Opposition refuses to meet high-powered delegation
MASERU — Lesotho’s opposition parties on Monday rejected a proposal by SADC to convene an all-stakeholders’ meeting to discuss the long-running dispute over proportional representation seats.
The opposition parties are demanding that the regional bloc should first produce a report by its initial envoy, Sir Ketumile Masire.
A SADC troika of foreign ministers — Oldemiro Baloi (Mozambique), Kabinga Pande (Zambia) and Lutfo Dlamini (Swaziland) — arrived here on Sunday hoping to convene a stakeholders’ meeting.
SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao was also present.
But the regional envoys were forced to hurriedly rearrange their schedule after opposition parties told them that they will not engage in further discussions unless they got the report.
But those were not the only conditions they were given.
Officials who attended the meeting said opposition leaders also threatened to shun any further intervention by SADC unless the regional body stops favouring the “government and behaving like the Lesotho crisis is not a major issue”.
The officials said the opposition was particularly angered when one of the ministers reportedly said “there is need for continuous dialogue”.
That statement, the sources said, was understood to mean that the dialogue could continue forever without a solution.
“It meant continuing with the same unfruitful business of going back and forth,” said one leader who was in the meeting.
“It meant the government playing the usual delaying tactics on the issue without suffering the consequences.”
Masire tabled his report on the Lesotho issue at a SADC summit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last month.
The opposition said Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was given an unfair advantage when he was allowed to respond to the issues raised by Masire in the absence of opposition representatives.
The opposition parties also complained to the troika that ever since the DRC summit Mosisili has “sounded more emboldened and has started attacking the opposition over the talks at his rallies”.
This was in reference to Mosisili’s recent rally in Qacha’s Nek where he said the opposition was like a dog barking at the moon because nothing was going to change on the PR seats.
The spokesperson for the Lesotho Opposition Parties’ Forum, Majara Molapo, told the Lesotho Times that the opposition leaders had “clearly told the troika that they were not happy with the way SADC had handled the matter”.
“We told them that we were not going to listen to them and that we would shun their efforts to intervene in our internal affairs because they are not genuine,” Molapo said.
“When we heard over the weekend that they had come and we would meet them on Monday we expected that they were bringing us the Masire report and we became very disappointed when we discovered that they had not brought it.
“We cannot agree to be engaged in any dialogue led by them unless they have brought the Masire report.
“We want to see what Masire said to the SADC heads of state.”
Molapo accused SADC heads of state of deliberately withholding the report to allegedly protect their colleague, Mosisili, from embarrassment.
“The Masire report will tell in detail how the Lesotho government tampered with his mediation,” he said.
“I think there are many more things in the report that the heads of SADC states do not want us to know in an endeavour to protect their colleague from embarrassment.”
Molapo said having heard that the SADC delegation had not brought Masire’s report they thought perhaps the envoys would tell them of the bloc’s stance on the report.
“We then asked the four gentlemen to tell us the position SADC took after Masire tabled the report before the heads of state in Kinshasa. To our surprise, they did not give us answers,” he said.
“We are aware that Lesotho’s prime minister, who was part of the SADC summit, knows the SADC stance on this but we do not know although we are part of the dispute.”
Majara said the SADC representatives also said nothing on the “embarrassing accusations the Lesotho government levelled against Sir Ketumile”.
Molapo said the delegation told the opposition leaders that the report was a responsibility of the summit and that they “as mere ministers had no access to it”.
Molapo could not give specific details of the meeting but the Lesotho Times was told by three officials who attended the meeting that the troika sounded unprepared.
The publicity secretary for the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Mafa Sejanamane, reportedly told the ministers that SADC had become a “club of leaders working together to oppress their own people”.
In an interview after the meeting, ABC leader Tom Thabane was even more brutal in his assessment, calling the troika a “bunch of miserable foreign ministers”.
“This meeting was the most useless meeting I have ever attended,” Thabane said.
“In fact, it was an insult to us.
“The SADC ministers did not impress me at all.”
Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Metsing Lekhanya said the troika failed to clarify the reasons for its presence in Lesotho.
Lekhanya said the troika seemed totally at a loss as to what it was really sent to do in Lesotho.
“I have lost confidence in these people from SADC,” Lekhanya said.
“SADC is the organisation I like as it was established by Lesotho and other countries but the way it acts nowadays leaves much to be desired.”
Marematlou Freedom Party leader Moeketse Malebo accused SADC of only offering lip service to Lesotho’s political crisis.
“I am committed to the SADC cause but I have realised that it is no longer the SADC I knew not a long time ago,” Malebo said.
The SADC delegation also met representatives of the Christian Council of Lesotho which is currently facilitating the talks between the government and opposition parties after Masire gave up mediation.
Government representatives and members of the diplomatic community were also met.