SA has called a SADC meeting to discuss the recent Lesotho "coup", while the SANDF has refuted claims that it was involved in foiling the attempt.
Foreign ministers of three Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states will be discussing the recent events in Lesotho, the international relations and co-operation department (Dirco) confirmed on Sunday.
“Foreign ministers of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia are meeting tonight in Pretoria to talk about matters of Lesotho,” said Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela. He said South Africa called the meeting in its capacity as the chairing nation of the SADC’s organ on politics and defence.
Monyela could not confirm an apparent meeting between President Jacob Zuma, Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and members of the kingdom’s coalition government. According to the Associated Press, Thabane was meeting with leaders of his country’s coalition government and Zuma to discuss the recent unrest.
On Saturday, Thabane told the BBC he had fled for his life across the border to South Africa, accusing the military of seizing power in a coup and leaving the country in flux. “I have been removed from control not by the people but by the armed forces, and that is illegal,” Thabane reportedly said. “I will return as soon as my life is not in danger ... I will not go back to Lesotho to get killed.”
Meanwhile, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) refuted claims that it was involved in foiling the alleged attempted coup. Spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said that as “far as [he] was aware” there had been “none whatsoever”, in terms of reports that South African soldiers had assisted in bringing down an alleged mutiny.
Dlamini was responding to an article in the Sunday Times with the headline “SA special forces foil Lesotho coup”. The article reported that SANDF troops – based in Phalaborwa, Limpopo – had entered the country on Friday, along with a group of diplomats.
The article said a pre-dawn raid had then been carried out on Saturday in Maseru to assist Thabane in fleeing the country. “I’m not sure that the reports from the Sunday Times are accurate. This matter is at a much higher level than just the defence force,” said Dlamini. He said the matter would be dealt with by the SADC and that the South African government continued to “monitor the situation”.
PM flees Lesotho
Meanwhile, Thabane accused Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing of helping to plan the attempted coup.
Metsing took charge of the government once Thabane had fled the country after the army surrounded his residence and police stations in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru.
Gunshots were heard in the capital on Saturday, where one policeman was shot dead and four others wounded, said senior police superintendent Mofokeng Kolo. But the army denied trying to force out Thabane, saying it had moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the small southern African kingdom.
Diplomats in Maseru told Reuters the army was largely seen as loyal to the deputy prime minister and the police force mostly supported the prime minister.
South Africa condemned the army’s actions and invited the deputy prime minister to talks, Lesotho’s Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Selibe Mochoboroane told Reuters. He did not specify who the talks would be with.
“Constitutionally, in the absence of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister takes the reins,” said Mochoboroane, who is also the spokesperson for Metsing’s party.
“For now there hasn’t been any arrangement, but it goes without saying the deputy prime minister will still oversee other issues that need to be taken care of until the prime minister returns,” he added. On Saturday, Mochoboroane echoed the army’s assurance that no coup had taken place.
Thabane, who is expected to be back in Maseru soon, said the two would not be holding talks in South Africa.
“I have no much reason to absolve him from blame,” Thabane told Reuters. “Looking from a distance, he is very active in this show.”
Relations have been stormy between Thabane’s All Basotho Convention party and Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy group, which formed a coalition with another party after elections in 2012.
Thabane dissolved parliament in June to avoid a no-confidence vote against him amid feuding among the ruling parties. Metsing later said he would form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.
The African Union said on Sunday it would not tolerate any illegal seizure of power.
Thabane told Reuters on Saturday that he had fired an army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But on Sunday Kamoli said he was still in charge of the military.
“I haven’t gotten any formal letter from anybody and that is to say that I am still the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force,” said Kamoli.
Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people encircled by South Africa, has undergone a number of military coups since independence from Britain in 1966. At least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting in 1998. – Sapa, Reuters