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.
Suspension was malicious, says Nko
MASERU – A gunshot wound and an attempted murder charge have not stopped Dr Retšelisitsoe Nko from starting a new fight.
The suspended Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) boss is rolling up his sleeves for what promises to be an epic legal battle to be reinstated.
In an application filed in the High Court this week, Dr Nko argues that the LTDC’s decision to suspend him had a “glaring element of bad faith and malice”.
He says the suspension was procedurally flawed because there was no complainant to instigate it and he was not granted a hearing.
Dr Nko was suspended after he was involved in a shooting incident with guests at an event at a Hillsview guest house on December 27.
He is alleged to have rushed home to take his gun after an argument with some of the guests. Dr Nko and a guest sustained gunshot wounds in the scuffle that ensued.
Reports say the guests were trying to wrestle the gun from Dr Nko when the shots were fired.
The LTDC’s board suspended him two days later, alleging that he had failed to attend an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the incident.
The suspension letter was written by Nonkululeko Zaly who was the chairperson of the LTDC board by virtue of being the principal secretary in the Ministry of Trade.
Zaly, who has since been fired following corruption investigations, also approached the court to force the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to return the assets confiscated during a raid at her house.
Dr Nko, in his court papers, accuses Zaly of usurping the board’s powers to suspend him. He says there was never a board resolution to suspend him.
The extraordinary meeting, he alleges, was a “prearranged dishonest scheme between certain members of the board and social media personnel which were part of the ruse deliberately designed to compromise” his interests.
Dr Nko says the board called him to the 29 December meeting when he was on sick leave and then suspended him without hearing his reasons for failing to attend.
He complains that Zaly wrote his suspension letter on the basis of mere allegations even though she had remained principal secretary and chairperson of the board when the corruption investigations against her were in full swing.
He queries why he was being suspended when Zaly was allowed to hold on to her job.
Zaly appears to have been belligerent when Dr Nko’s lawyers contacted her to query the suspension.
She told the lawyers, in a letter, that their queries were based on misinformation. She also dismissed the lawyer’s request for a record of the board meeting that decided to suspend Dr Nko.
“We are therefore not going to honour any of your demands and if your client is not satisfied, he is free to approach any appropriate forums to pursue these baseless issues,” Zaly said in her letter.
The lawyers say that response shows that Zaly was hell-bent on suspending their client.
Dr Nko wants the High Court to order the LTDC board to reverse the suspension, stop his imminent disciplinary proceedings and release the records of its December 29 meeting.
He also says the board is already conducting investigations on the incident to use as evidence against him in the disciplinary hearing.
thepost columnist wins award
Maseru – Two scholars associated with the National University of Lesotho have been awarded the 2022 Thomas Pringle prize for the best literary article published the previous year.
Chris Dunton, who is a columnist for thepost, and Lerato Masiea have won the prize, which is awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa, for their article “Between rocks and hard places: the controversial career of A.S. Mopeli-Paulus,” which was published by thepost.
Dunton was previously Professor and Dean of Humanities at the NUL and for some years cwrote a column for this newspaper titled “Left Side Story.” Masiea is a lecturer in the NUL’s Department of English and is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of the Free State.
Their prize-winning article was published in the journal English in Africa (vol.48 no.3, 2021, pp47-64). In it the authors explore the writings and life of the South African Mosotho author Mopeli-Paulus.
As their title indicates, their subject was a controversial figure, who degenerated from being an opponent of the apartheid regime (he was, notably, one of the leaders of the Witzieshoek Cattle Rebellion, for which role he was incarcerated in the Pretoria Central Prison) to being a high-ranking accomplice in the Bantustan system.
He was a prolific writer in both English and Sesotho (at one point he referred to the compulsive desire to write as a kind of madness!), his best-known works being the poetry-collection Ho tsamaea ke he bona (from time to time a set-text in Lesotho schools), the novel Blanket Boy’s Moon and the autobiography The World and the Cattle.
Dunton and Masiea’s article covers all his writing, published and unpublished (his papers are freely accessible at the William Cullen Library, Wits University) and is especially concerned with the question of cross-border identity.
Mopeli-Paulus was born in Monontsa, South Africa, in the lost territories—much in the news recently—and remained a South African citizen all his life. The dust-jacket for his first novel, Blanket
Boy’s Moon — which was an international best-seller — carries his name with the tag “Chieftain of Basutoland”, but this was a mistake.
Nonetheless, Mopeli-Paulus identified very strongly with Lesotho and has much to say — some of it fanciful, even spurious — on concepts of Sotho identity.
Dunton and Masiea explore this issue in detail, as it remains a topic of crucial importance even today.
Matekane to boot out PS
MASERU – THE Sam Matekane government is getting ready to get rid of Principal Secretaries appointed by the previous administration.
First to be axed is Nonkululeko Zaly who Matekane fired as a PS for the Ministry of Trade on January 11.
Zaly, who is challenging the decision, suffered a blow yesterday when the High Court refused to hear her case on an urgent basis.
Her case will now have to join the long queue of hundreds of others pending in the High Court.
Lefu Manyokole has been replaced as the PS of the local government ministry.
The axe is also likely to fall on government secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, and Foreign Affairs principal secretary Thabo Motoko.
The four have been the subject of a graft investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).
Their homes and offices have been raided and properties seized as the anti-corruption unit investigates allegations that they received millions in bribes from contractors. The four are likely to be the first to be shown the door.
Indications are however that Matekane could be readying to purge the government of principal secretaries inherited from the previous government. Matekane hints at that impending clean up in his dismissal letter to Zaly.
“You will agree with me that as a Principal Secretary, yours was a political appointment,” Matekane said in the letter that Zaly claimed not to have received in her court papers.
“It follows therefore that the working relationship between yourself and the person appointing you, the Prime Minister in this case, is mainly based on utmost trust and confidence.”
“The trust and confidence components become even more important under the obtaining circumstances where the new government, of which I am the head, has just been installed.”
Matekane told Zaly that his government came with new ideas and policies at the top of which is to fight corruption.
He said he was aware that the DCEO had seized certain documents in Zaly’s possession “evidencing a commission of crime and that you failed to give a satisfactory explanation for your possession of those documents”.
“This has eroded all the trust and confidence I had in you as the Principal Secretary and there is no way I can continue with you at the helm of any government ministry,” Matekane said.
Highly placed sources in the government have told thepost that Zaly’s exit is just the beginning of a shake-up that will continue for the next three months as Matekane seeks to bring in new people he trusts and share his vision with.
Meanwhile, Moahloli Mphaka, the government’s special adviser in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission this week told the High Court that there is a plan to fire him and two other senior officials.
Mphaka made the allegations in an urgent application to force the commission to pay his salary and that of Thabang Thite, and Bahlakoana Manyanye who are also part of the lawsuit. Thite and Manyanye are assistant advisers in the commission.
Mphaka told the court in an affidavit that on December 22 last year, the Natural Resources Minister Mohlomi Moleko told them that his superiors had instructed him to terminate their contracts.
The reason, Mphaka said, is the fact that they are the All Basotho Convention (ABC) members hired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. He said the government’s delay to pay their December salary was meant to frustrate them into resigning.
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