LESOTHO PM IN HIDING AFTER COUP
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