CityPress - - Front Page - XOLANI MBAN­JWA xolani.mban­jwa@city­press.co.za

South Africans who want to travel to Le­sotho should re­think their plans to avoid be­ing caught up in any con­flict af­ter yes­ter­day’s mil­i­tary coup forced Le­sotho’s Prime Min­is­ter, Tom Tha­bane, into hid­ing.

Clayson Monyela, the depart­ment of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and co­op­er­a­tion’s deputy direc­tor-gen­eral for public diplo­macy, said South Africa had no plans to send in the army to avert armed con­flict be­cause it wanted to re­solve the dis­pute through “po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ments”.

How­ever, mil­i­tary sources told City Press that the South African army was on stand-by.

The South African gov­ern­ment chairs the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) Or­gan for Pol­i­tics, De­fence and Se­cu­rity with Le­sotho as deputy, and will call a meet­ing with mem­ber coun­tries to dis­cuss Le­sotho’s se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

But Monyela warned war­ring Le­sotho fac­tions that even though no one had yet claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mil­i­tary ac­tion “which has all the hall­marks of a coup d’état”, South Africa and its coun­ter­parts in the SADC and the African Union would not tol­er­ate un­con­sti­tu­tional changes to Le­sotho’s gov­ern­ment.

The Le­sotho army chief or­dered the takeover of the tiny king­dom’s ra­dio and TV sta­tions in the early hours of yes­ter­day morn­ing. Mean­while, gov­ern­ment build­ings were sur­rounded by armed sol­diers.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day Tha­bane re­port­edly said: “I have been re­moved from con­trol not by the peo­ple but by the armed forces, and that is il­le­gal.

“I came into South Africa this morn­ing and will re­turn as soon as my life is not in dan­ger. I will not go back to Le­sotho to get killed.”

Sports min­is­ter Th­e­sele Maserib­ane told AFP: “The armed forces, the spe­cial forces of Le­sotho, have taken the head­quar­ters of the po­lice.

“The [mil­i­tary] com­man­der said he was look­ing for me, the prime min­is­ter and the deputy prime min­is­ter to take us to the king. In our coun­try, that means a coup.”

How­ever, army spokesper­son Ma­jor Ntlele Ntoi de­nied there was a coup.

“There is noth­ing like that, the sit­u­a­tion has re­turned to nor­malcy ... The mil­i­tary have re­turned to their bar­racks.”

Al­though sources told City Press that Tha­bane had fled to South Africa and was hid­ing in a Jo­han­nes­burg ho­tel, Monyela would not be drawn on those re­ports.

The South African gov­ern­ment has ap­pealed to the lead­ers of Le­sotho’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment to work to­gether.

It has pleaded with the coun­try’s army com­man­der to or­der all sol­diers back to bar­racks and al­low a re­turn to civil­ian rule.

Since Le­sotho gained in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1966, the tiny land­locked coun­try and its pop­u­la­tion of about 2 mil­lion have re­mained on a knife’s edge.

The county has been ruled by de­cree, the mil­i­tary as well as sev­eral dif­fer­ent mon­archs.

There have also been at least five coups and at­tempted coups in 48 years. Yes­ter­day’s was the sixth.

In 1970, the Ba­sotho Na­tional Party (BNP) un­der the lead­er­ship of Chief Le­abua Jonathan lost the very first elec­tion to the op­po­si­tion, the Ba­sotho Congress Party (BCP). The BNP then seized power by force, nul­li­fied the elec­tions, ar­rested op­po­si­tion lead­ers and King Moshoeshoe II, and stripped him of his au­thor­ity. Jonathan sus­pended the Con­sti­tu­tion and de­clared a state of emer­gency.

Fol­low­ing the an­nul­ment of the 1970 elec­tions, the BCP un­der Ntsu Mokhehle re­grouped and staged a failed but blood­stained coup in 1974. The BNP quelled the up­ris­ing, which left dead a num­ber of op­po­si­tion lead­ers and sup­port­ers. The coup was aborted and the plot­ters were forced into ex­ile.

On Jan­uary 15 1986, army chief Gen­eral Justin Lekhanya over­threw Prime Min­is­ter Chief Le­abua Jonathan in a coup.

In April 1991, Gen­eral Lekhanya was him­self ousted through a coup by colonel Elias Ra­maema. He un­banned po­lit­i­cal par­ties and al­lowed King Moshoeshoe to re­turn from ex­ile to serve as a chief. He re­stored democ­racy in 1993.

In Au­gust 1994, King Let­sie III staged a coup of his own with the back­ing of the mil­i­tary. The South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) re­fused to recog­nise Let­sie III’s gov­ern­ment and ne­go­ti­ated for the BCP to re­turn to power. The king said the BCP could re­turn to power on con­di­tion that his fa­ther, King Moshoeshoe, was re­in­stated as head of state.

In May 1998, op­po­si­tion par­ties re­fused to recog­nise the newly elected gov­ern­ment, cit­ing poll ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. Vi­o­lence flared and the armed forces re­fused to re­store peace. The gov­ern­ment re­quested the SADC’s as­sis­tance. South Africa and Botswana in­ter­vened and crushed the up­ris­ing. Army per­son­nel who were ready to par­tic­i­pate in the coup faced a court martial.

WHERE IS HE? Tom Tha­bane

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