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'We are going home now' - Lesotho PM's aide

Staff Reporter, AFP

While Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is on his way home, SADC is expected to send a team to monitor the situation in the country.

Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. (AFP)

Lesotho’s leaders have agreed to “take steps” to reopen Parliament. This follows an attempted coup by Lesotho’s military over the weekend. President Jacob Zuma met with Lesotho’s prime minister, Thomas Thabane, and other Lesotho and regional officials in Pretoria over the weekend. 

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) executive secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, was also in attendance, according to the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco). In a joint statement by the SADC troika and Lesotho governmental leaders on Monday evening, Lesotho’s leaders announced that they would take steps to lift the suspension of Parliament.

“In this regard, they agreed on the roadmap with clear timelines on how to remove the Parliament prorogation, which shall be submitted to the king. The leaders further agreed to issue a joint statement appealing for calm and exercise restraint with a view to rapidly bring law and order back in the kingdom,” the statement said. An SADC facilitator and a team specialising in politics, defence and security, would also be sent to Lesotho urgently. 

A Thabane aide told Agence France-Presse on Monday that the prime minister was on his way home. “We are going home now, most probably we will be in Lesotho tomorrow [Tuesday],” Samonyane Ntsekele, the premier’s advisor, told AFP in Pretoria, where security organ of the 15-member SADC held marathon emergency talks on the crisis.

Control of Lesotho
With Lesotho’s prime minister, deputy prime minister, and other coalition government members in a meeting with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Monday, and several other members of the government and police reportedly in hiding in South Africa, it was not clear who was running the country on Monday.

Zuma met with the country’s leadership in light of Saturday’s alleged military coup plot.  On Saturday, Lesotho’s military reportedly took control of several police stations in what has been called an alleged coup plot. But the military denied that this was a coup attempt, although Lesotho’s prime minister, Thomas Thabane fled the country fearing for his life. 

Zuma’s meeting followed calls for SADC intervention, including a call by Thabane himself that  SADC should send soldiers into the country. The Lesotho Times reported on Monday that the armed forces went looking for Thabane, but he had already skipped the border.  

The publication also reported that Lesotho’s courts had been suspended in light of the unrest. The registrar of the high court and court of appeal, Lesitsi Mokeke, spoke to the Lesotho Times on Monday. 

“The honourable acting chief justice [Tšeliso Monaphathi] has been advised by the police that according to the prevailing situation in the country, judges should not report for work as their security would be compromised. You are aware that the courts are protected by the police and now that they are not on duty, it means there is no security for judges and everybody else in the courts,” Mokeke told the paper. 

Control of military
Meanwhile, AFP reporter Andrew Beatty reported that Lesotho’s public service minister, Motloheloa Phooko, declared himself acting prime minister. But it was not clear who was now in charge of the military.   

The king of Lesotho is taking action to fill a power vacuum after the military’s actions over the weekend caused the prime minister to flee the country. King Letsie III is appointing a Cabinet minister to run the country as both the prime minister and deputy prime minister are in neighbouring South Africa, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa said Monday. 

It was not immediately clear who would be named to run the nation of about two-million that is surrounded by South Africa. The military said they disarmed police in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday. Thabane called the actions a coup attempt, but Lesotho defence forces say they only stepped in after getting information that police were planning to supply arms to participants in a demonstration. 

Thabane said he fled to South Africa in fear for his life and to consult with regional leaders there. Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing was put in charge, according to provisions in the constitution, but he is now in South Africa to attend thetalks. “In our constitution, the recent prime minister, if he’s outside or indisposed, the deputy prime minister automatically takes over. In the event that both are outside of the country, in accordance with the constitution, the king appoints a minister to take over,” said Tsekoa, the foreign minister. 

“Our leaders are in the middle of talking and defining the way forward.” 

Talks for a peaceful solution
Zuma met again on Monday with Thabane and Metsing, according to Nelson Kgwete a spokesperson for Dirco. A third coalition party leader, Thesele Maseribane, was also in South Africa for meetings with representatives from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. 

The countries are a part of the SADC, which is trying to find a resolution to Lesotho’s crisis. Political tensions have been high between Thabane and Metsing and within the coalition government in the tiny kingdom since June when Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence.

Thabane’s All Basotho Convention party and Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy formed a coalition with Maseribane’s Basotho National Party after 2012 elections, but since then conflict has simmered. “We must remove whatever obstacles that might come before us. We have to mend our relationship and continue to develop our country,” Thabane told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. 

There was little evidence of the conflict on Monday in Maseru. The demonstration had also been called off. The landlocked country’s first coalition government was formed in 2012 after competitive elections that ousted the 14-year incumbent Pakalitha Mosisili, who peacefully stepped down from power. 

Lesotho has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966. The constitutional government was restored in 1993, after seven years of military rule. Violent protests and a military mutiny in 1998 came after a contentious election prompted intervention by South African military forces. Political stability returned after constitutional reforms, and parliamentary elections were peacefully held in 2002. – Additional reporting by Sarah Evans.

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