Protest march a victory for democracy
ON 12 May 2016, an Alliance of Non-state Actors comprising Maseru Region Taxi Operators, Steering Committee (representing “4+1” taxis), Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organization (LCN), Trade Union including Lentsoe la Sechaba, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, United Textile Employees and business represented by the Lesotho Chambers of Commerce and Industry organized a protest march to present a petition to the Prime Minister.
The aim of the march was to force government to “speedily” implement recommendations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Enquiry into Lesotho’s instability.
The “Alliance” went on over the media to invite all political parties across the spectrum, tertiary insti- tutions’ students and all Basotho of goodwill to join what they termed would be a “massive” protest. After much disagreement between the organizers and the police, as the permitting authority for the march, which required judicial intervention by the High Court, that finally ordered the march to go ahead, the mass action duly proceeded on the appointed date amid much fanfare. The ball had in effect been set rolling for the much-anticipated mass delivery of the petition to the Prime Minister.
Whether it was by sheer coincidence or premeditated that the international development partners were visiting Lesotho to hold talks with the government on the AGOA issue, it was a big plus for the Alliance. The protest was a huge demonstration of Lesotho’s credentials as a nascent democracy. That this demonstration managed to take- off and be completed with little or no hindrance from the authorities, particularly the police and the army that were deployed in huge numbers throughout as well as along that controversial route is a demonstration of a mature democracy.
That the multitudes of demonstrators managed to conduct themselves in a civilized acceptable manner is a huge demonstration of our credentials as a nascent democracy and maturity. No acts of intimidation, destruction of property, abusive language or songs nor any violence were reported.
It would also be remiss of me not to commend the police, who ultimately were charged with upholding peace and law, for conducting themselves in a civilized manner. Indeed, government with the presence of the four ministers who attended to receive the petition, also conducted itself in a civilized manner. The only blemish to this commendable episode was our national television broadcaster that for some imperceptible reason, failed or deliberately avoided giving the marchers the prominent role that the exercise certainly deserved on the regular news bulletins. The exercise was given only minimal coverage.
We cannot ignore the valuable lesson that history and experience have taught us since time immemorial that peaceful protests done within the ambit of the law no matter the seemingly draconian conditions imposed by the authorities to stifle their impact, have yielded positive victorious results.
History is awash with non-violent protests that have ultimately become victorious. In this regard, mention can be made of such luminaries and icons as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in the United States, Dr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian sub-continent and Bishop Romero, father of the famous Catholic liberation theology, in El Salvador.
We can only in similar vein, hope that this massive demonstration of protest by thousands of Basotho of goodwill will ultimately yield positive results. There is no denying the fact that solid democratic foundations are premised on democratic principles of free speech and expression such as those displayed by these selfless leaders of the march to petition government. It was indeed a victorious day for our nascent democracy.
To the organizers of the march, I say, remember, as the Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, famously observed: “Cowards die many times before their death. The valiant never tasted death but once.”