In defence of Lesotho

In defence of Lesotho

MASERU – Retired Colonel Mothae’s abridged CV is viscerally opposed to any idea of a South Africa-style Peace and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Lesotho. All that he wants to see is justice for victims of human rights violations in Lesotho.
It is a hardline stance that will likely rattle opposition parties that have been calling for national reconciliation in a bid to bury Lesotho’s turbulent past and allow the country to start on a fresh page.

Mothae says the idea of a TRC, which received almost universal acclamation in neighbouring South Africa after the end of apartheid in 1994, will not work in Lesotho. He says 24 years after the end of apartheid, South Africa remains a deeply divided country – divided by race and lack of access to economic opportunities.

The same issues that have haunted South Africa will haunt Lesotho, he says.
Mothae believes a similar reconciliation programme in Lesotho will not address the deep, underlying grievances of the people some of whom have been nursing wounds dating back to independence in 1965.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission will only serve to “patch” such serious grievances.
He says he cannot wrap around his head a situation that will see perpetrators of serious human rights violations over the last few years walk free.
After witnessing what he says were horrendous crimes committed by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officers in recent years, he believes such rogue elements within the military must “face the music”.

Only when Lesotho undertakes such painful course will it be able to exorcise the ghost of its violent past, he says.
“We can’t ignore the wrongs that have been done because we want to move forward. That would be unfair,” he says.
“Those who have been aggrieved will still be aggrieved. If we rush to reconciling, what are we reconciling? We can only heal what we know.”
He adds: “We must not brush away certain things. We must talk man-to-man.”

It is a hard-line position that is no surprise given Mothae’s military background. But will such a hawkish stance not create a deadly cycle of revenge, condemning Lesotho to further bouts of political instability? Instead of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mothae believes Lesotho needs “a platform for national dialogue” to address the challenges of our past.

“We need to sit down as a nation, look back and address the challenges we have faced in the past. We need to be genuine and open as a nation.
“When we sit down and address deep rooted issues from the lowest levels, we would have addressed issues.”
But will this not unnecessarily open old wounds?

Mothae says if that happens, “there will be a quick healing”. He says Basotho cannot just be asked to forgive and forget the brutal killing of former army commanders Maaparankoe Mahao and Khoantle Motšomotšo, and many others, by rogue elements of the LDF.
Mahao, who was locked in a fierce tussle for the control of the army with the then army boss Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, was killed by his fellow soldiers in June 2015 during an operation the army said was meant to suppress mutiny.
His family insists he was assassinated.

Motšomotšo was shot and killed on September 5 last year in what the government says was a naked attempt to eliminate him after he began a process to take to task rogue elements within the LDF. “We won’t be doing justice to ourselves if we were to forget about their killing,” Mothae says.
The key to fixing what ails Lesotho lies in ensuring that the current SADC-driven reforms succeed, he argues.

“I am looking forward to the reforms that will have an impact in the area of peace and security to ensure there is permanent stability in our country,” he says. Mothae says the biggest problem has been politicians “who have always sought to have control over the security forces”.
That must be corrected, he says.

“If security is under proper control, stability will be guaranteed and we will expect to see a Lesotho that is envied by everybody.”
“We want to see a stable security sector through proper parliamentary oversight and effective civilian control.”
But for that to happen, there must be a shift to re-educate players within the security sector to ensure they play their roles effectively.

He wants to see the security sector focusing on its primary role – to protect the territorial integrity of the country, with the police maintaining law and order while the intelligence focus on providing early warnings on potential threats to Lesotho. Where there are gaps, Mothae says such gaps must be identified so that the security agencies are trained to meet their primary responsibilities. But for all this to happen, he says we will need to reform Lesotho’s political system “to ensure politicians leave issues of security to security (while those in the security sector leave) politics to politicians”.

Mothae wants to see a well-trained military leadership that respects the civil-military relationship. Mothae also bemoans the systemic politicization of Lesotho’s civil service. As a Principal Secretary, Mothae like many of his colleagues, is a political appointee. And when the government is ousted, “we are out”. “We lose all that institutional memory.” That, too, must change.

Mothae says there is need to have effective public sector reforms to ensure stability in the security sector.
He wants to see a stable public service with permanent secretaries who are not political appointees.
While Lesotho achieved its political independence five decades ago, Mothae says there has been nothing much to write home about following decades of economic stagnation and political strife.

“We have political independence but not economic independence,” he says.
We still rely heavily on South Africa for consumer goods. In terms of development, we have moved very little from where we were at independence in 1966, he says.

Mothae blames this on Lesotho’s sterile politics and decades of mis-governance.
“If you look at Lesotho from 1966, you will see that we have more or less the same problems that we had years ago and the security structures have been heavily involved in the destabilisation process.”

The political crisis can be traced to the “small national cake” and everyone wants a slice of that cake.
The fight for control of the “national cake” has however stalled national development with politicians fighting while neglecting issues of development.
The result is that our peers in the Southern Africa region, Botswana and Swaziland, have outpaced us in terms of national development.

“Botswana is now a very different country with massive improvements in infrastructure and road network. We are not catching up because of our approach to politics and a lack of commitment to nation building,” he says. The absence of a commitment that we need to bequeath a better Lesotho to our children has been our downfall, he says.

“We need a commitment that we need a better Lesotho. We must focus on developing Lesotho. If we can have the thinking that we are Basotho and we must make Lesotho work for all of us, then we can leave a good legacy for the future.”
Tragically, Lesotho has had a leadership that focuses on “small vendettas” to show “them who I am” while neglecting the bigger issues of national development.

That too must change, he says. “We must put our country first.”Mothae says while Lesotho is endowed with huge diamond deposits, the country has nothing to show for it. “Where have all the proceeds gone? What have we gained out of that?”
He dismisses as nonsense assertions that Lesotho is poor.
He says thousands of Basotho have distinguished themselves in South African industries and now is the time to tap into their expertise to benefit Lesotho. We must fully utilize our diaspora.

“Why don’t we take the Chinese model, the Singaporean model or the South Korean model? South Korea was considered one of the poorest countries but is now one of the richest in the world. “The reason is they export electronics. The word poverty is not in their vocabulary. We too must work as a collective unit, regardless of our political beliefs and ideologies, to address our developmental challenges.”

Mothae was born on December 25, 1959 in Morifi in Mohale’s Hoek. His father, Tlalanyane Johannes, like most Basotho then, worked in the mines in South Africa.
His mother, ’Masebueng Baptistina, would be left to care for the family during his father’s absence.
Yet even as he was growing up, Mothae was always fascinated by the police and soldiers, attracted by their macho image and demonstration of raw power.

He would occasionally catch a glimpse of some police officers in his village and that left a huge impression on his young mind.
“I always wanted to be a policeman and as I grew older, I began to understand how soldiers could be very important to their country,” he says.
While soldiers were feared, they also commanded a measure of respect.

And so in August 1980, Mothae joined the Lesotho Police Mobile Unit, the forerunner to the Lesotho Paramilitary Force which was later transformed into the Lesotho Defence Force. That decision to join the army came after Mothae had earlier crossed the border to join the mines in South Africa even when he had not yet completed his education.

Mothae’s father, who was unhappy with that “juvenile” decision, quickly recalled him from the mines and sent him back to school.
It was only after he had completed his high school that he finally pursued his dream – joining the military.
“I felt I could contribute more to my country by being a soldier. South Africa was destabilizing my country and I felt if I joined the military I could help play a deterrent role against South Africa.”

“I wanted to effectively contribute to the defence and territorial integrity of Lesotho and sovereignty of Lesotho.”
Mothae says immediately after he graduated from military training, he quickly distinguished himself and was transferred to the Tactical Intelligence Branch, an elite unit within military intelligence.

He was later promoted Lance Corporal in 1986 and later to Corporal in 1990. He attended several military courses in the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and other countries. Mothae took any early retirement in 2003 as a Lieutenant Colonel and commandant of the Lesotho Military Infantry Training School.

He later worked at the Central Bank of Lesotho between 2003 and 2006 before moving to join the SADC Organ on Politics and Defence.
Mothae is married to Malipho Sikazwe-Mothae and the couple have five children.

Abel Chapatarongo

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