The struggle continues!

The struggle continues!

MASERU – POPULAR Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, says the death of former Lesotho army commander Maaparankoe Mahao on June 25, 2015 caught him by surprise. He had thought the government was organising an amicable settlement with Lt Gen Mahao when his colleagues in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) waylaid him in Mokema and shot him dead.

The army said Mahao was shot whilst resisting arrest for alleged mutiny, a version the Mahao family and the SADC Commission of Inquiry later dismissed as nonsense. It was a naked assault that plunged Lesotho into political crisis and triggered howls of protest from the international community which felt that Lesotho’s army, which has a long and notorious history of interfering in governance issues, had gone rogue.

The general feeling closer home in the SADC region was that something drastic had to be done to “tame the beast”.
Mahao’s killing was the culmination of a bitter tug-of-war for control of the army between Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and Lt Gen Mahao.

The then recently elected Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had removed Mahao as army commander only to replace him with his nemesis Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, who himself had been fired in August 2014 by Thomas Thabane. Rakuoane says the PFD, which was a junior partner in the coalition government, was so incensed with the killing of Mahao that the party’s national executive committee contemplated walking out in protest.

“We really did not know what to do. We gave serious consideration to leaving the government but when the government accepted the setting up of a SADC-led commission of inquiry, we felt that justice would be done,” he says.

Rakuoane says it was the Mosisili-led government that pushed for the setting up of the commission of inquiry which made them think “the government wanted to come clean” on the matter. He however believes the SADC Commission was later “hijacked by the opposition which wanted to push its own agenda”. “We however stayed in government and said let’s have the world help us.”

He says Mahao’s death was a blow to him personally after he had worked with the former commander in the PFD before he joined the army. He also worked with Mahao at KEM Chambers, a law firm in Maseru.

As one of the principals in the seven party led coalition, Rakuoane must have been privy to some of the alleged human rights violations that happened during their tenure in government.
He admits that the perception there were serious human rights violations during Mosisili’s reign is probably fair but the issues must be assessed from a proper context.

“It is a fair assessment but does not go deep enough to unearth the real causes of our current situation,” he says.
Rakuoane says the roots of the current political crisis in Lesotho can be traced to the post-2006 election crisis when the then opposition went on the rampage and attacked the homes of government ministers.

He said the army had to react and clamped down on the attacks, sowing the seeds of the animosity between the army and the opposition.
Rakuoane also accused the then opposition of being behind the attempted assassination of Mosisili in 2009.
“They are the people who made the army the animals they are,” he says.

He says to address the current political crisis in Lesotho, “we need to address the circumstances that brought us here”.
“We need to unearth what happened and what brought us to this stage.”
Rakuoane believes what is at the core of Lesotho’s problems is a relentless fight for access to economic resources.
That fight for economic opportunities even manifests itself at the party level, he says.

“People are hungry and the economy is small,” he says.
The political differences are only a symptom of a bigger fight for economic resources at the grassroots level.

Rakuoane says he strongly believes the solution lies in pushing for a “strategic relationship” with Lesotho’s biggest and only neighbor, South Africa.
He says Lesotho must begin to explore engaging South Africa to ensure the country benefits from joint infrastructure projects.
“We need to work on a strategy for Lesotho otherwise we will always fight and blame others.”

He says the reality is that Lesotho is “the backyard” of South Africa and a new strategy must be adopted to fix the “uneven development of capital”.
He says former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki at one point cobbled a plan to haul Lesotho from its “Least Developed Countries” status. The plan however fizzled out after Mbeki was ousted as president.

Rakuoane is however viscerally opposed to the idea of incorporating Lesotho into South Africa, saying the idea will not find any takers in Lesotho.
“Nationalism is a very strong sentiment in Lesotho which we can’t undermine,” he says.
While he rules out complete incorporation into South Africa, he believes “there is room for a federal arrangement of some sort”.

“We are a small country but very strategic as well,” he says.
Rakuoane says a softer approach to some working arrangement with South Africa is slowly gaining tract in some political circles.
This can be seen from the political parties’ response to issues of dual citizenship and free movement of people between the two countries.
“No party appears hostile to the idea of dual citizenship.

Rakuoane admits he has been labelled a sell-out for propagating some of these ideas, a fact he seems prepared to live with.
He served as Deputy Speaker of Parliament during the first coalition government between 2012 and 2015, a period he says was marked by bitter infighting between Thabane and his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing.

He says he believes the government collapsed because Thabane “did not respect the coalition agreement that he had signed with his partners”.
“It was a fight for resources and the control of the levers of power in government.”

Rakuoane says to fix what is ailing Lesotho “we have to go back to the basics” as was done during the 1998 reforms.
We also need to stick to the 2017 electoral pledge that said the reform process would be inclusive. That agreement was signed by all parties, he says.
“We must take a cue from the 1998 reforms and that whatever is agreed by consensus should be taken to Parliament and the government must not interfere,” he says.

He believes the Thabane-led administration must be magnanimous in victory “to ensure inclusivity”.
“But how do we ensure inclusivity when some opposition leaders are outside the country? The government must not be seen to be undermining the pledge (the pre-electoral pledge on reforms).”

Rakuoane says from the plethora of demands the opposition has presented, the government must “make certain concessions” on some of the issues and not dismiss every demand off-hand.
“The government must behave like a government and the opposition must be engaged,” he says.

Rakuoane, who served as home affairs minister in the last coalition government, says he was at the centre of Lesotho’s political reform process from as early as 1991, at the tail-end of the military dictatorship.
He rejects as cheap the arguments that Lesotho’s Mixed Member Proportional Representation electoral model is at the centre of the country’s problems.

He says the model ensures inclusivity even for smaller parties.
The only weakness of the model is that it does not set a threshold to qualify for a seat in Parliament. This, he says, has allowed even small parties with very minute support on the ground to enter Parliament.

The other weakness is that it allows floor-crossing, which makes governments very unstable, he says.
He says he has been part of the process that set up all laws that pertain to elections in Lesotho since 1991.
The son of a peasant farmer from Khokhoba in Thaba-Tseka, Rakuoane says he was introduced to Communist thinking when he arrived at the National University of Lesotho in 1979.

“Roma was a melting pot in terms of the liberation struggle and we formed the Committee for Action and Solidarity for Southern African Students (CASSAS). We were giving support to left-wing politics,” he says.
“That is where our politics started,” he says.

He says CASSAS acted as the under-cover wing of the Communist Party which remained banned in Lesotho.
Rakuoane speaks fondly of Chief Leabua Jonathan whom he says stood toe-to-toe with the mighty apartheid regime of South Africa.

“We worked with him despite his regressive internal politics which we were critical of. He had a progressive foreign policy,” he says.
They however broke ties with Jonathan in 1984. Chief Jonathan was toppled in a military coup in January 1986.
After graduating from the NUL in 1985, Rakuoane worked closely with the NGOs and trade unions in pushing for better working conditions for factory workers.

The government began seeing him as a trouble-maker and he was as a result arrested during the 1990 teachers’ strike.
“I was detained by the military government for two weeks. They said I was a security threat. What made it worse was my Communist background.”

Abel Chapatarongo

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