Thabane must come home ‘yesterday’
BEING an opposition leader in Africa is always a very dangerous endeavour. You need nerves of steel to survive it. Before I go to my point about Thomas Thabane, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo, and outline my displeasure with their continued stay in exile, let me first use Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s perennial opposition leader, as an example.
In early 2007, Tsvangirai attended a prayer session in Harare. Zimbabweans are clueless when it comes to freeing themselves from the clutches of their brutal, shameless and bigoted dictator, Robert Mugabe (nearly 100 years old). So they often have to resort to prayer.
But Mugabe’s police had not sanctioned this particular prayer meeting. So it was deemed illegal. At that particular period in Zimbabwe’s history, it was illegal to be found in groups of five or more without police permission. Tsvangirai was then arrested at that prayer session, alongside 30 officials and supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and taken into police custody. In any civilised society, the normal thing to do would have been for the police to simply charge Tsvangirai for convening an “illegal prayer meeting”, never mind that this is a crazy law. But Zimbabwe being Zimbabwe, this did not happen.
Instead the police officers mobilised. Commandos from one of the military brigades also turned up at the police station where Tsvangirai was being held. They then all beat Tsvangirai up.
Before they started beating the prominent opposition leader, the group of 12 commandos had reportedly smoked a high grade of marijuana and crack cocaine to ensure that they discharged their mandate effectively.
It is still a mystery that Tsvangirai did not die in that attack. They took turns to beat him overnight in groups of three to four each. When one group got tired, it went for tea break while the other took over.
So bad were the beatings that Tsvangirai passed out several times. His officials, with whom he was arrested, thought that he had in fact died.
The assault of Tsvangirai sparked international outrage. For once, I thought Robert Mugabe would exemplify some shame. But you can never teach an old dog new tricks.
Without the minutest sense of shame, Mugabe was on Zimbabwe Television (ZTV), where he declared that “chakadashurwa” in his Shona vernacular language. This literally means the “scumbag was given a nice beating”. This is the least that anyone should expect from any leader of a civilised country. It did not help matters that Tsvangirai is an immensely handsome man in the mould of our own Thabo Thakalekoala.
Evil and tragic as they were, the only benefit of the heavy beatings inflicted upon him were that they left Tsvangirai much more-prettier.
Despite the gush on his head and the stiches, the beatings left Tsvangirai looking more, chubby, with a round complete face and nice round eyes. A typical Thakalekoala look alike.
It’s not just me who likes men of this appearance. Those who follow Zimbabwe’s politics know that after this incident, women fell all over him.
He at one stage dated four pretty women at once and was photographed on plum holidays as far away as the Seychelles. Never mind that Mugabe later used these flirtations to discredit Tsvangirai despite that the old horse himself stole someone’s wife, the young irrepressible Grace.
After the beatings, Tsvangirai went on to win the general elections in 2008 with the MDC taking a majority seats in Parliament and winning the first round of the presidential ballot.
The electoral authorities declared that even though Tsvangirai had won the majority, it was insufficient to declare him president.
Zimbabwe’s constitution required 50 percent plus one for an outright majority. The results were still only announced after a six week delay.
This was because Mugabe’s henchmen were trying to find means and ways of rigging the presidential ballot but they just could not. Zimbabweans had overwhelmingly voted Tsvangirai but he was forced to go for a second round of the presidential ballot.
He then pulled out of the contest after Mugabe unleashed unprecedented violence which left tens of thousands of Tsvangirai supporters dead, injured or displaced. Some MDC supporters were first beheaded and then burnt alive Boko Haram style, according to news reports on the Al Jazeera news channel.
To avoid more bloodshed, Tsvangirai announced he was pulling out of the presidential run off. But he also urged his supporters, to just go to the polls and vote for Mugabe to avoid being killed. Mugabe was then declared winner of the June 2008 presidential run off with 80 percent plus of the vote. Virtually all the observers of that poll declared it a big fat joke.
There was never a whiff of protest against Mugabe from Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders with the exception of Botswana’s Ian Khama.
These are the same SADC leaders that Ntate Thabane wants to guarantee his security before he returns to Lesotho. It’s like trying to squeeze a nice litre of Johnnie Walker Blue out of a water-melon.
Thabo Mbeki, the then president of South Africa, who had been mandated by SADC to mediate in the Zimbabwean situation, then brokered a coalition in which Mugabe co-opted Tsvangirai as prime minister, a nasty repeat of the Kenyan scenario in which Raila Odinga had been co-opted as prime minister in Mwai Kibaki’s government a year earlier after beating him in general elections.
Of course Zimbabwe is never a good example to use as this country is run by a totally uncivilised “leader”. But even worse things have happened elsewhere in Africa where opposition leaders simply have been murdered or refused power.
In Nigeria, Moshood Abiola resoundingly won the June 1993 elections only for military dictator Ibrahim Babanginda to unilaterally annul the election. Remember the case of our very own Leabua Jonathan who refused to hand-over power after losing in 1970.
The point I am trying to illustrate here is that it is never easy being an opposition leader in Africa. The examples of the tragedies faced by African opposition leaders are just too many to mention.
But unless you are prepared to stand this heat as an African opposition leader, you are better off getting out of the kitchen. As an opposition leader, you must lead from the front despite all the dangers.
After he was nearly killed, Tsvangirai did not flee. In fact, he vowed to continue the fight despite suffering broken ribs, a nearly cracked skull and a host of other injuries.
This is not to undermine Bontate Thabane, ‘Maseribane and ‘m’e Rantšo, who fled into exile many weeks ago.
Thabane survived an assassination attempt while he was still prime minister. If the group of wretched thugs who bombed the residence of his then concubine ( now wife) Liabiloe were so daring as to target a sitting prime minister, what else can they do against him now that he is a mere opposition leader.
Even though they did not bomb Thabane at State House, as that would have been recklessly brazen, it is clear that they were aiming at Cyclone Tom as they were fully aware of his regular nocturnal visits to his then concubine’s house.
So when Thabane claims that some within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) are out to kill him, his utterances cannot be ignored.
But despite all his legitimate worries, I cannot avoid this question? What benefits will his continued exile bring to his party, supporters and Lesotho at large? The answer is nothing. In fact his continued absence may eject all the steam out of the ABC.
An opposition party without a leader at the frontlines is rudderless. After having done so well in the last snap elections, winning an unprecedented 40 constituency seats, I would have thought that it is better for Thabane to stick around and give Mr Size Two a good run for his money.
Again, I emphasize that I am not trying to undermine Thabane’s fears. I just don’t see the benefit of him staying away and remote controlling his party from a foreign land. The same goes for ‘Maseribane and Rantšo. They need to lead from the front. They need to confront the dangers of being in opposition head on.
The biggest risk for Thabane is that he is in the company of his young pretty wife. A 75-year-old man, in the company of a thirty something year old woman, away from any danger, can easily become distracted, get too comfortable in exile, at the expense of his party.
But my greatest fear is with Rantšo and ‘Maseribane. Rumour has it that all the three opposition leaders are cocooned in a small town house with only one or two bedrooms somewhere in South Africa.
Rantšo confirmed as such in an interview with the Sunday Express when she hinted that she was living in an unacceptable and uncomfortable place compared to her spacious and sumptuous “mansion” in Maseru.
If it’s indeed true that all are living in a tiny townhouse, then my next question is. What are the sleeping arrangements?
Iam told that both ‘ Maseribane and Rantšo are not accompanied by their spouses. Thabane and Liabiloe will obviously sleep in one of the bedrooms. But what if there is only one bedroom available?
Does this mean that ‘ Maseribane and Rantšo share the living room? Or Rantšo sleeps either in the kitchen or garage while leaving ‘ Maseribane to sleep alone on the couch in the living room?
All this might sound trivial and unimportant. But it’s not. I have been in this situation before, though not in the contest of political exile, and I know how difficult it is to resist conjugal temptations.
The last thing we want is to have Rantšo and ‘Maseribane sharing a couch at night, either out of choice or because of circumstances. Like Thabane, they then run the risk of taking their eyes off the ball. You can never remote-control politics.
It has been a long time without a single opposition leader in Parliament. That is intolerable and unacceptable.
A Lesotho without any opposition leader for a prolonged period is like a headless chicken. We need the opposition leaders to lead from the front. We need their direct input to make Mr Size Two accountable and efficient.
Even if Thabane was to get SADC to guarantee his security as he has demanded, anything from SADC is not worth the paper on which it is written. If I were Thabane, I would say my best security guarantee are the people of Lesotho who voted for the ABC in huge numbers, substantially boosting its share of the vote from 2007 when it was formed.
I would also demand security guarantees from Ntate Mosisili himself, for he is ultimately responsible for the security of every Mosotho.
Thabane has made it clear in interviews that Tlali Kamoli will stop at nothing to kill him. For me, that will be a daft thing for Kamoli, or anyone else, to do as the consequences for the country are too dire to contemplate if that were too happen.
If I were Thabane, I would also take solace in what the countries that matter to Lesotho would do in the event that I am killed.
Uncle Sam and the European Union have already hinted they will take tough decisions if the security situation in the country is not addressed adequately.
It should be clear to even the most brazen of fools among us that Lesotho would collapse if the United States delists us from AGOA and the factories enrolling more than 40 000 labourers shut down, simply because Thabane has been gunned down.
It should be clear that a conflict (please note that I am not advocating one) would become inevitable if Thabane is assassinated.
It is not in the interests of Ntate Mosisili to have Thabane die, even of bilharzia, polio, gonorrhoea or any other natural cause at this stage. If that happens, ABC fingers would inevitably point to Mr Size Two as the cause.
What then if it’s a shooting. Ntate Mosisili is smart enough to know this and it should be in his interests to guarantee Thabane’s safety. The situation is a bit different with ‘Maseribane and Rantšo.
Their slew of fewer supporters may not be able to deter any of their would-be killers. But they must still come home and lead from the front.
If I were Thabane, after reading this column today, I would grab Liabiloe’s hand and run back to Lesotho. We need our main opposition leader yesterday.
Zimbabwean opposition leader morgan Tsvangirai