(For more on the initial accusation against SADC commanders, please click here.)
By Michael J. Jordan
MASERU, Lesotho – Three weeks later, it’s unclear if the Southern African Development Community has sent home two commanders assigned to protect top leaders in tiny, crisis-struck nation, but whom Lesotho’s government then accused of leaking information that jeopardized Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s security.
Neither government officials nor SADC officials want to discuss it – in a country still swirling with rumors and accusations since an Aug. 30 coup attempt.
“There is no further information to share, as this is a matter between the government and SADC,” Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka said Friday.
Mphaka sent the letter to SADC on Nov. 17, on behalf of Thabane’s government, and said he expected rapid removal of two men they accused of detailing the premiere’s movements in secret meetings with opposition forces.
Lesotho is still unnerved by the putsch three months ago, in which soldiers reportedly raided Thabane’s official residence – forcing him to flee into South Africa – and a simultaneous assault on three police stations that killed one cop.
Heavily armed police protection for Thabane and other top officials has since been provided by SADC, the 15-nation bloc responsible for regional peace and security, and by its most influential member, South Africa.
Thabane spokesman Thabo Thakalekoala said SADC police told him the two commanders “have left the country for their country of origin,” however, SADC itself refused to confirm this.
The SADC office in Maseru punted the issue to the lead Facilitator mediating for SADC: South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The Facilitator is handling it,” a spokesman for SADC Head of Mission Fannie Phakola said in Maseru. He said the mission would have no further comment because of how “sensitive” the issue had become.
Yet the spokesman for Ramaphosa, Ronnie Mamoepa, initially referred the reporter back to the SADC mission in Maseru: “They gave you a response.”
Mamoepa then offered a bit more.
“I’m not aware of any members of SADC being sent back home. Full stop.”
On Monday, though, one of the two accused South African commanders was spotted in one of Maseru’s major hotels – checking in. Asked about the controversy swirling about him, he replied, “I don’t read the papers.” Asked if he had remained in Lesotho, or just returned, the officer bid good-night and slipped into the elevator.
If the two were sent home, per Lesotho’s wishes, it raises a question: Did SADC send them home because they agreed that the pair of peacekeepers were up to foul-play that may have endangered Thabane? Or, did SADC send them home only to appease Lesotho’s leadership – but didn’t quite trust the accusation against them?
This matters in such a polarized society, with dueling accusations of what one political faction is allegedly doing to the other, virtually no concrete evidence provided – and a lack of neutral arbiters to confirm what’s true, what isn’t.
One week before the charge against SADC commanders, the third leader of the ruling tripartite coalition, Thesele Maseribane, had alleged that foreign “mercenaries” had entered Lesotho to assassinate Thabane and him – and sabotage the February 2015 elections, moved up two years early to help resolve the crisis.
Meanwhile, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service continues to investigate the “mercenaries” claim – as well as the twin “high treason” and “murder” cases of Aug. 30, when one cop was killed, police spokesman Lebona Mohloboli confirmed.
However, the coalition’s rivals, like the single-largest party in Parliament – the Democratic Congress, led by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili – typically portray such claims, through loyal radio stations, as hallucinations.
They also accuse the police of siding with Thabane and Maseribane.
These counter-charges are then echoed by their supporters.
“These are stories being cooked up, so they can claim there is no security and derail the elections,” says Tlohang Sekhamane, a high-ranking member of the Democratic Congress executive committee. “It’s been part of their systematic effort to avoid any genuine democratic processes – and prolong their stay in power.”
In response to this accusation, Thabane spokesman Thakalekoala initially cursed over the phone, then responded with agitation.
“That’s rubbish!” said the spokesman, who last week asserted to local media that four foreign men had attempted to assassinate him, too. “Everyone knows that our country is in this critical situation because of these people. They’re just running away from their day in court.”
Another Thabane ally, Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo, said that several weeks ago, SADC and Ramaphosa agreed to intelligence-sharing between Lesotho and South African intelligence agencies.
“Anything we say publicly has already been vetted by them,” says Molapo.
Regarding the two commanders, though, a SADC confirmation that they’d sent them home might damage SADC’s reputation, but would burnish the credibility of Thabane’s coalition – especially when they decry “security threats” around them.
Maseribane, for one, says he stands by his accusations.
“Mr. Thabane and I,” he says, “did not plot to kill ourselves.”