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(The following article was published Oct. 1 by international news agency AFP.)

AFP

In highly polarized Lesotho, dueling narratives of what happened. SA forces investigating, too. (Photo: mjj)

In highly polarized Lesotho, dueling narratives of what happened. SA forces investigating, too. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Two policemen in Lesotho were wounded Tuesday night during a shootout between the force and the military, police said, in the latest fall-out from an attempted coup a month ago.Lesotho Mounted Police Service spokesman Lebona Mohloboli confirmed to AFP that “two police officers (were) shot and injured.”

The gunfire exchange took place on the outskirts of Maseru and outside the neighbouring houses of a senior government official and a military officer who is reportedly wanted in connection with the attempted coup.

Details were still sketchy on Wednesday.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” Tumisang Mosotho, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Tom Thabane told AFP.

Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa, was rocked by an attempted coup on August 30 that has left relations between police and the armed forces on a knife-edge.

Morning after the shootout, two weapons lay beside a bullet-riddled car. (Photo: mjj)

Morning after the shootout, two weapons lay beside a bullet-riddled car. (Photo: mjj)

Government secretary Moahloli Mphaka, claiming he was the target of Tuesday’s attack, told South Africa’s state broadcaster that he fled his home when soldiers exchanged shots with the police officers guarding his house.

“I was able to escape and hide,” he told SABC.

His neighbour is a military guard officer for deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, whom police are probing for “high treason” over his alleged role in the botched August 30 putsch.

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(The following piece was published Sept. 28 in Lesotho’s Sunday Express. A shorter version was first published Sept. 25 by international news agency AFP.)

By Michael J. Jordan

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, in Maseru, Sept. 23. (Photo: mjj)

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, in Maseru, Sept. 23. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU – Four weeks on, the crisis deepens. Day by day.

Political deadlock. A shootout between Lesotho police and military. Two Lesotho Times journalists arrested for “provoking the peace.” Threats of angry protest in the streets. And the “renegade” military commander still refuses to surrender.

Enter, the outsiders.

In the wake of South African President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Lesotho on Sept. 9, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa this week finished his second stint in shuttle-mediation between Pretoria and Maseru. He’s expected back soon for his third.

More dramatically, this week also saw the arrival of Namibian, Zimbabwean and other police officers from across the Southern African Development Community – to serve as “observers,” for at least three months.

For Basotho, the blow to national pride compounds the anxiety of insecurity. And after watching his people struggle to solve their own problems, one member of the Basotho royal family is now offering a solution: empower the King.

Remove the constitutional “straightjacket” that binds King Letsie III, says his younger brother, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

“Where are we as a nation, that whenever we have a political fall-out, we always need foreign intervention,” Prince Seeiso said in an interview this week. “Let’s step back and ask: ‘Are there any internal mechanisms, or voices of reason, amongst us?’ Yes, there is someone among us who can step into that role to mediate: His Majesty.”

It’s a compelling notion in such a heavily politicized atmosphere. Factions all around seem to be hardening, not softening, their positions. Ordinary Basotho today are either impassioned party loyalists, or disappointed in all politicians.

So, to inject this idea of a more muscular constitutional Monarchy into this crisis – as opposed to the other kingdom in southern Africa, Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as Africa’s last absolute monarch – would surely stir debate.

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(The following piece appeared Sept. 25 on the international news agency, AFP. A much longer version was published Sept. 28 in Lesotho’s Sunday Express.)

AFP

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho during our interview. Sept. 23 in Maseru. (Photo: mjj)

Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, in Maseru, Sept. 23. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Amid a political crisis that has engulfed the tiny kingdom of Lesotho following last month’s attempted coup, a member of the royalty is calling for a more muscular monarch.

It’s nearly four weeks since Lesotho was thrust into political turmoil.

In recent days there has been a shootout between police and military, two leading journalists were arrested for “provoking the peace” and a “renegade” military commander still refuses to surrender.

The regional South African Development Community (SADC) bloc is involved in shuttle-mediation and has started deploying police “observers” from the various member countries.

For Basotho, as the people of the country are called, the blow to national pride compounds the anxiety of insecurity.

Watching the politicians struggle to solve their own differences, one member of the Basotho royal family is now offering a solution: empower the king.

Remove the constitutional “straightjacket” that binds King Letsie III, says his younger brother, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

“Where are we as a nation, that whenever we have a political fall-out, we always need foreign intervention?” Prince Seeiso said in an interview with AFP in Maseru on Tuesday. “Let’s step back and ask: ‘Are there any internal mechanisms, or voices of reason, amongst us?’ Yes, there is someone among us who can step into that role to mediate, His Majesty.”

(more…)

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(The following piece was published Sept. 19 by AFP/Agence France-Presse.)

AFP

Lesotho Mounted Police Service Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana. His home compound was at the heart of today's shoot-out. (Photo: mjj)

Lesotho Mounted Police Service Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana. His home was at the heart of today’s shoot-out. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Police and the military exchanged gunfire in Lesotho’s capital Maseru in the early hours of Friday, as Africa’s tiny mountain kingdom continued to suffer the fall-out from last month’s coup attempt by a renegade army commander.

Police suspicions were raised early on Friday when a group of soldiers drove past the home of police commander Khothatso Tsooana, who has previously survived a grenade-attack on his home.

“If they were planning something, I’m not sure… Soldiers came close, and the police on guard followed them,” Maseru Police District Commissioner Mofokeng Kolo told AFP.

“I don’t know yet who fired first,” he said, adding that there were no injuries.

Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa, was rocked by an attempted coup on August 30 that has left relations between police and armed forces on a knife edge.

The attempted seizure of power was blamed on “renegade” Lesotho Defence Force commander Tlali Kamoli, who has refused to step down from the military and been blamed for a series of attacks on police and political rivals.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane shut down parliament and fled to South Africa following the violence. There were several attacks on police stations.

The police are seen as loyal to Thabane while the military are considered allied to his political opponents.

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(The following piece was published Sept. 16 by AFP, the French news agency.)

Lesotho may head to the polls soon in an attempt to restore political stability, as the country’s leadership crisis appears to be intensifying.

by Stephanie Findlay with Michael J. Jordan in Maseru

Hundreds cheer returning ‪Lesotho‬ PM Tom Thabane outside his official residence on Sept. 16. But what was there to cheer? Thabane looked glum. Didn't wave. (Photo: mjj)

Hundreds cheer returning ‪Lesotho‬ Prime Minister Tom Thabane outside his official residence on Sept. 16. But what was there to cheer? Thabane himself looked glum. No smile, no wave. (Photo: mjj)

PRETORIA, September 15, 2014 (AFP) – Lesotho’s leaders plan to head to the polls early to restore political order following stalled peace talks between deadlocked political parties.

As a result of the coalition government not being “fully functional”, Lesotho’s leaders are planning to “shorten the mandate of the coalition,”  said South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on Monday.

Lesotho is currently due to hold elections in 2017. The country should now focus on “free, fair and incident free democratic elections for a fresh mandate,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

After weeks of failed talks, South Africa hosted an emergency meeting of regional leaders to negotiate a peace deal for Lesotho.

South African President Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, chairperson of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), sat down with Lesotho’s leaders to hash out a solution after rival party leaders failed to patch up their differences.

Along with the early election date – to be announced “as soon as possible,” according to Nkoana-Mashabane – SADC said it will send an observation mission, led by South Africa and including Zimbabwe, to Lesotho for three months to ensure peace and stability.

“Are we deploying soldiers to Lesotho or Kingdom of Lesotho as SADC? The answer is, ‘No’,” said Nkoana-Mashabane. “They need to go back to the electorate,” said the minister, “but they need to be assisted so that political challenges don’t get mixed up with the security challenges.”

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(The following article appeared Sept. 10, 2014, in the French news agency, AFP.)

Jacob Zuma (right) arrives at the Lesotho airport and greets the man seen as main instigator of the country's crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane looks on, smiling from Zuma's right. (Photo: mjj)

Jacob Zuma (right) arrives at the Lesotho airport and greets the man seen as main instigator of the country’s crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane looks on, smiling from Zuma’s right. (Photo: mjj)

By Michael J. Jordan

Maseru, Lesotho (AFP) – Rival Lesotho leaders vowed to resolve an 11-day crisis that has spurred calls for regional military intervention in the tiny African nation, after South Africa brokered talks.

The sparring factions agreed to hold further negotiations and present a concrete date for reopening Lesotho’s parliament to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Friday.

“We had very frank and good kind of discussions,” said Zuma Tuesday after the three-hour meeting, aimed at keeping a week-old peace deal alive.

“We’re just about to get there,” said Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who suspended parliament in June and has struggled to preserve his coalition government — a rarity in African politics.

But the parties remained silent on how to tackle the “renegade” Lesotho military commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who is accused of triggering the crisis on August 30, one day after he was fired by Thabane.

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(This is Part I of my six-part travelogue from shooting our documentary film, The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story. It was published in New York on July 22, on The Mantle. To join our team, please visit our Indiegogo site. For more travelogue, here’s Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V & Part VI.)

Welcome to Ventersdorp. (Photo: Justin Keane)

Welcome to Ventersdorp. (Photo: Justin Keane)

VENTERSDORP, South Africa – Heading into this road-trip to shoot our documentary film on South Africa’s “most racist town,” I have one nagging fear.

And the drumbeat will grow louder as the weekend progresses.

My worry is not whether we’ll capture enough compelling scenes and “beauty shots” to bring The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story to life. (We will, as you’ll soon see in our new trailer.) Or, if I can press our soft-spoken hero, Samuel – the first black golfer to kick down the door of the all-white Golf Club in notorious Ventersdorp – to expose more of his psyche, and enable our audience to actually care about his heroic journey from dehumanized caddy to card-carrying member of the club. (He will, and then some.)

Instead, I fret over our film’s content: “racial healing and equal opportunity” in post-Apartheid South Africa. If not explored deeply enough, it may damage my reputation. For being too positive. Or in media parlance: “a puff-piece.”

After all, we’re talking about Ventersdorp – home of Eugene Terre’Blanche and his violent AWB movement. Three loyalists even fought to the death, defending Apartheid. So from this town, which even some local whites are still ashamed to call their own, our film will show smiling white golfers glad-handing black golfers?

For the first three-quarters of our weekend in Ventersdorp, during which we’re filming the 2014 Golf Club Championship, we shoot plenty of smiles and glad-handing of Samuel and his buddy, Monte, who joined him on his 15-year crusade to crack the Club’s color-barrier.

“We need to find an older member here who’s not happy with this situation,” I tell my South African partner, Danny Lurie. “We gotta get their voice in the film.”

Danny, weighing the wrath of his compatriots, agrees.

“Yeah, or the South African media may tear us apart, too.”

We journalists are often criticized for focusing on the negative, for ignoring the positive. Now we’re desperate to do the opposite: dig up dissent.

(more…)

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