‘They wanted me dead’

‘They wanted me dead’

FORMER deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing skipped the country last Tuesday, alleging that he is marked for assassination. His party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), claim he is on a hit list.  But the government was quick to say Metsing should not be running away because he enjoys the full protection of the law.
There is also a perception among some government supporters that Metsing is using the ‘hit list’ allegation to avoid impending charges. His livid supporters however say this is ‘nonsense’ and argue that the Thomas Thabane coalition government is in a witch-hunt against opposition leaders.
thepost spoke to Metsing this week about his decision to flee and how some people, especially those sympathetic to the government, view it. We started by asking him a broad question about how his situation got to where it is now.

You are asking that question to a wrong person because it is only the government that can answer it. But I suppose the whole agenda is to instil fear in the hearts and minds of the general public as well as the opposition. We are seeing dictatorial tendencies at play here.

The government says you had no reason to run away because you are protected by the laws of this country.

I don’t think they are telling the truth. I have been aware for some time now that I was going to either be assassinated or be arrested so that I can die in custody.
Recently, there was a conversation that was posted on social media where government ministers where talking about me being arrested and dying in custody.
They were saying that they hope that the wish of their leader, which is of me dying in custody, will finally come true. So you now have people talking freely about my death. This government has been harassing me since it came to power.
I have been denied my benefits as a former deputy prime minister. Now you have senior government officials talking openly about my life. It can only happen in Lesotho that ministers talk like that about another person’s life and they get away with it.

Are you saying what is happening to you is with the tacit approval of the whole government?

Yes, and those who are making a joke out of my life are allowed to get away with such callous behaviour and statements. When we were in government we never made it part of our agenda to set the police on innocent people, either the general public or political leaders.
They are the ones who were lying that we were killing people. And even when Brigadier Mahao was killed by soldiers we immediately established a commission of inquiry that was backed by SADC.
What is happening now is totally different because you have a prime minister telling the police to beat up suspects.
In his first rally the Prime Minister was mocking former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. When it came to me he said “as for that one from the north I will throw him in prison”.
He stood in parliament to say the police should beat up suspects. This government has a vendetta against me and they have targeted me.

At what point did you realise that the allegations that you were about to be assassinated were probably valid?

It was only a matter of time before they came for me. There has been speculation on the internet about my arrest and killing. There was talk about an alleged hit list.
So when my deputy leader (Tšeliso Mokhosi) was arrested and tortured I realised that I was next.
A few days before that there had been some suspicious movement of heavily armed police officers near our offices. I saw one of the people who I had been told was the one who had been instructed to kill me.
I told some people to go and ask him but he ran away. The plan was to either assassinate me or to arrest me and make sure I die in custody.

Your allegation that you are being targeted obviously leads to the question why you specifically are marked for death. There are tens of other opposition leaders in this country, why does Metsing seem the sole target? Why you?

My feeling is that Thabane has never forgiven me for standing up to him when he suspended parliament in 2015. I stopped him in his tracks when he suspended parliament and, for that, he has never forgiven me.
Thabane views that as a blot on his reputation. It’s unfortunate that our people have become as myopic as to believe the propaganda peddled by the government against the opposition.
My opposition to the suspension of the parliament was not based on malice but principle.
I know my actions have been sore to him and he has always had a grudge against me. To SADC he will say that he is fighting crime. He has managed to get in the minds of the people and they believe him.

Some people say what you are experiencing is what happened to Thabane and the other opposition leaders when your coalition was in power. They say they see a karma effect in your ordeal.

Time is history. Yes the people might see it like that in the short-term but with time they will see that it is not true at all. With time they will see that what is happening here is simply a dictatorship.
If you go back in history you will remember that I was almost killed in 2007 when I was a mere minister and a budding politician.
I was just a young politician but they came for me. In 2014 I breathed life in their political life by being the first congress leader to agree to work with them.
I crossed the Rubicon when I showed that it is possible to work with people from the other side. But now I realise that I am paying dearly for that decision.

Are there any conditions that you want put in place before you come back home?

We are waiting for SADC to come in to intervene because now we can see that this issue is not only about me but the opposition as well. It has become much broader. We need SADC to really help us in negotiations that will bring lasting peace to this country.
They have to help level the playing field. You have a police force that is being used to do bad things.
They are bringing trumped up charges against opposition leaders. How could I, a senior government official, have had an interest in the death of a junior police officer?
What did Mokhosi have to benefit from the death of an officer? Those allegations are flimsy. To stop this mess the government has to be serious about the reforms. SADC must help us cease these hostilities so that we can create a conducive environment for credible reforms.

You sound like you are saying the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) is the main target. Why is that so?

They have to be asked the question why it’s the LCD and its people who are being targeted in this witch-hunt. It is clear that the target is the LCD.

There have been allegations over the years that you are quite close to the army. What do you say to that?

I really don’t think so because if I was close to them as people say then I would not be here now. I think the army would have come to my rescue. The allegation that I am close to the army is part of the efforts by the government to tarnish my name.

What, in your opinion, is the solution to this cycle of instability in the country?

Soon after the election we asked for a number of things. We asked for a forensic audit into the election results. We also asked for a truth and reconciliation commission, modelled along the same way as what South Africa did at independence.
This was going to be an opportunity for people to come and tell their issues so that we can let bygones be bygones. Our history is characterised by instability.
You might notice that some of the people in the current government were part of that instability yet now they are playing victim and harassing others.

You sound passionate about the reforms yet some people say you dithered on their implementation when you were in government. Did you not squander an opportunity to expedite the reforms when you were in government?

We were on our way to implementing them. We had a clear roadmap and a lot of strides had been made on the reforms. It is just unfortunate that the government collapsed before we could start implementing those reforms. By now we would have started implementing those reforms. There was going to be a multi-sectoral stakeholder conference and we would probably be working on the constitutional reforms now.

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