Shooting from the hip!

Shooting from the hip!

Staff Reporter

MASERU

IN the early 1980s Khotso Morojele was among a small group of Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) cadres who executed a low level guerrilla war against the then government of Lesotho.

Morojele admits that their sporadic acts of sabotage against key government institutions such as police stations proved largely ineffectual.

The whole idea behind the military operation was “to cripple government business so that it would relent” and eventually agree to a negotiated settlement, he says.

“Our idea was that we needed to push the government led by Chief Leabua Jonathan to the negotiating table. We were never taught to harass the general population. Our target were people who were helping the military attack civilians,” he says.

While the government forces were well armed and trained to repel their attacks, Morojele admits that the LLA fighters were woefully prepared in terms of having enough arms of war to take on the government forces.

They had to rely on a few guns smuggled from Mozambique and the mines in South Africa. They also relied heavily on home-made bombs. To make the bombs they used explosive materials smuggled from South African mines.

While the stacks were heavily tilted against the LLA on the field of battle, Morojele argues the “we were not as bad as people say we were”.

“Ours was a disciplined force that stood its ground when necessity required it,” he says, citing a fierce battle at Kolonyama in Leribe on June 7, 1983 when the LLA took on the might of the Lesotho army.

Morojele says there were heavy casualties on both sides.

The LLA was the armed wing of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP). The BCP, which was led by Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, had scored a landslide victory in the 1970 general election but the then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan, the leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), refused to accept the election result. He nullified the election result, annulled the Constitution and began ruling by decree.

The government began a massive crackdown on the BCP arresting its leaders and harassing its supporters countrywide. In 1974, most of the BCP leadership fled into exile to Botswana where they formed the LLA with the sole agenda to topple Jonathan’s government back home. That gave birth to a bruising two-decade long life-and-death contestation for political supremacy in Lesotho.

For Morojele his political consciousness was awakened when he was still a student at Peka High School in Leribe in 1973.

He says although he was still young he gradually became aware of the horrendous acts of cruelty against people by government agents.

“One could see there was something wrong that was happening in the country,” he says.

For instance, Morojele says one of his cousins, a police officer, was fired from his job telephonically merely because he was suspected to be a BCP supporter. His house was burnt and his cattle were killed, he says.

“I began to wonder why people were being treated that way,” he says.

“We began to realise that a lot of people were being victimised because of their political affiliation. They could not get jobs in the civil service because they did not belong to the BNP.

“We felt this was not right and something had to be done to correct this. We decided enough was enough and left the country for Botswana.”

He says their stay in Botswana was not easy as the government led by Sir Keretse Khama had banned the BCP from undertaking any military training on its soil.

Because of the BCP’s strained relationship with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the party could also not send its cadres for military training in friendly states such as Tanzania, Uganda, Libya and Syria.

The OAU had declared Mokhehle persona non grata after it concluded that he was collaborating with apartheid South Africa, a charge Morojele fiercely rejected.

Morejele says it is a glaring historical untruth that Mokhehle and the BCP was hobnobbing with South Africa adding Pretoria merely tolerated the LLA and Mokhehle because they were not fighting their government.

He says the OAU did not approve of the BCP’s armed struggle because they did not want a sovereign African state which was a member of the organization to be ousted militarily.

IMG_1747Morojele says the BCP leaders had to rely on their good rapport with the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), an ally of the BCP, to “smuggle” some of their cadres for training in North Africa.

But 27 years after the guns fell silent in 1989, Morojele says the majority of the LLA fighters are bitter that their efforts in restoring democracy in Lesotho have not been recognized.

 

“The whole thing is a betrayal of the people who died. They died for nothing,” he says.

His biggest gripe is that the core grievances that sent them to war in the mid 1970’s have not been addressed.

“One cannot get a job without a ruling party card,” he says. “People are using democracy for their own personal advantage. The whole thing about Pan-Africanism and Ubuntu is gone.”

He says while he does not regret the decision he made over three decades ago to skip the country and go into exile, he is disappointed by the type of “political leadership that we installed” after the reintroduction of democracy in 1993.

Morojele says the BCP ideology was pinned on the need to ensure Basotho reclaimed their wealth from the coloniser as epitomized by their slogan, “Africa for the Africans”.

But today, Lesotho’s wealth is now in the hands of a small clique that cares only for its own interests, he says.

“No one seems to care about the veterans, they only care about themselves,” he says.

He says it is standard practice that all developed countries deeply care about their veterans. They are taken care of and are given some form of thank you, he says.

In Lesotho, Morojele says the government has done very little to advance the welfare of LLA veterans. He says veterans currently get a monthly pension of M580, money he says is only enough to fill a full tank on his vehicle.

He says the government has not done anything to compensate families that lost their loved ones during combat.

Families that had their children die during the war are wallowing in poverty, he says.

“They are all bitter because all we have been having are promises and more promises,” he says.

Despite the challenges, Morojele argues their struggle was not in vain. A lot of good things associated with the restoration of democracy have taken place since 1993, he says.

When he looks back on over three decades of political activism, Morojele says he does so with a tinge of regret at Lesotho’s missed opportunities.

For instance, he says when he first arrived in Botswana in 1977 he realized the country was 10 years behind Lesotho in terms of development.

“Everybody was using a bicycle,” he says.

“But now when you go to Botswana what you see is maybe a country that is now 20 or 30 years ahead of us.”

The University of Botswana, for instance, is so huge as compared to our university here in Lesotho which started way back than theirs, he says.

Morojele blames what he calls the dearth of leadership in Lesotho.

“We have a leadership that is not patriotic,” he says. “Ours is a leadership that cares about themselves.”

While Morojele says he is a self-confessed critic of Jonathan he would be the first to admit that the former premier despite ruling Lesotho for more than 20 years did not die a millionaire.

“The leaders of the BCP also died paupers. These were people who cared for the country and not themselves,” he says.

Morojele had no kind words for the new crop of leaders in Lesotho who he says only focus on their personal interests.

“That is the reason they can’t declare their assets because of the humongous amounts of money they have accumulated in a short of time. This is what is dragging this country down.”

Morojele says “we have lost the aims of the struggle”.

“The revolution has gone off the rails.”

“We have taken a round-about turn politically. We are right off course.”

The few jobs that are there in the civil service are being parceled to those that are connected politically, he says.

To fix these problems the government must create a friendly environment for businesses to thrive so that the private sector can be empowered to create jobs for the masses.

We must be patriotic and elect a leadership that truly cares for the people, he says.

 

Morejele bio-data:

 

  • Khotso Morojele grew up in Mafulane village in the Senqu valley in Mokhotlong
  • His father was a primary school teacher in Mokhotlong
  • Enrolled at Peka High School in 1973 where he received his first ‘political indoctrination’
  • Skipped the border and went into exile in Botswana in 1977
  • Lived on 30 pula a month while in Gaborone while undergoing secret military training
  • Returned to Lesotho to wage underground military campaign against the government in late 1979

 

 

 

 

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