseribane and  Keketso Rantšo sought refuge in South Africa on 11, 13 and 26 May respectively, alleging they had been alerted of a plot to kill them by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members— an accusation government has since denied.

However, impeccable sources told the Lesotho Times this week that the exiled politicians had since sought official protection from the South African government due to the deteriorating security situation in the country.

According to the sources, last week’s fatal shooting of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao by soldiers who had come to arrest him for allegedly planning to overthrow the army leadership, was the major reason behind the leaders’ decision.

Chief ‘Maseribane was cagey when asked about the issue this week, and told the Lesotho Times he could not say whether or not they had applied for political refugee status.

However, the BNP leader was quick to admit their stay in South Africa was “only but a casual arrangement”.

“I cannot get into whether or not we will be seeking official political asylum or if we have done so already. But what I can tell you is that our stay in this country is but a casual arrangement, of which the South African government is aware,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

“As things stand, we’re under serious security threat after learning that there are plans to assassinate us and that people have been paid to kill us before serious talks about the security situation in Lesotho get underway.”

The Lesotho Times could not immediately get comments from Ms Rantšo and Dr Thabane on the issue, while South Africa’s High Commissioner to Lesotho Sello Jele said he was not aware if the leaders had decided to apply for asylum.

“All I know is that they are liaising with South African government authorities while in the country. I actually asked one of them if they were considering official asylum but he was not forthcoming,” Mr Jele said.

“But I believe consideration for official political asylum in South Africa for the three leaders will be part of Friday’s SADC summit agenda.”

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Double Troika is holding an extraordinary summit in Pretoria tomorrow where Lesotho’s security situation would top the agenda.

The Double Troika comprises leaders of Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

According to Mr Jele, tomorrow’s meeting would, among others, discuss Lesotho’s current security and political situation, as well as pathologists’ reports on the death of Brigadier Mahao. The Lesotho Times understands three pathologists—two provided by SADC and one by the Mahao family—would conduct the autopsy in Bloemfontein, South Africa today, and their findings discussed at Friday’s Summit.

“The Summit will be held in Pretoria on Friday, with Lesotho’s issues such as the pathologists’ reports on Mahao’s death and the state of the three exiled leaders dominating the agenda,” Mr Jele said.

However, Mr Jele also told the Lesotho Times that although Brigadier Mahao’s death would form part of the agenda, it should be noted that tomorrow’s Summit was planned “long before his death”.

“However, now that it has happened, the death will form part of the meeting’s agenda,” Mr Jele said.

“The Extraordinary Summit was called to discuss Lesotho’s issues. The current security situation has culminated in Mahao’s death and now there are conflicting statements on what transpired.

“There is the official line, that of stakeholders and another from the Mahao family. So the summit would be discussing the issue.”

Meanwhile, asked about tomorrow’s SADC meeting, Chief ‘Maseribane said he was aware of it adding however, that the opposition had not been invited to attend.

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