Thursday, March 4, 2021

Botswana judge caught up in Lesotho political crisis

Botswana High Court judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, who is presiding over the recent Lesotho political crisis that was precipitated by the killing of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao, is reported to have fled the kingdom following threats on his life, Sunday Standard learnt this week. 

Phumaphi, who chairs an independent commission set up by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), had to postpone a hearing this week at which Lesotho’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing was expected to appear, citing an emergency. Sunday Standard has established that Phumaphi flew into Botswana’s capital Gaborone to meet SADC Chairman, President Ian Khama. He is also scheduled to meet Mozambican President and Chairperson of SADC Organ on Politics Defence and Security, Filipe Nyusi. Phumaphi is reported to have notified Nyusi about the threats he received from Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). As the crisis escalates, there are claims that SADC has resolved to deploy its armed troops to “discipline the Lesotho army.”

“Arrangements are being made to deploy SADC troops with immediate effect,” a source said.

It is believed that the Commission that was appointed by SADC has caused major rifts in Lesotho. The Lesotho government is of the view that the Commission is out to get Lesotho’s army commander, Tlali Kamoli. Reports indicate that the SADC Commission has not been welcome by Prime Minister Dr Phakalitha Mosisili.  

“He is of the view that the Commission is out to get Kamoli because that is where the party’s power base rests. Earlier during the SADC summit held in Gaborone recently Mosisili and company attempted to change the terms of reference of the Commission, but they were rejected with contempt,” said the source. 

SADC Facilitator for Lesotho and South Africa’s Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in Lesotho’s capital Maseru on Thursday afternoon for a one on one meeting with Mosisili. At the meeting the Lesotho government is reported to have raised its concerns about the manner in which the Commission is conducting its business. The Lesotho Government believes that the Commission calls its witnesses at short notice. The government is also of the view that the Commission is tilting the scales in favour of the opposition. 

“For instance the Commission has allowed Thabane to present his evidence in camera and other people will never get to know what he has said about them. They will also not have a chance to cross examine him. The current Prime Minister appeared in public, but former Prime Minister Thabane and company are going to appear in camera. The Government might have to seek legal recourse to avoid being seen as interfering with the Commission by registering its concerns to prevent the Commission from taking this peculiar route,” said the source.

The spokesperson of Lesotho’s second biggest opposition party Basotho National Party (BNP),  Machesetsa Mofomobe this week also flew into Botswana to inform SADC that the Lesotho Government is not cooperative. Meanwhile, former Botswana Minister of Defence Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse turned down a recommendation by the country that he should lead a political committee that was established by SADC at the time that it established the Commission led by Phumaphi. 

“The SADC organ wanted the political committee to be chaired or led by a former politician. They then approached Ramadeluka who turned down the offer on the grounds that he was not ready,” said a source.

Botswana had showed interest in contributing to the committee, comprising political representatives. It is understood that Ramadeluka was to chair the committee. SADC believes that the instability in Lesotho is caused by politics. The Committee’s mandate was to keep an eye on the peace keeping process and give feedback to SADC and the Kingdom of Lesotho. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation declined to comment on the matter and referred this publication to the SADC secretariat. SADC spokesperson Dr. Charles Mubita referred Sunday Standard to the Director of Organ on Politics Defence and Security which is yet to respond to a questionnaire sent two weeks ago.

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