Tha­bane must come home ‘yesterday’

Lesotho Times - - Scrutator -

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.

Ache!

Zim­bab­wean op­po­si­tion leader mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai

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