ABC, BNP and RCL supporters chant slogans during a joint protest in Maseru on Tuesday. –
. . . give govt seven days to address security concerns or face more protests
OPPOSITION youths on Tuesday defied police orders to re-schedule their protest march, with the standoff threatening to degenerate into open confrontation.
The march was supposed to start at ‘ Mathabiseng Convention Centre and end at King Moshoeshoe i Monument Park in Maseru, where the youths hoped to submit a petition to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
The youths, who belonged to the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), wanted to protest the “deteriorating” security situation in the country and government’s failure to convince their leaders — who fled to South Africa last month fearing for their lives — to return and that they would be safe.
However, no sooner had the youths gathered outside the institute for Extra Mural Studies (IEMS) at around 9am than they were told the proposed march was no longer going to start at the nearby Convention Centre but Pope John Paul ii Monument in Lower Thetsane — about a kilometre away.
The change of plan at such short notice did not go down well with the chanting youths, who were clad in their different party regalia, and geared for the march.
With the youths continuing their chanting while the police kept a close watch, Maseru Urban District Commissioner of Police, Senior Superintendent Tšeliso Tšita, came to the scene and warned them against holding the march from Convention Centre.
“The BNP Youth League applied for a permit to hold a protest march today, and in line with the laws of Lesotho, my office agreed to that request, guided by the Public Meetings and Processions Act 2010. But on Friday, our office was forced by circumstances to make changes regarding the march.
“The law gives me the power to change venues for your gathering and the routes to be used and the time for the march,” he said.
Snr Supt Tšita emphasised the police had decided to change the route and time of the march in the interest of the general public and the protesters themselves.
“Because of what i have just noted, my office ended up issuing a new permit, so you should be at Pope John Paul ii Monument and not here and that march should have started at 9am, and now it’s way past that time.
“So based on the law, this gathering is illegal as you have not observed the permit regulations,” said Snr Supt Tšita as he ordered the youths to disperse.
But instead of relocating to Pope John Paul ii Monument, the youths decided to march to the BNP Centre in the Maseru Central Business District, with the police still keeping a close watch on their actions.
in fact, at some point, it appeared the police would block the marchers but eventually let them proceed to the city centre via the Main South Road, blocking vehicles and causing mayhem at the Main Traffic Circle where some sat on the tarmac as if daring law-enforcement agents to attack them. And to their credit, the police, some in antiriot gear, still kept their distance until the youths eventually left the Traffic Circle and went past the Central Park until they reached the BNP Centre, where they were addressed by BNP Youth League spokesperson Manama Letsie. Letsie read the petition the youths were supposed to submit to Dr Mosisili and Defence minister Mr Tšeliso Mokhosi.
The petition read: “We appeal that the prime minister takes our concerns seriously and respond within seven days; your failure to respond would result in our resorting to other means of continuing our protest.
“We would want to see your government, Mr Prime Minister, work for the return of opposition party leaders, (ABC leader and former prime minister Thomas Thabane, BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and RCL leader Keketso Rantšo) who fled the country last month as they feared their lives were in danger. We also want Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli removed from office as commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and also want to see Khothatso Tšooana reinstated as Police Commissioner.
“We would also like to see all those suspected of committing crime brought before the courts and again, we demand that members of the LDF respect the judiciary.
Letsie emphasised security had become cause for anxiety to Basotho.
“The first issue is lack of security in the country. We are deeply concerned by the circumstances that resulted in our leaders fleeing the country; they fled the country as a result of assassination threats by certain security agents.
“We implore your government to see to it that our leaders return to Lesotho and that they are issued the guards they need.”
According to Letsie, the issue of Lt Gen Kamoli, who was fired by Dr Thabane in August 2014 for alleged insubordination but reinstated by Dr Mosisili last month, still needed to be addressed.
“The decision by the government, through Tšeliso Mokhosi as the Minister of Defence and National Security, to reinstate Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, the shocking killing of Thabiso Tšosane, a prominent businessman who was also a member of the ABC, the demotion of Maaparankoe Mahao as LDF commander and imminent forced retirement of Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana, are also worrisome.
“Again, we continue to witness soldiers being abducted by their colleagues, and we believe that Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli wants to have his own personal army inside the LDF. This is going to result in the LDF being turned into a party militia by the ruling parties.
“We suspect those fingered in the bombings of three Maseru homes in January 2014 and the attempted coup of 30 August 2014 are the ones spearheading these abductions of the soldiers.
“We are also concerned that there is no more rule of law in the country as a result of criminal cases against soldiers that are not being prosecuted. There is also a withdrawal of corruption cases against ministers, without clear explanation.
“We are also shocked that soldiers have been recently desecrating the decorum of the courts by entering these institutions hiding their faced with balaclavas and insulting onlookers. What worsened the scenario was an incident whereby the wife of one detained soldier was slapped by a commando at the High Court and nothing was done about it,” said Letsie.
Meanwhile, BNP deputy leader, Joang Molapo, who attended Tuesday’s gathering was equally scathing of the prime minister.
“it’s nothing short of being a fuss. The prime minister has, once again, abdicated the responsibility that the people of this country have put upon him by refusing to respond to the very serious issues that are confronting this country,” Chief Molapo told the Lesotho Times.
“Every single day, families are making applications in the High Court for the release of their relatives who would have been arrested by the army.
“The people implicated in this socalled mutiny are running into 100, and the prime minister is refusing to accept the reality that the army is now out of control.
“Prior to the 28 February 2015 elections, there was an across-theboard agreement that this country needs security reforms but instead of undertaking that process, the prime minister is now on a witchhunt.
“He also reappointed Lt Gen Kamoli and allowed him to exercise this witch-hunt and purge soldiers accused of supporting the former government. What we are saying is that the prime minister needs to acknowledge that he does not have a policy and needs to rethink how he is going to address these issues and do so quickly in the interest of Lesotho,” said Chief Molapo.
“The first thing he has to do is remove Lt Gen Kamoli from the LDF and put somebody with credibility and integrity so that all of us can begin to have respect and support for the institution of the army.
“The second step is how we reform the LDF and all other institutions such as the Public Service.”
According to Chief Molapo, Lesotho was previously happy to have the international community comment on its state, which he said was no longer the case.
“The moment a person feels that he or she can no longer have people commenting on their record means they have something to hide, and that is what is happening in Lesotho right now because the government has suddenly become uncomfortable to have its affairs commented upon by NGOS or foreign embassies.
“And if our friends in the international community have asked us to step-up to the plate and live-up to standards that we, ourselves, signed up to, there is nothing wrong with that.
“We are saddened by developments that we see taking place in our country now. Swaziland used to be a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) but has since been taken off by the US government because of its human rights record.
“Many textile companies have since left Swaziland and moved to Lesotho because of the US decision to remove the country from the beneficiaries of AGOA (an American legislation that allows duty-free entry of certain goods from countries that meet criteria such as good governance).
“We are worried for the 45 000 people in our own textile industry and other industries in this country. We want to see this country dwell on good governance as it is the basis on which we can continue to benefit from AGOA,” said Chief Molapo.
ABC, BNP and RCL supporters chant slogans in a joint march in Maseru on on Tuesday .