. . . amid lingering coup fears
THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) has deployed a standby force from South Africa, Angola and Mozambique into Lesotho, as the regional bloc moves to avert another bout of instability prompted by this week’s assassination of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo.
The standby force has also been brought into Lesotho to quell any possible coup attempt by disgruntled soldiers and to provide security during the implementation of SADC-mandated multi-sectoral reforms which encompass the military.
The regional bloc has also deployed into Lesotho four ministers from the SADC Ministerial Double Troika and a fact-finding mission consisting of defence and security chiefs that arrived in the country yesterday. The team is scheduled to hold meetings with various stakeholders in Lesotho’s body politic starting from tomorrow until Sunday.
Defence and National Security Minister Sentje Lebona confirmed the deployment of the standby force in an interview last night, saying the South African contingent arrived yesterday.
“Some of them arrived today (yesterday), while the other ones will arrive tomorrow,” he said.
Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi also told a South African radio station that the standby force would provide security during the implementation of the reforms.
“The implementation (of reforms) will take about three to six months, then we will be done,” he said.
The envisaged reforms cover governance, security, public service, media, judiciary and legislative sectors among other areas and are aimed at deepening democracy and creating lasting stability which is conducive to economic growth.
However the ministers would not reveal the size of the standby force nor details of its material strength.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was shot dead at his Ratjomose barracks on Tuesday morning by Brigadier Bulane Sechele who was accompanied by Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
According to Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi, the two senior officers had confronted Lt-Gen Motšomotšo over the police’s investigation of three army officers implicated in the killing of a woman near the home of former LDF commander, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli.
After Lt-Gen Motšomotšo explained that the investigation was being conducted in the spirit of implementing SADC decisions to probe LDF members implicated in acts of criminality, Brig Sechele allegedly pulled out a firearm and fatally shot the army commander.
Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi were showered with bullets by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards outside the office after the latter realised what had happened. Brig Sechele died on the spot, while Col Hashatsi died of his wounds in a nearby hospital.
Impeccable sources have told this publication Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was asked during the SADC Troika Security Chiefs meeting held in Pretoria, South Africa last month whether he needed any assistance to implement SADC decisions of suspending and prosecuting LDF members accused of serious crimes such as murder.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo reportedly declined the offer, saying he “was on top of the situation”.
This time around, SADC is not taking any chances, with the standby force having been deployed amid speculation that Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi had planned to stage a coup if they had survived after killing Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
The speculation was fuelled by a letter circulating on social media and purportedly found on Brig Sechele’s body which expressed an intention to establish an interim government.
Part of the letter reads: “We have taken over the reins so as to restore peace and stability which are lacking due to politics that have divided the army.
“The army will be in power for not more than five years in order to implement the reforms that the politicians have failed to do on their own.
“We assure the nation that its property and state of security are in good hands.
“We advise all politicians to stop making any statements either on radio stations or on social media.”
However, no government official contacted by the Lesotho Times could confirm or dismiss the authenticity of the document, saying investigations were ongoing.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s Press Attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala, said: “We also saw it on social media, and honestly we cannot comment on anything that is on social media. If the document was authentic, the police would be better-placed to comment.”
Police spokesperson, Inspector Mpiti Mopeli, would not comment on the document, saying investigations into the matter were ongoing.
Fears of a coup have also been raised in light of Col Hashatsi’s dropping out in June this year from a Zimbabwe National Army Senior Commanders’ course he had enrolled in last August at the National Defence College in Harare.
Col Hashatsi had been seconded for the course by Lt-Gen Kamoli prior to his retirement as LDF commander in December 2016.
Military sources in Zimbabwe told this publication yesterday that “a red flag” had been raised over Col Hashatsi’s behaviour and suitability for the course.