Whenever Paddy Harper is unfit to file his column, whether “battered by the flu” or “on a bender” of sleep deprivation, he returns to his old whipping boy, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
True to form, in “Don’t give Shenge another shot” (Mail & Guardian, 6 March 2022) he devotes a third of his column to how exhausted and overworked he is. Then comes a brief mention of the Zondo Commission Report; a paltry product after his 36 hours of research. With vast space left to fill, he reverts — inexplicably — to attacking me.
In this instance, his puerile humour is severely tone deaf.
Calling me “the Vladimir Putin of Mahlabathini”, he claims that if I were appointed deputy president right now, I would immediately declare war on Lesotho and Eswatini.
In the present climate of war, this nonsensical jest is grossly inappropriate.
Harper references Lesotho’s averted coup d’état of September 1998, and the apartheid regime’s averted attempt to cede part of South Africa to then Swaziland; both of which involved me.
President Nelson Mandela and I were together at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Mauritius when rumblings of a threatened coup arose in Lesotho. To prevent the rising number of coups in Africa, SADC had resolved not to recognise any military juntas. As chairperson of SADC, Mandela was obliged to implement its resolutions.
But within hours he would be leaving for the United States, while then deputy president Thabo Mbeki would be in Singapore. Much to the chagrin of his party, Mandela appointed me as acting president. Indeed, when the clock struck midnight he grinned and said: “Shenge, you are acting president now. You go talk to Mugabe.” I was not unaware of the frosty relations between them.
As acting president, I became acting chair of SADC too, and took over the obligation to implement SADC’s resolutions. In constant consultation with Mandela, I engaged Botswana’s then president Festus Mogae; and when then prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili and His Majesty King Letsie III called me to say that the coup was imminent, SADC soldiers from both Botswana and South Africa were mobilised.
Only an idiot could see this as my “invading” Lesotho.
When King Letsie III married two years later, I and heads of state including president Kenneth Kaunda were welcomed at Maseru’s Setsoto Stadium. At the announcement of my presence, the stadium shook with ululation and applause. During the VIP lunch afterwards, judges and businesspeople thanked me, saying: “You averted a bloodbath in Lesotho.”
All these years later, my relationship with Lesotho remains strong, to the extent that King Letsie III came to comfort me, privately, when my wife was laid to rest in 2019.
On the matter of Eswatini, in 1982 I took the apartheid government to the high court and prevented them from excising and ceding Ingwavuma. My relationship with Eswatini remains strong. How else could I be welcomed at Lozitha Palace in August last year by His Majesty King Mswati III, Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini and Minister of Foreign Affairs Thulu Dladla?
I suggest, Mr Harper, you get some sleep — and start being honest with your editors when you have no content.