What the LLA pension tells us
Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane
SO the 24-year old wailing of the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) which is the parent party of all Lesotho’s Congress parties in one way or another, has for the first time fallen on sympathetic ear of a government that has given it a war veterans’ pension. This comes 26 years after the guerrilla outfit which was putatively formed to wage a war of felling the Basotho National Party (BNP) government of Morena Leabua Jonathan between 1979-85, was disowned by the worshipped BCP leader Ntsu Mokhehle in Maseru in 1991 saying among others, “I never asked anyone’s child to follow me into exile”, and “I never carried anyone on my back”.
This was after the leader said in a media interview that the LLA had been dissolved, igniting fury among its members whose fate remained unknown as they were not mentioned in the arrangements and agreements for the return of Dr Mokhehle and his followers from exile beginning in 1989, mediated by the Council of Churches between Mokhehle and the military regime of 1986-93.
It is now legend that the BCP abroad had broken up into the Mokhehle-led group which consorted with the apartheid South Africa where the LLA was hosted, trained, and armed as a surrogate to military sabotage of Lesotho’s economic installation, killing politicians and engage the Lesotho Paramilitary Force (LPF) in skirmishes; and one led by his secretary Koenyama Chakela who was assassinated after returning home to tell the story of betrayal in 1980. Later anecdotal accounts of the LLA operatives revealed the LLA could have been split down the same lines, with the Vlakplaas faction and the Qwaqwa faction. Thus it came to pass that when the BCP had settled in government in a one-party parliament of 1993, some segments of the LLA were secretly infiltrated into ill-fitting slots in the civil service, which were awkwardly and suspiciously named Reconciliation Officers in odd place like border management, transport and traffic, district administration; while others were left in the cold. By the time of the burial of one LLA stalwart Ts’eliso Rapitse in Mafeteng in 2003, his homeboy and deputy prime minister, who had been on cabinet since 1993 Lesao Lehohla placated the indignant veteran mourners with a promise that the LLA Veterans Association (LLAVetA) correspondence on their grievances was on the prime minister’s desk and action on them imminent.
When a decade later in 2012 the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), which was a BCP majority splinter of 1997, was unseated after 15 years in power, the LLAVetA had nailed its colours to the mast of former deputy prime minister A.K. Maope’s Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), which formed part of a six-party bloc of pro-government parliamentary opposition but was bungled, and the veterans missed the train yet again thanks to the early collapse of the Letsema coalition. When the LPC broke up as a co-governing party, under the weight of sponsoring the state excesses that have since been exposed by the Phumaphi Commission, substantially contributing to the early collapse of the Khokanyan’a Phiri second coalition government, the LLAVetA announced that it was forming its own party to contest the June 2017 snap elections, citing a quarter century of betrayal, but ultimately chickened out. This was after 10 years of a supposedly pro-poor Congress crusade which waged an unprecedentedly precipitous, most vulgar campaign of division of the nation, by naming civil society, rival political parties, the clergy and media and even resident diplomatic and intergovernmental bodies as “MaNazi”, equating all these sectors en bloc to an evil that deserved only suppression and elimination including death.
Yet this crusade failed its most self-sacrificing, gallant devotees and defenders in the LLA, even as late as under the 2015 second coalition government, which was supposed to be the moment of ultimate deliverance. These men could only be evacuated from the eternal condemnation to pauperism by those whom their masters dubbed MaNazi, whose genetic makeup supposedly destined them only to subject the Basotho, especially Congress loyalists, to eternal misery for their pressure. Almost immediately upon the landmark award of this pension in the Budget Speech, some expressions of indignation flowed into the social media, mainly a voicing of disgust at a supposed reward of terrorism. This is all in order, if you use as a yardstick the existing literature and known history of apartheid, declared as a crime against humanity, and the harnessing of the LLA in the execution of apartheid’s Total Onslaught Strategy – and the fact that these men have never come clean about their part therein.
We have to remember and accept, however, that the processes of atonement and self-expiation in such histories belong to the realm of politics and politicians; and if the political elites of the BCP and all the ruling Congress parties, first denied and then disowned the LLA, and ran these men from pillar to post over 24 years as bearers of the state, there was no way the men themselves could do that and have it validated as part of a credible national reconciliation process. Second, we shouldn’t allow emotion to run ahead of intellect of common sense here: the handlers or masters of these men have been draped with the cloak of custodian of our national democratic state and its values, they make laws and exact taxation on the entirety of the citizenry, and they enjoy state pensions and burial upon death- they don’t incur the ordinary expenses of working persons because of the honour of office we have bestowed on them over a quarter century. Why shouldn’t the men who were simply their errand boys be viewed and treated as outcasts? And remember, we’re talking about persons who were made to omit a huge chunk of their youthful and productive life and go on a wild goose chase of “liberating” the country, who were hoodwinked in the most naïve, passionate, gullible, and intrepid age. We can ill afford for now to apportion moral judgment to their motives or consequences of their actions. These are happenings which are baggage of ourselves as a people, not its shades and segments, and the unqualified acceptance and embrace would seem to acknowledge the same. This does nothing more than acknowledge that a nation which allows itself to walk through that bog might also not choose to wash only it angles and shins but not also its soles and toes. It isn’t done at the expense of justice for the benefit nor at the expense of any part of the community to the joy and benefit of another; since such actions aren’t covered in statutes of limitations, nor is this gesture officially declared as foreclosing the same. I could even say the debates it rakes points to the urgency of resolving this bleak watershed period in our national history, and putting it to rest in a manner that satisfies the conscience of the entire nation, but most importantly the aggrieved. There have also been raised questions about “forgotten” victims of the LLA campaigns, which cut across the “great political divide and include some among their peers and political principals, and these all still need a holistic revisitation.
Mr Selinyane’s views are his own and do not reflect the views of the Lesotho Times.