MASERU – As the nation is still coming to terms with the death of three senior military officers in what represents yet another episode in Lesotho’s political upheaval, questions have arisen on the control of the army. One man who has been involved in the country’s politics for decades says the killings are a reflection of failure to resolve the issue of military control.
For veteran politician Pelele Letsoela, the answer lies in giving the king legal powers over the military. He talked to thepost on the history of military instability and what he views as solutions to this menace. “I wonder if we will have the wisdom and courage to fulfil our promises of decades regarding the control of the army and the police,” said Letsoela.
Letsoela, the deputy leader of the Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP), said “there will be no peace” unless the original manifesto of his erstwhile party, the Basotho National Party (BNP) is implemented.
Letsoela accused “every sitting government” of abusing the national security apparatus for political ends. He should know. Letsoela has been part of Lesotho’s political landscape since 1962 when he joined active politics as a BNP youth at the tender age of 14.
When the BNP government was toppled by the army in 1986, Letsoela was the principal administrative secretary in the office of the prime minister.
He also served in several senior positions in the military government until 1989 when he was fired as the ministry of finance deputy principal secretary.
Letsoela said in the run up to independence and the first democratic election in 1965, the BNP under the late Chief Leabua Jonathan pledged to make the king commander-in-chief of the armed forces. “That would have ensured that the police and later the army, because it was established later, would not be in the hands of politicians,” he said.
“Unfortunately the BNP, of which I was a member, did not implement what it had been touting for. We never made the king the commander-in-chief,” he said. Letsoela believes reforming the security sector is urgent because “it is obvious that our army, the police and the security intelligence agency are divided according to political parties, both the ruling and those in the opposition”.
Instability is worse than during the BNP rule because “in those years the prime minister was in control as the security forces were fully behind him”.
“During the BNP rule the security forces were not divided as they are now,” he said. “It is true that perhaps there were some who were discontent with some of the things in the government but the situation was not as bad as it is now,” he said, tracing the history of instability.
Letsoela said the political instability led to the opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP) rising up against the police with the intention of disarming and taking over government by force in 1974? The police’s response was mass arrests of the opposition leadership. Others skipped the country.
According to Letsoela, the divisions within the army, which still continue to this day, started in the early 1980s when the BNP youth league “got out of hand” and caused discontent in the army.
In those years, some rogue elements within the society – not in the army – had armed the youth to an extent that the defence forces felt there was a threat of a parallel force. At the same time the BCP had established an armed force which was described as a terrorist group by the United Nations.
The armed wing of the BCP, the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) was created outside the borders and created a serious security threat in the country.
Also, since the Lesotho government had opened its doors to African National Congress refugees — some of whom were members of its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe — the South African apartheid regime became a more serious security threat to Lesotho.
Letsoela said it was at this time when the army felt the need to deal with the armed ruling party youths, at the same time facing both BCP fighters and South African forces, hence took the drastic measure of toppling the Jonathan government in 1986.
He says some in the army remained loyal to the toppled government while others committed themselves to the new administration.
In the face of the divisions in the army, the issue of giving the king the power over the army was raised again but it was not implemented.
The military junta was in control. When democracy was reintroduced in 1993, the incoming BCP government “antagonised the army because they saw it as belonging to the BNP”.
After some serious security chaos by the army, the BCP government tried to exert influence on the army and the police.
Nothing was said about giving the king some power in the interest of restoring security stability, Letsoela says.
“This has not worked until today because these politicians, all those who ruled, managed to have influence only on the top officers and not on the middle rank soldiers,” he says.
Letsoela says “the BCP government inherited this mentality of owning the army from its predecessors”.
“This is the situation we are in now,” he says. “Unfortunately for the politicians, their influence is not deep,” he says.
He says in 1998, the year that saw three towns burnt to ashes because of both political and security instability, the then government sought loyalty from the top officers while they ignored middle rank soldiers.
“There are those who will agree to be captured by politicians while others, especially those in lower ranks, will not,” he says.
“That is when serious divisions in the army arise.” Letsoela says after the 1998 chaos, an Interim Political Authority (IPA) was set up to pave way for fresh elections but nothing was said about the army despite the fact that this was the elephant in the room.
“The government rejected political negotiations because it was banking on the loyalty of senior army officers. There were no fights in the beginning. There were no political interactions and the situation worsened until it became violent,” he says.
Letsoela proposes more power for the king to ensure sustainable stability.
“We must give him that mandate by law. The king must not wait for advice from the prime minister. He must have legal powers to call us to sit around the table and talk,” he says. Letsoela says the king should also be the commander-in-chief of the army and the police, “by law and not by mere utterances of us politicians in our rallies”.
“When he is the commander-in-chief, he will have powers to approve or disapprove operations of the army or the police,” he says.
“The king is politically neutral and there is no substantial fear that he will misuse these national security tools against members of a certain political party in favour of another.”
Letsoela says the law must be clear as to how the king will exercise his power over the security institutions so that he too can account to his people.
“This will create a situation where no operation by the army or the police will be sanctioned by anybody except the king,” he says, adding the king should be responsible for appointments of commanders of the army, police and the National Security Service. Currently, security bosses are appointed by the king at the advice of the prime minister.
In short, the prime minister decides who is appointed the LDF commander, commissioner of police, director general of the NSS, and the director of the Correctional Services. “This was an issue that was raised during the pre-independence politicking but once we got independence no government wanted to discuss it anymore,” he said.
Prior to the security chaos that had the army killing its boss Maaparankoe Mahao in 2015, parliament took a study tour to New Zealand on how the coalition government can be best run. “That is where we noticed that army commanders can be selected transparently without any party politics influence,” he said.
Letsoela said in New Zealand, candidates applying for the position of the commander are shortlisted in a transparent but tough interview process.
The prime minister chooses from three names submitted to him by experts.
“In New Zealand, the commander earns the position. It is not given to him through favouritism. He does not become a commander at the mercy of politicians,” he said.
“New Zealand is one of the most stable countries in the world,” he says.
Born in 1948 in Ha-Letsoela, Lipelaneng in the Berea district, Letsoela has been a career politician.
He is the hereditary chief of the village.
He said his dream was to either lead a political party or to be in parliament since he was a small boy.
“I have achieved both,” he says. Except, of course, that despite his long political career reforming the military has been an elusive feat.
The beauty queen of Lesotho
MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.
It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.
“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.
“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.
Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.
“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.
Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.
“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.
“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.
“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.
Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.
“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.
Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.
“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.
Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.
“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.
“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.
Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.
“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.
“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.
One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.
“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.
The stock-theft menace
MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.
If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.
That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.
Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.
Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.
These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.
The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.
Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.
Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.
S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.
But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.
Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.
S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.
In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.
These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.
Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.
The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.
S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.
After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.
The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.
He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.
Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.
He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.
To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.
Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.
“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.
He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.
Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.
He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.
He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.
When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.
S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.
S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.
He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.
He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.
“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.
He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.
“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.
He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.
Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.
He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.
He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.
“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.
He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.
He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.
“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.
And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.
The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.
A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.
It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.
According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.
It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.
And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.
Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.
In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.
This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.
The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.
“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”
The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.
It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.
And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.
Matekane to launch microchip project
MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.
The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.
Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.
“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.
He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.
The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.
That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.
The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.
The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.
The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.
Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.
The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.
The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.
Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.
The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.
Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.
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