Opposition upbeat as SADC sets ‘ultimatum’

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU – Leader of the opposition Mathibeli Mokhothu is elated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) “ultimatum” imposed on Lesotho enjoining government to complete impending constitutional and security reforms by May 2019. This shift in attitude, he said, could persuade government to rethink its move to extradite exiled opposition leader Mothetjoa Metsing from South Africa, and instead offer him safe passage back home.

Metsing, Mokhothu and the opposition contend, is key to any future reform process by virtue of his high rank in local politics. The regional bloc has also directed the Lesotho government to have compiled a progress report on the process which it wants submitted at the body’s August summit. Mokhothu told Public Eye yesterday that while SADC did not expressly say in the communique that it was imposing an ultimatum on Lesotho, the tone of the communique “sounds serious” and “does away with the longheld opposition belief that SADC was sleeping with government”.

He also applauded SADC for placing emphasis on the importance of a multi-stakeholder national dialogue, which he said went a long way in cementing their position on the need for the prereforms talks. “SADC is getting a little bit more serious and tough on this government, doing away with the long-held notion that they were in bed with government. I just fi nd it problematic that this government is unwilling to cooperate with the opposition, even when the body tries to intervene,” Mokhothu said.

He added: “When you look at the communique, the seriousness of SADC’s tone is captured where it instructs the government to submit its progress report on the constitutional and security sector reforms process in August, while also placing emphasis on the importance of a national dialogue.” The communique was issued on Tuesday following the Double Troika Summit of Heads and State and Government held in Angola. “The summit called upon all political parties and stakeholders in the Kingdom of Lesotho to accord the needed seriousness to the National Dialogue and the reform processes, and find lasting solutions to the political challenges facing the Kingdom,” read the communique.

The summit also approved the extension of the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) for a further period of six months from May to November. Mokhothu touched on the contentious issue of self-exiled leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Metsing, who has been hiding in South Africa since August 2017. Metsing skipped the country shortly after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s four-party coalition government assumed power following victory in the June polls saying he feared for his life.

Thabane’s government in December 2017 applied for Metsing’s extradition to Lesotho “through diplomatic channels”, which was communicated to the South African government by Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi, “to stand trial on charges of corruption, fraud and tax evasion”. The South African government on February 28 acknowledged receipt of the request via that country’s Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Tshilo Michael Masutha, who in turn issued a notice in line with that country’s section 5 (1) (a) of the Extradition Act, 1962 (Act 67 of 1982), which was further communicated to relevant departments to kickstart the process of Lesotho’s former deputy-prime minister’s extradition.

The opposition last week announced that it was pulling out of built-up talks to the proposed national dialogue under the auspices of SADC and the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), themed ‘Political Parties’ Dialogue in Peace and Nation Building: For Shaping the Lesotho That We Want’. The opposition threatened it would only return to the table “if government drops its extradition bid against Ntate Metsing”. On Wednesday government spokesperson Nthakeng Selinyane refuted mounting speculation that government was contemplating dropping the extradition request and securing Metsing’s safe and unconditional return to Lesotho, under the auspices of transitional justice.

According to Selinyane “it’s not true that government is contemplating that”. However, he was quick to add as paradigms shift , the world was also yielding towards making unconventional decisions when faced with whether to “to pursue peace or justice”. Without making specific reference to Metsing, Selinyane drew examples of retired former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Acting Commander Major- General Lineo Poopa and the current army’s Inspector- General, Major-General Ramanka Mokaloba, who were fingered by the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry, as being among top army officials who committed atrocities in the military but were spared prosecution by the current government “probably in the pursuit of peace”.

Poopa and Mokaloba, along with the late former commander Lt. Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, the late Brigadier Bulane Sechele and the late Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, were identified by the Phumaphi Commission for engineering several criminal acts in the army and were part of the inner circle of incarcerated former commander Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli. Kamoli is currently languishing in the Maseru Maximum Prison, awaiting trial for murder and 14 counts of attempted murder. “I’m not saying government is going to take a similar route with Metsing, but such things do happen where issues of transitional justice arise,” Selinyane said.

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