President Jacob Zuma was due to meet Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on Monday to try to resolve a political crisis after an apparent coup there over the weekend, a government spokesperson said.
Thabane fled Lesotho for South Africa early on Saturday, hours before the army surrounded his residence and overran police stations in the capital Maseru, in what the prime minister called a coup by the military.
Lesotho’s army denied seeking to oust Thabane, saying it moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the southern African nation. One police officer was shot dead and four others wounded.
Diplomats said the unrest stems from a power struggle between Thabane, who is supported by the police and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who has the loyalty of the army.
Tension had risen since Thabane suspended Parliament in June amid feuding in the two-year-old governing coalition.
Acting Prime Minster
Lesotho’s minister of public service, Motloheloa Phooko, told AFP on Monday that he was the country’s acting prime minister, after the elected premier fled the country during an apparent coup.
“I am acting prime minister,” the minister said from Maseru, citing “cabinet protocol” for his appointment while the prime minister and deputy prime minister are in South Africa. Phooko is a member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy party, which forms an acrimonious coalition government with Prime Minister Tom Thabane.
The party has denied any role in the alleged coup.
Further raids on police
In Maseru, the atmosphere was quiet but tense on Monday after the police commissioner said soldiers had carried out further raids on police installations and even officers’ homes, taking away weapons and uniforms.
Commissioner Khothatso Ts’ooana told Public Choice FM radio station that this meant police would not be able to carry out their normal duties. Police stations were deserted and some officers had fled over the border into South Africa.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) defence and security troika, which includes officials from South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, met Thabane through the night to try to find a peaceful settlement to the crisis.
Talks were due to resume on Monday but it was not clear if Metsing, who Thabane says orchestrated the coup, would be in Pretoria to take part.
‘Find a peaceful solution’
“President Zuma will meet the Lesotho prime minister this [Monday] morning. It is part of the decision taken by the SADC troika on Sunday,” said Nelson Kgwete, a spokesperson for South Africa’s Department for International Relations and Co-operation.
“It was resolved that all parties should be consulted to find a peaceful solution,” Kgwete added.
Thabane told Reuters on Saturday he had fired the 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.
Meanwhile, the South African National Defence Force 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.
Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people encircled by South Africa, has suffered a several 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, when Pretoria sent in troops.
Besides textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho’s other big earner is hydropower and water, both of which it supplies to neighbour South Africa. – Reuters