Lesotho plans polls, but mood is unsettled

2014-10-13 07:26

(Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Maseru - The Maseru Sun hotel in Lesotho says it welcomes families and business travellers. But most guests on a recent weekend were South African security forces, sent to keep order after a bout of violent unrest that has raised questions about the viability of the southern African kingdom as a sovereign nation.

While the mountainous country with a mostly rural population of two million plans to hold elections in February, it has yet to shake the kind of concerns about military meddling in politics that have faded over the years in much of the region.

The simple round huts and herds of sheep dotting the rugged countryside belie Lesotho's critical importance as a source of highlands water for parched South Africa, an economic heavyweight in Africa whose borders envelop the kingdom.

Monumental engineering feats, including dams and tunnels, deliver that key resource from Lesotho, which has a proud narrative of independence but has sometimes been described derisively as another South African province.

On 30 August, soldiers converged on some police stations, a police officer was killed in a shootout, radio stations went off the air and Prime Minister Tom Thabane fled to South Africa, alleging he was the victim of a coup attempt. The military said it was acting on information that some police planned to arm political protesters.

Violent protests

South African security forces later escorted Thabane back to the capital, Maseru, where political factions agreed to hold elections in February, two years earlier than scheduled. Lesotho's governing coalition is still learning how to govern — a few months ago, ministers and lawmakers visited New Zealand to study its coalition, a style of government that is rare in Africa.

The country has been a labour pool for South Africa and has no viable economy of its own, while corruption is subverting the government and the army is destabilizing and unnecessary, columnist Utloang Kajeno wrote in the Lesotho Times newspaper.

The political and economic leverage of "big brother" South Africa gives it a vital role in shaping Lesotho's future, according to Kajeno.

"If South Africa does not help, we will forever remain that restive kingdom in its womb," the columnist said.

South Africa, however, has blundered in Lesotho. Some people are haunted by 1998, when violent protests and a military mutiny followed a disputed election and South African forces staged a chaotic intervention in which dozens were killed.

"They think the same thing might happen," said Stella Diedricks, deputy manager of the Mohale Lodge, a hotel reached over God Help Me Pass on a mountain road from Maseru that dips toward a dam with a 145m wall.

Vote of no-confidence

The hotel still hosts delegations from Lesotho's government, but visits from non-governmental organizations with international links have slowed since the recent unrest, Diedricks said.

The US State Department had instructed non-working family members of embassy staff to leave Lesotho, but later lifted that order. It noted the return of the Lesotho police to normal duty, but warned that control of the army remains unresolved.

Local commentators say Thabane, who suspended parliament in June to avoid a vote of no-confidence, had feuded with his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing. The police are said to have aligned with the prime minister; army units are believed to have sided with his deputy.

"There is someone, somewhere, who is not willing to compromise and that is hitting hard on us, the people," said Tello Moeketse, a project director at a development trust in Malealea, a village reached over a mountain pass called Gates of Paradise. Trust projects include Aids treatment and prevention in a country where about one-quarter of the population has the HIV virus, one of the highest ratios in the world.

Closer to Maseru, the 19th century hilltop redoubt of King Moshoeshoe draws busloads of schoolchildren who climb the craggy slope of Thaba Bosiu to learn about this early nation-builder for the Basotho people.

Yet a statue of Moshoeshoe in a new cultural village below the hill sits wrapped in a tarpaulin with one foot protruding, awaiting an unveiling ceremony. The throne's current incumbent, King Letsie III, has a ceremonial role in politics.

There is levity in Lesotho, though.

While uniformed South Africans with guns walked the halls, the Maseru Sun hotel recently threw a pool party for local residents. Children wolfed burgers and splashed and whooped in the sun. On another day, a comedian joked about the political unrest and, according to the Lesotho Times, audience members "laughed their lungs out."

Read more on:    tom thabane  |  sa  |  lesotho  |  southern africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.