THE new Sadc leadership, steered by the regional bloc’s Chair, President Mugabe, faces a litmus test in how it handles political strife in Lesotho following an attempted military coup in that country yesterday.
According to reports from the Mountain Kingdom, shots were fired as the military seized control of key government buildings, including police headquarters and State House.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled an alleged assassination to South Africa, though Sports Minister and Basotho National Party boss Thesele Maseribane said the government was in control.
The premier called on Sadc to act against the alleged coup plotters, saying: “We are an organised region and we have structures within Sadc that we use to deal with this kind of situation. I have passed the matter on to Sadc . . . and I am sure that, in due course, the Sadc resolution will triumph and there would be normality in the country.”
The military denies attempting a coup. The PM was quoted by Reuters as saying: “It is a military coup because it is led by the military. And the military are outside the instructions of the commander-in-chief, who is myself. I will return as soon as my life is not in danger.” PM Thabane was due to meet South African leaders yesterday. South Africa chairs the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, a brief Lesotho was tipped to take ahead of August’s Sadc Summit in Victoria Falls.
Lesotho army spokesperson Major Ntlele Ntoi told the media that the military had only moved against police officers suspected of planning to arm a political faction.
“There is nothing like that (a coup), the situation has returned to normalcy . . . the military has returned to their barracks.”
Maj Ntoi said one soldier and four police officers were injured during the army action.
Reuters cited diplomatic sources saying the military moved after the PM fired army commander Lieutenant-General Kennedy Kamoli, with Maj Ntoi saying Kamoli remained in charge.
But the premier said: “The situation involves total indiscipline in the army led by the commander himself. It was government’s decision to release him from his command after many years in charge and that of course was done within the constitution. I also had intelligence information that he also has some political backing from some of my colleagues.”
Minister Maseribane told journalists that the military jammed radio stations and phone networks. “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,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha said President Mugabe would receive an official report on the situation from the Chair of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. “We are yet to get the full report from President Zuma who is the Chair of the Troika on Politics, Defence and Security and is directly involved with such matters. “The Chair of the Troika can also call an urgent meeting with the blessing of the Chairperson depending on how he sees the situation.” The attempted coup comes barely two weeks after the 34th Sadc Summit in Victoria Falls urged coalition partners in Lesotho’s government to find lasting solutions to their problems.
Two months ago, parliament was suspended, prompting South Africa to warn it would not tolerate instability. This was after PM Thabane clashed with his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, the leader of Lesotho Congress for Democracy.
There were claims that Mr Metsing could have been behind the alleged coup plot.
At the Victoria Falls Sadc Summit, regional leaders “appealed to all political leaders and the people in general to refrain from any action that may undermine peace and stability in the country and urged political stakeholders to resolve the political challenges in accordance with the constitution, laws of the land in line with the democratic principles”.
Lesotho is no stranger to political crises since independence from Britain in 1966. After the 1970 elections, the Basotho National Party refused to cede power when it appeared to have lost the polls. A state of emergency was declared, the constitution suspended and parliament dissolved. In 1986 the military — supported by apartheid South Africa — seized control. A military council ruled Lesotho with King Moshoeshoe II.
Come 1990, King Moshoeshoe II was exiled, with a new military authority establishing a National Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution and spelt out a roadmap for return to civilian rule by 1992.
However, junior army officers mutinied in 1991 and installed Phisoane Ramaema as chair of the military council.
King Moshoeshoe II refused to return to the country and his son was enthroned King Letsie III. Moshoeshoe II returned to Lesotho in 1992 as an ordinary citizen but became king again in 1995 when Letsie III abdicated the throne in favour of his father. King Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996 and his son once again ascended to the throne.
The 1993 constitution stripped the king of executive authority and barred him from engaging in politics.
In 1994, police and prisons services mutinied, and King Letsie III — backed by the army — staged a coup that suspended parliament and appointed a ruling council. However, the elected government returned within a month following domestic and international pressure. The army had to quell a violent police mutiny in 1997, and in 1998 an electoral dispute led to a power vacuum and violence that sucked in South African troops. Eight South African soldiers died in the chaos, and Sadc moved in to restore order.
Stability returned in 1999 and the Sadc taskforce withdrew, leaving a small unit — which Zimbabwe joined — to train the Lesotho Defence Forces.