Ramaphosa: Lesotho was a tough nut

2015-02-22 15:00

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Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has admitted that facilitating talks between different political parties in Lesotho after last year’s coup was more difficult than he thought it would be.

“I had not expected to spend so much time there,” Ramaphosa told City Press on the sidelines of a special summit by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) double troika extraordinary summit on Lesotho in Pretoria on Friday night.

“In Lesotho, it is very difficult to please everyone at the same time, but as long as we are doing the right thing for the current and future stability of the country, [it is worthwhile],” he said.

“Lesotho is not the easiest of places to do any mediation work. It is a small country – 2?million people. Everybody has an opinion, so you have to walk a very tight, narrow line. But in the end, they themselves have grasped the nettle and are proceeding with elections. That’s what’s important.”

The SADC confirmed the political and security situation in Lesotho would allow its citizens to go to the polls on Saturday, as planned.

This followed almost weekly mediation attempts and meetings by the SADC over the past month.

Ramaphosa said the SADC had emphasised the importance of focusing on Lesotho’s security and constitutional reforms after the elections.

This was part of a bid to ensure there would be no repeat of the coup attempt last August, when Prime Minister Tom Thabane fled to South Africa as soldiers and police officers exchanged fire.

Asked what he made of complaints that he had not paid enough attention to the security situation in Lesotho, Ramaphosa said these comments came from “a minority”.

President Jacob Zuma told journalists at a press conference on Friday night that 475 police officials sent by SADC member countries would help the Lesotho police keep the peace during the elections.

Security forces would be in the country until the end of next month.

“The police will be out there, waiting to come and assist [if there is an issue],” President Zuma said, adding that the Lesotho Defence Force would only be called in if there was “a necessity”.

The defence force would, however, “play a role in distributing ballot papers in mountainous areas, because they have that capacity”, President Zuma said.

He said the SADC summit didn’t discuss Friday’s court challenge brought by Attorney-General Tsokolo Makhethe against Thabane and King Letsie III, which saw supporters of the king come out to protest.

Court action against the king is unprecedented and judgment is expected next week after a hearing that lasted most of Friday.

The Lesotho Times reported that Makhethe was supported by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.

Metsing is from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, one of the parties that has made up part of the rocky coalition with Thabane’s All Basotho Convention party since the 2012 elections.

Final election rallies are expected to be held in Lesotho today, while special voting started yesterday.

Ramaphosa said: “I think there is a level of satisfaction in the sense that they are now going to elections. So, for me, that was the objective of the whole exercise. And the people of Lesotho are going to choose their own government and determine their own future. That’s what counts.”

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