Zuma: SADC wants Lesotho elections on track

2015-02-09 17:20

President Jacob Zuma said the Lesotho elections have to happen as scheduled at the end of the month so that the troubled country can move on.

Zuma also said Lesotho is a “small” but “very complex” country, and “there are issues which at times you don’t understand” in the country.

He made these remarks to editors and journalists at a lunch hosted for them at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria yesterday, ahead of today’s meeting between SADC and Lesotho leaders.

Zuma was set to meet Lesotho government leaders in Pretoria today as the chair of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security cooperation to receive a brief on that country’s final preparation for that country’s elections on February 28.

Zuma said the SADC meeting was “on how to move forward on the difficulties that have come”, with reference to renewed conflict in Lesotho last week.

He said SADC wanted the Lesotho elections to take place “so that there is a clear government, whether it is coalition or clear winning. We want to pass through this stage”.

The SADC meeting comes amidst reports of Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane complaining about Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s mediation in the country’s crisis following a violent coup attempt on Thabane last year.

Zuma said Ramaphosa, who is mediating between the conflicting parties in Lesotho, was “dealing with these issues [in Lesotho] very seriously”.

But Independent Newspapers today reported that Thabane was unhappy about what he described as Ramaphosa’s “lacklustre” handling of security issues, and he was set to raise it at today’s SADC meeting. Ramphosa had reportedly said in his report to SADC that the security situation was perfect, while Thabane’s supporters claimed it was not because the army continued to defy the civilian authority.

There was, however, a shoot-out in the Lesotho capital Maseru last week that saw two of Thabane’s bodyguards injured.

At a briefing in Pretoria, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane  said she had heard “rumours” about unhappiness with the mediation, but “we have not received any formal communication about any sector or any political party having reservations” about Zuma or Ramaphosa’s work.

“We have full confidence in the work that our deputy president has undertaken in Lesotho on behalf of and as mandated by President Zuma, and the organ and leadership of SADC,” she said.

Zuma said yesterday: “Lesotho is a very complex country, small as it is.”

He said he only realised this only once South Africa was called in to help deal with the issue.

“You can go there thinking that in a few hours I [will be] gone, and you are held up there for many hours. One time I went there going to Cape Town — it was just a stop and meet people and move,” he said, referring to a meeting he had with leaders in Maseru at the end of July last year, about a month before the coup attempt.

“I had to drive later because the airport, the lights, were not there. I had to drive to catch a flight in Bloemfontein. I had been sitting there discussing the issues,” he said. Beeld reported at the time that Zuma had to drive to Bloemfontein because the Maseru airport didn't have runway lights and couldn’t operate after dark. Zuma was delayed in Bloemfontein after landing at 6pm because the 11-hour shifts of the pilots had expired and they were not allowed to fly.

“The country is small but it talks very big. There are issues, which at times you don’t understand what these issues are, but the issues are just there,” said Zuma.

“What we’ve come to now, there are some incidents which are deliberately provoked to create a particular situation. We are dealing with that. What has happened in Lesotho, perhaps it is after a long time that we have had a party that wins with a very big margin. Being a small country, the margins are very small.

“Generally not one party can rule, it just happens, so the question of coalitions becomes the issue. So it is a question of how people play around with coalitions ... coalitions are done for many reasons. It is clear that some people are really trying to cause some tension hence a few days ago there were reports of some little shootings here and there. We will be discussing [this] with the leaders, particularly the three leaders who are in the same coalition, because they are in the same coalition but they don’t go along, they don’t want to part ways and they don’t want to work together. It’s just quite something.”

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