Prophets or allies?

Prophets or allies?

This chapter seeks to interrogate the intervention strategies that the church in Lesotho, within the framework of Church-State relationship, adopted in addressing the political conflicts in the period between 2007 and 2016. This chapter seeks to interrogate the intervention strategies that the church in Lesotho, within the framework of Church-State relationship, adopted in addressing the political conflicts in the period between 2007 and 2016.

The question that this chapter raises relates to the intervention strategies that the church in Lesotho adopted to quell the flames of instability in the period in question in the light of the prophetic model that the church in Lesotho adopted for itself. Through an assortment of literature review and interviews done with stakeholders, it became very clear that the church has, within its limited resources, played a role in prophesying, mediating and counselling in the political conflicts in Lesotho. This good work notwithstanding, the challenges that limit the work of the church remain. Inability of the Christian Council of Lesotho to speak and act at most critical moments was not only reflective of the vulnerability of the church to capture by politics but also of the need to develop a sustained and theologically grounded programme of interacting with political actors.

Political instability has been a common feature of almost all post-colonial and independent African states (Ong’ayo, 2008:2). While factors for this have been varied and can hardly be separated from Africa’s colonial history, scholars seem to agree that weak leadership is to blame for what has now become a trade mark of African politics. At the core of this leadership crisis is the scramble for power and control of meagre resources by a group of elites taking cover under party political expediency (Murithi 2006:10; Kabemba, 2003:16). A number of Southern African states have experienced full-blown post-independence wars, while others have gone through spells of periodic post-election violence and military interventions (Cawthra, 2010).  Though the wars may have stopped, that painful history is written in bold on the maimed bodies and psyche of the survivors and of the perpetrators alike and remains a constant reminder of the effects of adversarial political culture.

Lesotho has had its fair share in the conflicts that have characterised the politics of the Southern African states since independence. It has, in its fifty years of independence, lived through a series of episodes characterised by post-election violence, which more often than not involved civil-military relations (Matlosa & Pule, 2001; Motsamai, 2015). Regrettably, with fifty years of independence, Lesotho has regressed considerably on a human developmental (index) scale, but has appreciated significantly in self-destructive political tendencies, and has, in the process, become polarised and estranged socially and politically as a nation (Freeland & Khondker, 2015). In this highly polarised political environment, various role players have come in to play a critical role in stabilising the situation and to bring all parties to the negotiating table when it mattered most.

Kapa and Theko (2008) and Letsie (2015) have highlighted the role that civil society played in trying to quell the flames of political instability in Lesotho. While acknowledging the contributions of these and other authors (Makoa, 2008; Matlosa & Pule, 2001; Eklit, 2008) in addressing the recurring political tensions and their causes in Lesotho, this chapter focuses mainly on the intervention efforts made by the church  in the light of the prophetic model it carved for itself, within the context of Church-State relationship. Six churches that form the membership of the CCL, to date, are the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA), The Roman Catholic Church (RCC), The Anglican Church of Lesotho (ACL), The African Methodist Episcopal (AME), The Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) and the Assemblies of God (AoG). The reformed evangelicals and the Pentecostal churches have lately formed their own council, The Council of Pentecostal Churches of Lesotho (CPCL). Hincks (2009) in his tour de force, Quest for Peace: An Ecumenical History of the Church in Lesotho provides a comprehensive background of Church-State relationship in Lesotho up to 2007 and a critical analysis of the role the church played in the unfolding political history of the nation.

There is, therefore, no intention on the part of this paper to reinvent the wheel. The aim is to close the gap by providing some reflection on the nature of the problems experienced between 2007 and 2016 as well as the interventions made by the church in addressing some of these problems.The main question that this chapter grapples with is: What intervention strategies has the church in Lesotho adopted to quell the flames of political instability in the country in this period?

The chapter answers this question through responding to the following sub-questions:

What major flashpoints characterised the political tension in the period between 2007 and 2016?

How did the church define and live out its prophetic call and mission during this period?l What lessons for the Church-State interaction can be gleaned from the experiences of these nine years going forward?

A brief historical overview of church-state relations in Lesotho

Since Moshoeshoe’s invitation to the Missionaries to come to his aid in his quest for lasting peace in the region in the early to late nineteenth century, Lesotho has to date remained a predominantly Christian country. The interaction between the Paris Evangelical Mission Society (PEMS), who had arrived earlier, the Catholic missionaries and Moshoeshoe I, and the jostling for access to the latter’s soft spot and influence, marked the beginnings of an interface between church and politics. The bitter rivalry, resulting from long years of mutual persecutions in the Europe of the eighteenth to nineteenth century that had accompanied these missionaries has affected the entire social and political spectrum of Lesotho. With the advent of the party political dispensation in the built-up to the independence of Lesotho, in the 1950s, the involvement of the two main rival denominations was quite pronounced (Hincks, 2009:553-554).

The alignment between the Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC) and the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), on one side, and the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) with the Basotho National Party (BNP), on the other, characterised the relations between mainly these two denominations but also sullied the already volatile political environment. While these divisions are still present, their intensity is gradually waning due to a number of factors. On the denominational front, recognition of the presence of denominations other than the above two and the need for their involvement in the socio-political issues and the formation of the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), all played an important role in improving relations between denominations.

It has further created space for members to freely align with a political party of their choice. The phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism, with its own council, which could not be identified with any of the main political clans, was in itself a stabilising factor. On the political front, the formation of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in 2006 has greatly weakened the traditional division of LEC/Congress and RCC/Nationalists. According to Obaji and Swart (2015:4), religion as well as politics will forever remain contested fields and instruments of competition. While both church and politics will continue to dance together in their service of humanity, their jealous gaze at each other cannot be underestimated.

Prophetic Model: some theoretical considerations

Prophetic model or critical engagement constitutes the framework for the reflection undertaken in this chapter. The model has been adopted by various churches throughout the world in their engagement with state. It has also been a model of choice by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) and the Heads of Churches (HOC) in their interactions with the state.As a model of Church-State relationship, critical engagement has been popularised in, and beyond, South Africa (Bentley & Forster, 2012; Bautista & Gee Lim, 2009). Following its return to democracy in 1994, the church, which had played a prophetic role in denouncing the evils of apartheid, in South Africa, was forced to redefine its position vis-à-vis the state.

The South African Council of Churches adopted, in 1995, what it called critical solidarity, or prophetic, model (Kumalo, 2007:212) as a model of choice for relating with government and politics. The model is founded on, and carries, the legacy of liberation theology and theologies of reconstruction with their propensity towards preferential option for the poor and the marginalised (De Gruchy, 2004:182). Villa-Vicencio (1992:27) defines it as the church supporting “those government initiatives that promote justice, peace and democracy whilst continuing its protest against unjust policies and its protection of the interests of the poor and minority groups.” At the heart of critical engagement is the churches’ “active interaction with state without losing their independence of mind or action” (Kretzchmar, 2012:139).

The basis for the church’s claim in politics as well as the adoption of this model lies in the Biblical prophetic tradition with its concern for justice, oppression and dehumanisation of the most vulnerable in society (Is. 1:17; 10:1-3; Hosea 4:1-3; 6:6). The tradition of the gospel that constantly associates Jesus with the prophetic tradition, in a way, identifies Jesus as a prophet in the mould of the Old Testament tradition, if not its fulfilment. The passage of Luke 4:16-30, labelled the programmatic passage of the entire gospel, evokes the prophetic tradition by equating Jesus’ call and ministry with some of the most engaging, outspoken, and forthright prophets of the Old Testament. While his eyes were focused intently on the establishment of the Kingdom of God versus that of Caesar, he was clear that such a kingdom could not be divorced from the concrete realities of oppression, injustice, abuse of power and greed, which he spared no effort in challenging (Luke 4:16-21).

The church in Lesotho, both as an ecumenical entity and in its different denominational formations, has, arguably, adopted the prophetic model of engagement with state. This is reflected not only in the policy, mission and strategic documents of the churches but also in their statements and sermons issued occasionally when circumstances warrant. (Christian Council of Lesotho, 2001:34-35). An important milestone in the life of the church in Lesotho, and in its role of engaging with various political actors occurred in 1975, with the visit of Rev. Dr Christian Baeta, an emissary of All Africa Conference of Churches, to Lesotho. The visit resulted in a “Statement of Reconciliation” by the Heads of Churches, which was read to the attending public at the national stadium.

This public gesture did not only help to rehabilitate the battered image of the church but also helped the church to redefine its position vis-à-vis politics and engagement with political entities. The “Statement” would serve as an important milestone in Lesotho’s journey of Church-State relationships. In the following section, the intervention strategies that the church adopted throughout this period will be measured against the prophetic model embraced. However, before that, we need to lay out the political background that led to these interventions.
Background to the political conflicts of 2007-2016.

The period between 2007 and 2016 is a mixture of hope and disappointment in Lesotho politics. For clarity, this period will be divided into two main phases, with the first phase covering the period from 2007 to 2012, while the other covers the period from 2012 to 2016.
Seed of discontent sown, 2007-2012.

The period between 2007 and 2012 can best be explained in terms of precariousness, fragility and volatility. The main episodes of the period include: in 1997, the split of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD); in 2006, the formation of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the shooting incident involving Minister Monyane Moleleki, and the shooting of the Bill Clinton Foundation volunteer.  In 2007, there was the shooting at Lebohang Ntsinyi’s house; undermining of Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) mode; discontent relating to elections; the attack on the houses of some ministers as well as the leader of the ABC; the attack on the State House; a curfew was declared which was accompanied by illegal detentions, gruesome tortures and human rights violations on civilians by the military, as well as on some members of the Judiciary by the police (SADC Lawyers Association 2007). These events connived to poison the seemingly recuperating political climate (Motsamai, 2015:2).

However, it was the undermining of the MMP model which accounted for the bigger portion of the problems. Kapa (2009:6) provides a vivid picture of the tussle between the opposition who mobilised their supporters to pressure government through a series of stay-away protests, on the one hand, and, on the other, the government who used security forces, especially the army, to clamp down on the opposition. It was in the ensuing tug of war that tolerance gave way to annoyance, impatience and mudslinging between government and opposition. The use of the military in issues which would be perceived as purely political has not only led to the escalation of the conflict (Matlosa, 2008:45; Motsamai, 2015:12) but it has also undermined possibilities for nurturing an ethos that ensures sustainable peace.

The conflicts which prompted a mediatory intervention by former President Masire of Botswana under the auspices of SADC, were unfortunately unsuccessful in resolving the misunderstandings between government and opposition. This further underlined the complex nature of the manner in which politics in Lesotho have been conducted, the obduracy of the Lesotho politicians, as well as the intolerance, hostilities and hatred that this political climate has created among the populace.With the announcement of President Masire’s retirement from the mediation in Lesotho, it became apparent that Lesotho was headed for yet another major political showdown.

It was at this most critical time that the politicians invited the churches to come in to carry the negotiations forward. In the words of the Heads of Churches  “at this time the major preoccupation was to avert potential violence and redirect energies of parties, which had already begun with inflammatory and antagonistic statements, back to the dialogue” (Heads of Churches, 2007). Indeed, both government and the opposition parties came back to the negotiating table. Though progress made was seemingly at a tortoise pace, the most significant achievement of the intervention was the mutual understanding between parties, and the rekindling of seemingly lost love between parties.

The Volcano erupts, 2012-2016

The phase between 2012 and 2016 can best be described as an eruption of a volcano that had been building up. The elections of 2012 ushered in a period the bulk of whose problems had their seeds sown in the long and bitter history of civil-military relations in Lesotho (Matlosa & Pule, 2001:39). A combination of factors conspired to undermine the promise of a relatively stable Lesotho. Noteworthy amongst these were: 1) the split in the ruling LCD; 2) establishment of first coalition government; and 3) dismissal of the army commander. These three incidents have been selected because of their significance in the shaping of the activity-packed 2014, and subsequent years.

LCD: power struggles and split

The bickering and bitter fall-out between members of the ruling LCD over what was obviously a struggle for power (Weisfelder, 2015:51) had reached a breaking point leading to another split of the LCD. The incumbent Prime Minister was forced to defect and form a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC), just on the eve of the 2012 general elections. Political daggers were drawn to battle it out in the inevitable snap elections that the Prime Minister had no option but to call. The elections being unable to produce an outright winner necessitated political realignments, which saw the coalition between the ABC, LCD and BNP coming into power. This meant that the LCD gained a chance of being part of government with the attendant benefit of incumbency, while the former Prime Minister and his new party was left disgruntled even though they had managed to secure more constituencies than any of the competing parties.

As one DC member in an interview put it:  We felt hard done by the outcome politically and psychologically especially given our brave show in the elections following the split. We had won more constituencies than any other party and we should have been given the first chance to form government. This was not to be. We had to accept defeat. (2016).Unique, too, about the 2012 elections results, was that, they produced what Letsie (2015:86) called “a very rare occurrence in Lesotho–undisputed results”.  The coalition and challenges it faced.

The demands of managing a coalition, which was a new variable in government-formation for the three parties, as well as the struggle for control of state power with its necessary component of military backing (Kapa, 2009:6-9), contributed to the break-down of relations between the coalition partners and the eventual collapse of government. The intra-coalition conflicts began to emerge around 2013, and affected the smooth operations of government. It also expressed itself through a parallel exercise of power by the Prime Minister and his Deputy. The year 2014 was quite eventful too. In it, we saw the attacks on the residences of: Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana,

Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, as well as Liabiloe Ramoholi, and ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane, to name the most prominent. Investigations by the Police pointed to army officers as culprits (Motsamai, 2015:6). While these were never arrested, this ensured sour relations between the Police and the Army.

The removal of the military Commander

The straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back in the ABC, LCD and BNP coalition was the sacking of the military commander by Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane. On 30th August, 2014, the Police Headquarters and Mabote Police Stations were attacked by the army and one member of the police service was killed. The Prime Minister, Minister and leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Commissioner of Police, newly appointed army commander, Lieutenant-General Mahao and other senior officers, fled the country and only came back a few days later under the security of the South African Police. It had emerged earlier that Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing was vehemently opposed to the replacement of the then army commander, Lieutenant-General Kamoli by Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao.

Seemingly, DC was also opposed to the removal of Kamoli by Thabane and this reignited the lost love between the erstwhile enemies, the LCD and the DC, confirming a common mantra that, in politics, “there are no permanent enemies or friends”. Thabane’s action was interpreted as a move to secure control of the army, while LCD and DC saw the Prime Minister as undermining the support and influence they had in the army. This was reminiscent of the well- known pronouncement “give him an army too” (Sixishe, 1984). That is to say, in Lesotho politics, constitutional power is not enough if it is not supplemented by the ruling party’s control of, and support by the army.

LCD and DC’s opposition to the Prime Minister’s sacking of the army commander, read together with the utterances from the DC that “if Prime Minister Thomas Thabane insists on firing Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as army commander, Lesotho’s history will be written in blood” (Lesotho Times, September 11, 2014), smacked of the re-establishment of intimate relations between party politics and the military (Moeletsi oa Basotho, 25 Tlhakubele 2012). This flew in the face of, and undermined, attempts that had been made to professionalise the army in post-1998 elections (Matlosa & Pule, 2001).

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