MASERU – Calls for Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane to quit escalated to new heights on Monday when the radical South Africa’s opposition party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), joined the chorus and called for his immediate departure. “The EFF calls for the immediate resignation of the incompetent and criminal Prime Minister of Lesotho Tom Thabane. We condemn in the strongest terms the unconstitutional deployment of the army and roll out of a lockdown by Thabane as a narrow and self-seeking attempt to avoid accountability,” EFF said in a statement on Monday.
Formed in 2013, the EFF is the third-largest party in the South Africa’s National Assembly. It has made an impact on South African and African politics. Thabane’s term as prime minister ends with national elections scheduled for 2022. But since he was implicated in the murder of his estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane, there have been rumblings even from inside his own party, All Basotho convention (ABC), that he should be compelled to step down sooner.
Lipolelo was ambushed and shot dead by unidentified attackers in June 2017, two days before Thabane’s inauguration. There have been accusations that Thabane was using his position to hamper investigations into the killing. The opposition parties, on the other hand, want him to resign on the grounds that under his leadership the justice system has been politicised and weakened; corruption has spiralled out of control; unemployment continues to increase and the economy is weakening.
After months of resisting efforts to remove him, Thabane, 80, announced in February that he would be stepping down at the end of July. He cited old age as the reason for leaving office. “Not only does the job of Prime Minister require sensory perception, but rapid reaction and physical strength are also a necessity for the incumbent in that office,” he said. He told the nation that he hoped the remaining months that he would spend in office would afford parliament and his party, ABC, enough time to work on the transitional arrangements.
But even before parliament could start working on the said transitional arrangements, Thabane prorogued it for three months, from March to June, apparently preventing some dissenting members of parliament from toppling him. Government said the move to prorogue parliament was merely procedural given the state of emergency in the country and public health (COVID-19) regulations prohibiting large public gatherings. The High Court ruled last Friday that Thabane’s decision to prorogue parliament was irrational and arbitrary.
“Thabane has, without consulting opposition parties and even members of his own party and caucus, unilaterally suspended parliament for a period of three months,” EFF said yesterday. It said the suspension of parliament was not only done without consultation, “but it is one that is not in line with the suspension of all other activities in other sectors with amounts to 21 days in Lesotho”.
It added that Thabane had suspended parliament under the guise of combatting COVID-19. “Thabane fails to appreciate that parliamentarians play a critical role in the fight against the coronavirus, namely oversight, providing aid and ensuring that all aid is provided equally to citizens,” it said. According to the EFF, various structures such as national coordinating structures comprising portfolios of parliament needed to be set up to ensure there was a country-wide response to the impacts to the lockdown.
“These range from coordination of health, defence, transport, business and home affairs to name but a few. To close parliament for three months without consulting all portfolios that comprise the parliament of Lesotho and providing a clear way forward is foolishness that places the livelihoods of the people of Lesotho at risk,” EFF said. It further stated that Thabane “must” not be allowed to use COVID-19 pandemic to avoid his criminal charges and mounting calls for him to step down.
It said: “To enforce martial law and practice constitutional delinquency under the guise of combatting COVID-19 is shameful and he must be exposed for his hopeless attempts to avoid accountability. South Africa must make a considered intervention to restore law and order in Lesotho. The first step towards that is the immediate resignation of the compromised Tom Thabane.”The special envoy of the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, that was in the country during the weekend agreed with the government that the latter should effect the implementation process or modalities for the “dignified, graceful and secure retirement” of Thabane.
Led by the former minister Jeff Radebe, the South African delegation also agreed with government that it should work other stakeholders, particularly members of Parliament (MPs), “to effect the said dignified, graceful and secure retirement”.