Phumaphi report will liberate Lesotho: Thabane

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Keiso Mohloboli

All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane has assured the nation that recommendations by the SADC Commission of Inquiry into the murder of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao by his military colleagues, would be implemented “to the letter”.

Dr Thabane made the declaration when addressing ABC, Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) supporters attending Sunday’s fun-walk aimed at raising funds for lawyers representing 23 Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members currently on trial for suspected mutiny.

The soldiers were arrested between May and June this year after being accused of being part of a mutiny plot led by Lieutenant-General Mahao.

Lt-Gen Mahao was shot dead on 25 June this year allegedly as he resisted arrest for the foiled mutiny plot. The killing prompted government to ask SADC for assistance in establishing the circumstances surrounding the incident, with the regional bloc appointing Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana to lead a 10-member team of legal and security experts in the probe.

Justice Phumaphi has since compiled a report of his 31 August-23 October investigation, and submitted the document to Mozambique president Filipe Jacinto Nyusi in his capacity as chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

However, the report has yet to be tabled before regional leaders, allegedly due to a court challenge launched last month by Lt-Col Tefo Hashatsi, one of the witnesses who gave evidence before the commission.  Among others, the Special Forces commander wants the commission to be declared illegal due to a number of concerns, among them Justice Phumaphi’s decision to hear testimonies in South Africa when the probe was established by Lesotho laws. Among those who gave evidence in South Africa was Dr Thabane, who fled to the neighbouring country in May this year after claiming some members of the LDF were  out to kill him as revenge for ill-treating  them when he was prime minister between June 2012 and March this year.

But speaking to opposition supporters who had gathered at Maqhekung in Khubetsoana on Sunday following an early morning fundraising fun-walk, Dr Thabane said the Phumaphi report would “liberate” Lesotho and its recommendations implemented leading to stability in the Kingdom. Dr Thabane also said government was bluffing when it said the absence of opposition legislators in parliament was irrelevant as laws would still be passed without them. Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) have been boycotting parliament since 26 June this year, protesting the murder of Lt-Gen Mahao and continued exile of Dr Thabane, BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and RCL leader Keketso Rantšo.

Dr Thabane told the gathering of about 3000 supporters: “Our MPs are in a difficult situation; they are boycotting parliament to express their concerns about the country’s instability, which is highly commendable. You must all give them support because this is not their personal struggle but a struggle that will end in the liberation of Lesotho.

“All these claims that the MPs will be punished for their actions and that parliament will continue to function without them, clearly show that there are some people in our country who think Lesotho is their personal property. I want to assure you here today that these politicians will fail in whatever they are planning.”

The former premier also spoke about Justice Phumaphi’s report, which he said was key to the country’s problems.

“I have been reliably informed that someone was pompously claiming that the report must be submitted to him first because he is the prime minister. I want to guarantee this to you all that this is a SADC report whose recommendations are going to be implemented by SADC, and liberate Lesotho. We just need to remain focused and wait for the report to be made public. Then we will see if the recommendations are not going to be implemented,” Dr Thabane said.

Dr Thabane also applauded the opposition leadership for organising the fun-walk and appreciating the efforts of lawyers who are assisting the detained soldiers and also helped the exiled leaders, their supporters and members of the LDF during the Phumaphi hearings held in Thaba ‘Nchu

“I need to make this very clear: the detained soldiers suspected of mutiny and the lawyers representing them are not members of the ABC, BNP or RCL. We are fighting for their human rights and supporting them only because we are all Basotho,” Dr Thabane said.

BNP leader Chief ‘Maseribane also hailed opposition MPs for boycotting the National Assembly in an effort to put pressure on government to act on the country’s instability.

“The opposition is in a serious struggle, and when fighting in a political struggle, we must go through sacrifices and compromise. Missing out on sitting allowances is a loss to the MPs but the money is not as important as the peace and stability of this country,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

“The world is watching the government of Lesotho and the statements being made when attacking the opposition. The world is aware that the government supports the killing of innocent people, and death-threats against political leaders by the military.”

Chief ‘Maseribane further said the opposition must ensure the SADC report “does not disappear”.

Commenting on the fun-walk, BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe and RCL secretary general ‘Mamolula Ntabe said the event was a “great success”, and that proceeds from the function were still being collated.

Asked if the opposition planned to bring back their leaders even without the help of SADC, Mr Mofomobe said doing so would be suicidal.

“The main problem is we don’t have any guarantee that the prime minister has control over the government he is leading,” Mr Mofomobe said.

“The opposition is aware that its leaders are a target and can be killed anytime. We are not convinced that they will be safe if they come back without any agreement and assurance from government.

“The army killed Ntate Mahao in broad daylight; these people are capable of anything and they know that the government won’t do a thing against them.

“At least we now have a hint that Justice Phumaphi recommended that the soldiers who killed General Mahao must be prosecuted. Maybe, the report will liberate Lesotho and bring our leaders back home.”

ABC secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele also said it would not be wise for the exiled leaders to return at the moment.

“The opposition is aware that the government does not care about their return, so we will sit down and plan on how to deal with the issue,” Mr Ntsekele said.

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