Protest march a vic­tory for democ­racy

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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.”

Ut­loang Ka­jeno

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