Sadc urges Lesotho to pursue healing, unity

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Lesotho should continue with peace, transitional justice and reconciliation process to foster national unity, and bring about national healing and cohesion. A full Summit of the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) made this request in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi on Wednesday. The Kingdom was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu in lieu of Prime Minister Majoro who is in quarantine after testing positive to Covid-19 although he is reportedly in good health and was among the first to be vaccinated, along with King Letsie III.

In a communiqué, the regional leader said they received a progress report from the SADC facilitator to Lesotho, South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, on the implementation of SADC decisions Lesotho. They commended Lesotho for progress made in implementing SADC decisions and the ongoing reforms. The communiqué reads: “Summit also urged the Kingdom of Lesotho to expedite completion of the ongoing reforms, and to continue with peace, transitional justice and reconciliation process to engender national unity, and bring about national healing and cohesion.”

The SADC summit also recommended an extension of the mandate of the National Reform Authority (NRA) for a period of six months, from October 30, 2021, to April 30, 2022. What remains unclear is the fate of the high-profile trials of politicians and other politically-motivated trials. NRA had not responded to Public Eye’s questions at the time of going to print. When proposing the establishment of the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) earlier this year, head of the SADC facilitation team to Lesotho, Retired South African Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke said Lesotho could suspend all high-profile cases.

Moseneke said this would allow the country to face the truth of what happened during the conflict and turmoil as a basis for the healing of the wounds and reconciliation of the nation. While the proposed establishment of the TJC was welcomed by the family of Brigadier Matjota Ramotšekhoane who died in military detention in March 1986, it was condemned by the family of the slain Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao and the Action for Peace and Solidarity (APS).

APS is a justice and human rights association formed by the peers and comrades of Mahao to promote his legacy and seek justice for him and other victims of similar crimes. Mahao was waylaid and killed by the members of the LDF on his way from Mokema in Roma to Maseru on June 25, 2015. The LDF claimed at the time that Mahao was shot while resisting arrest for allegedly leading a mutiny but that claim was dismissed by a SADC inquiry into his death.

His family accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing itself on the account of his nephews who were with him and witnessed the tragic incident. Eight soldiers were arrested in 2017 and charged with killing Mahao. They are still languishing in jail awaiting their trial. The suspects are: Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.

On April 4, 2021, the civic movement Action for Peace and Solidarity released a damning statement saying it had learned with shock about “feverish attempts” by Moseneke to cause the government to enact a law for freeing the incarcerated suspects in the name of finding alternative justice. Transitional justice was backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in June this year.

The report was for the assessment UNDP commissioned to gain a better understanding of the triggers of conflict and its impact on social cohesion and gender in Lesotho. The assessment concluded that Lesotho’s history of long conflicts and political instability had reached levels that make it difficult for processes such as national reforms to be sufficient for ensuring sustainable peace.

“Lesotho has a history of conflict and gross human rights violations which have never really been addressed. These unresolved political and historical issues appear to be sources of the intractable political conflict, and they compound mistrust and hostility,” read the report.

“Given the country’s historical past that keeps coming back to haunt it,” the report recommended that “there is a need to implement transitional justice to ensure that the past legacies are tackled once and for all”. Last month tempers flared at the three-day national stakeholders’ consultation forum that was organised and held by the NRA.

The forum aimed to come up with mechanisms towards national peace and unity but some of the victims argued that the exercise is futile when government already has a National Peace and Unity Bill in parliament. Victims of human rights violations wanted the government to withdraw the controversial National Peace and Unity Bill to allow for a free and fair consultation. The Bill proposes the establishment of a National Peace and Unity Commission with powers to grant high-profile criminal suspects amnesty provided they testify truthfully, disclose their alleged crimes in full and show remorse.

The SADC summit also extended Ramaphosa’s mandate as the SADC facilitator to Lesotho until the 42nd summit of heads of state and government which will be held next year. It elected Ramaphosa as chairperson of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation. Launched in June 1996 as a formal institution of SADC, the organ has the mandate to support the achievement and maintenance of security and the rule of law in the SADC region. The SADC Treaty, the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO) II are the key documents that guide the activities of the organ.

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