Opposition welcome Sadc troops departure

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU –Opposition parties on Wednesday welcomed the Southern African Development Community (Sadc)’s decision to withdraw its Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) when its current mandate expires in November. Democratic Party of Lesotho (DPL) leader Limpho Tau told the media at a joint opposition parties’ press conference that they were told by Justice Dikhang Moseneke that the Lesotho government’s request for extension of the mission met a flat turndown at the Sadc heads of state and government summit that was held in Namibia last week.

Sadc’s decision fits in neatly with civil society organisations in southern Africa which last week described Lesotho’s halting steps towards national reforms as unacceptable and called on Sadc leaders to exert more diplomatic pressure on the Mountain Kingdom to escalate the process.

In a communique presented to new Sadc chair, Namibian president Hage Geingob in Windhoek last Friday, the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SASPN) said: “SADC should put a time-bound reform programme for Lesotho to commence reforms in earnest, failing which the regional body should withdraw their support.”

This followed the Sadc people’s summit that was convened by the SAPSN in Windhoek from last week Thursday to Friday parallel to the 38th heads of state and government summit which also took place in Namibia. SASPN is a grouping of non-governmental organisations, social movements, trade unions and other institutions in Sadc member states.

On Wednesday Tau said: “He (Moseneke) told us that government wanted Sadc to extend the mission by three months but the summit flatly refused. This means the Sadc soldiers will be packing their bags and going back to their respective homes when the mission expires in November. We welcome this development,” Tau said.

Moseneke is the Special Envoy of the Sadc Facilitator to Lesotho, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa. Also in attendance at the presser were former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader Selibe Mochoboroane and Lekhetho Rakuoane, leader of Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).

Thulo Mahlakeng, Moeketse Malebo and Kimetso Mathata, leaders of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), National Independent Party (NIP) respectively were also part of the media briefing. The 269-men strong SAPMIL force comprises military, police, intelligence and civilian components from seven Sadc countries, namely; Angola, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

It was officially launched by the then Representative of the Chairperson of Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Admiral Gasper Rufino on December 2, 2017 for an initial period of six months. The deployment of the mission ignited a flurry of reactions from many ordinary Basotho in general, and from opposition leaders in particular, who had tried relentlessly to pulverise the idea of deployment of foreign soldiers in vain.

Some Sadc officials insisted that the mandate of the mission will be more about “putting brains on the ground than boots on the ground”. They said the mission’s aim was to try to “influence” the behaviour of key players, most notably to persuade the military to stay out of politics.

In January this year, Mosisili demanded the withdrawal of the mission as a condition for opposition parties to participate in the reforms. Mosisili, who is also leader of the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC), said the presence of the Sadc force in the country not only created a hostile environment for reforms but also discouraged foreign investors from coming into the country.

Despite the opposition’s threats, the Sadc double troika meeting held in Angola in April this year extended SAPMIL’s mandate by six months, from May to November. The creation of the peacekeeping force was initially approved by a Sadc fact-finding team that identified “a volatile security situation” and an “urgent need to assist the Kingdom of Lesotho in restoring law and order” after the murder of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant General Khoatle Motšomotšo last year.

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