NTHAKENG PHEELLO SELINYANE
The National Reforms Authority (NRA) finally convened a national peace architecture dialogue forum on the heels of the notorious Metsing-Moseneke-Rakuoane Bill. The bill is designed to release from detention and trial the former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Tlali Kamoli, and other soldiers fingered by the Phumaphi Commission for various high crimes among others.
Kamoli took time to attend his second son’s funeral and shower praises on those sponsoring the controversial Bill. “We are aware of your gallant efforts, and confident that as their fruit we will soon be joining our families permanently,” he said. Kamoli was a paranoid, narcissistic, blood-hungry, terror-inspiring, rogue army commander who was installed by the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili on the eve of a sure-to-be-lost snap election of 2012 where the controversial Minister of Local Government, Pontšo Sekatle, notoriously said in out-of-turn public remarks to Kamoli, “Ua bona re u behile, u se ke be ua re phoqa he”, roughly translating to “Now that we have installed you, make sure you don’t disappoint us!”
Three years later, in 2015, in his comeback regime after failing to form government in 2012, Prime Minister Mosisili publicly thanked him for helping him get back into power in yet another snap election following Kamoli’s August 2014 failed coup in rebellion again against his removal from the apex of the army.
In this he was supported by Mosisili himself and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader and then deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing who also went on to become Mosisili’s deputy in 2015.
Kamoli had only two months later held a media briefing where he told journalists that the prime minister, Motsoahae Thabane, was badly advised and said he wouldn’t be removed from the command by any one before his retirement age.
Following his fearsome antics on public roads where his massive terror convoy became the talk of the town for petrifying citizens, he started issuing public statements against party political youth groups, while Mosisili’s secretary general Tlohang Sekhamane named Kamoli “literally the last thread by which Lesotho’s democracy is hanging.”
Kamoli’s reign of terror and Mosisili’s ceding of his powers of civil supremacy and oversight over the forces to Kamoli in their second coming between 2015 and 2017 is now as legendary as Metsing’s public address to his followers outside the election results centre, saying he would do anything to get back into power if only “to save the soldiers who put their necks on the block so we could come back to power.”
The All Basotho Convention (ABC) has strategically deployed Metsing’s key henchman Lekhetho Rakuoane of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) in the Ministry of Law to bring the Bill that nakedly targets the Kamoli & Co class of criminals for instant release from prison.
While hopefully this will be seen as an act of Rakuoane who is notorious for trading his conscience to service any vile cause of the Congress parties – whereas this ministry has always been occupied by an ABC minister until now.
Whereas the ABC was overwhelmingly elected for seeing these cases, it passes the buck here supposedly under pressure from South Africa; while Rakuoane pretends to be a moron and say only that he is just being a messenger of his predecessor and former ABC deputy leader, Nqosa Mahao, who is now the leader of the Basotho Action Party (BAP) that is opposed to the Bill.
While the ABC belatedly joined its two splinter parties, the Basotho Progressive Party (BPP) and the BAP, in condemning the Bill and set itself on a collision course with the deputy prime minister’s Democratic Congress (DC) which is championing the Bill, it did literally nothing to walk the talk till now.
Once in parliament they hope to pass the Bill by a simple majority herd vote, the same way they might with the NRA where political parties enjoy a comfortable 64 percent majority of voting members; where some intractable segments of NGOs have recently been known to band together with some backward-looking parties.
But of course, Rakuoane would go the NRA route as he knew it was intending to convene this forum so the nation could prescribe how to go about it since it was a new idea that was never discussed and concluded in the Dialogue phase of the Reforms, and he was usurping its mandate to please South African judge Dikgang Moseneke.
The South African appears before us wearing the garb of the SADC Facilitator on behalf of his boss President Cyril Ramaphosa whose mollycoddling of Kamoli in the developments that Metsing sums up as soldiers putting their heads on the block to return him and his comrades to power in 2015.
Two months have passed since the tabling of the Bill in parliament, but a schedule of public hearings about its content is yet to be published.
Interestingly, instead of engaging open public enquiries on radio about the rationale and essence of the Bill, the minister has been harping in a single note that citizens should await parliament’s portfolio committee to invite opinions; while also saying it is an implementation of a National Dialogue resolution to establish a TJC, while also stopping short of naming his commission a TJC.
Throughout this past week’s forum, several speakers in the hall and those coming in through the electronic media quizzed the government to come out clearly on why it’s Bill should not be seen as a clear and unilateral effort to frustrate the NRA’s endeavours to obtain national consensus on the matter as the one institution collectively mandated to discharge this function.
And why government shouldn’t be called out to withdraw as demonstration of good faith. Repeatedly, the chairperson of the successive sessions of the forum restrained the speakers, cautioning the meeting wasn’t about the Bill.
On the last day, at least two thematic breakaway groups out of four returned a recommendation that government should withdraw the Bill which was seen as being clearly in contrast to the NRA-led process of finding national consensus on the matter before a law on it was drafted.
From its multiple presentation is the conviction that this was the one subject which the Dialogue Plenary never thrashed and resolved exactly what the national peace watchdog institution should look like, the periods of history and the types of mutual wrongs it should cover – and there it is correct, and it is on the right path with this forum.
This was perhaps the most highly charged national dialogue I have followed and/or participated in since the first one in 1991.
The spark and flames were not slow in coming in. There was this cocoon of bo-‘m’e ba Lekhotla whom I later learned hailed from the NRA itself in similar Seshoeshoe dresses and likobo who led the charge ea ho senya sethala, buoyed by what their opposite saw as NRA pretended naivete and sleazy chairing, jeering victims when they wanted programme to accommodate them.
The victims won and made a very strong case for justice and for pardon to be granted on victims’ terms/consent, and for a national institution to be build according to AU and UN conventions, and that the outcomes of the forum receive their approval.
The Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, spoke strongly against the mischievous bloc of women and charged that the line-up of session chairpersons and resource persons hailing from the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and the PFD parties showed the NRA sought a particular commission of outcome and that was poisonous to national consensus and would render the forum futile.
Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director, Tsikoane Peshoane, said it would be remiss of the forum to just pass over the fact that a treacherous Bill that threatened this forum and national consensus was hanging over the nation and this process and if government needed to be advised that if it were genuinely committed to agreed Reforms frameworks and their spirit it had to retract that Bill.
Despite repeated caveats by the session chair that the Bill wasn’t going to be discussed here, the likes of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader, Keketso Rantšo, and a couple of youth decried the Bill was more divisive and undermined national unity and reconciliation.
The high point was perhaps the LCD deputy leader opining strongly that courts had failed and he was falsely charged and told foreign judges would be imported and instructed how to decide his trumped-up case – so it was time for the commission contemplated by the Bill and it should start from 1966.
His leader said the TJC was not negotiable as it was the directive of the nation to the NRA.
This provoked a strong reaction – forcing him to later withdraw the “not negotiable” part – from the BAP leader who said he had forewarned from Plenary I of the Dialogue phase of Reforms that as the process was likely to touch in the subject, it had to include the victims and secure their buy-in from the outset otherwise it was risking a constitutional court litigation.
As intimated by TRC director the CSOs’ fear is that unless this forum explicitly resolves that government must withdraw the Bill, the forum’s deliberations will be taken as advisory to the Bill and embolden the inimical resolve of govt.
Ntate Mosisili for his part spoke passionately about being a victim too, and so did his former deputy Ntate Lesao Lehohla, and emphasised “the NRA doesn’t have to debate whether to debate the TJC or not at this point. It is a prescription of the National Dialogue Plenary II. So, for heaven’s sake, just get on with it!”
Two groups were specifically assigned to discuss and recommend on (1) what kind of institution was appropriate for Lesotho and (2) what kind of transitional mechanism (using Plenary II Report which prescribes the TJC) would be appropriate for the country, respectively.
The first group the advice of a “National Peace Council” that has structures throughout the country to the lowest level and works with existing national structures and community organs. The second, in transitional mechanism, resolved Lesotho wasn’t in transition but advised for an institution to deal with all-time matters including the current where necessary without compromising justice and promoting impunity. They advised it be called the “National Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Commission”.
A spirited suggestion was made that currently proceeding high profile cases be halted while these proceed but it didn’t gain support. The groups that dealt with who the victims are and their roles, and the crimes and times to be covered weren’t particularly useful.
It simply mentioned the years from Lesotho’s annexation and alienation of the lost territory, through the 1965/6 conflicts to 1970 state of emergency and 1986 military down to the 1994 palace coup and 1998 election riots, then the 2007 parliamentary seats fracas and curfew and the onset of the coalition era. I found it curious that one characterised 1970 to 1985 as the period of Qomatsi or State of Emergency. Unluckily the plenary didn’t discuss the reports. It would have helped for the plenary to have decided what incidents of which periods qualified for the designation of politically motivated crimes and gross human violations
International recourse persons presentations covering AU and UN frameworks on transitional justice and national peace watchdog institutions had highlighted that the former did not exclude standard court prosecution and had to be, and both depended on inclusiveness and multistakeholder shepherding for their sustainability.
The Northerners experience highlighted the importance of establishing a state institution for victim interests, and the tendency of the state to protect “its own people”, by among others designing statutes of limitations (number of years beyond which cases cannot be prosecuted) for crimes, which touched on the events in Lesotho today – especially the imperative of victim prioritisation versus “the saving of friends” that we see in the Metsing-Moseneke-Rakuoane Bill.
For his part, the member of the Moseneke SADC Facilitation Team Mr Enver Surty, in presenting the South African experience on behalf of his boss, usefully said the facilitation wasn’t prescription of foreign preferences to Basotho but helping them achieve what they had decided upon; which speak to the position of the likes of the Action for Peace and Solidarity (APS) that Mr Moseneke was wrong in presuming upon the weakness of the Lesotho state to force-feed us the Metsing-Moseneke-Rakuoane Bill.
He also took time to say the Bill wasn’t of SA’s making but SA was asked to write a script for it. This now spoke to our point as the APS and other CSOs that, as per the prescription of the Dialogue Plenary II Report, this should be homegrown, popularly cultivated, and prosecuted by a legislated multilateral authority.
It was a pity that this session’s presentations weren’t discussed. Some of us would have loved to quiz Mr Surty about the propriety of this Bill in the midst of this noble process. On the end note, to many participants the NRA needs serious introspection. The chairpersons of the plenary presentations and the moderators of the thematic breakaway groups were viewed as biased, and this doesn’t augur well for what is a national consensus seeking process.
It would be unfair to separate the CEO of the organisation from the organisation, but throughout the three days he was towering in elegance in this mission but vastly at variance with his chairpersons of plenary presentations and breakaway groups.
One reportedly challenged a breakaway group member to a fist fight, while another in my group who is an NRA staff member prevented a notes writer from recording group decisions, falsely claiming that either the subject of their decisions was not part of group assignment or they were already part of the Plenary Report. This presented challenges in presentations of group reports, where eminently an NRA staff remember vehemently joined hostile group members that opposed such, having not attended a morning-after adoption of the group report.
It was also not useful that the Plenary wasn’t asked to adopt both the frequently mentioned points or the breakaway groups reports; but we can take it for granted that these were taken as resolutions – critically the withdrawal of the Bill, extension of NRA life, and non-suspension of the ongoing high-profile cases. All in all, it was a useful occasion revealing where the nation is on these points and the handling of national business in these critical matters.