As police hunt for his wife in connection with the murder of his former spouse, Prime Minister Tom Thabane bows to pressure to step down
Lesotho’s Prime Minister Tom Thabane finally announced his resignation as head of government on Friday at State House, his official residence in Maseru.
For now, he remains the leader of his party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), pending a decision by party members on his future.
Thabane, who turns 81 in May, said he was retiring from politics because of his advancing age.
He traces his involvement in politics back to even before Lesotho gained independence from Britain in 1966.
His resignation came after massive pressure from opposition parties as well as ABC parliamentarians, who called for him to step down on the grounds of obstructing justice in a case relating to the murder of his estranged wife, Lipolelo, and allegedly involving his current wife, Maesiah.
In addition, Thabane was labelled “a threat to the nation” and was accused of having failed to deliver on his mandate.
Thabane appealed to his supporters remaining in power to work towards the welfare of the Basotho nation, saying: “You should put Lesotho and the Basotho first.”
He said the country remained mired in hunger and poverty.
Thanking those supporters who had stayed within the party despite internal strife, Thabane appealed to them to “do away with differences that have wreaked havoc in the party”.
“Please stop calling each other derogatory names,” he said.
Factional battles and power tussles have seen ABC members head to court for redress. “From now on, don’t ever go to the media if you have internal problems,” Thabane said.
Jeff Radebe, one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoys, led a delegation to Lesotho on Thursday.
Lesotho’s communications minister, Thesele Maseribane, said Radebe was in the country at the behest of Ramaphosa to assess the goings-on there following Thabane’s resignation.
Maseribane said that, before announcing his resignation, Thabane had informed Ramaphosa that he wanted to step down from active politics and that he was not resigning under duress.
Radebe said South Africa was ready to give Lesotho all the support it needed.
Meanwhile, ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa said the party would hold a special conference at the end of January, or early next month, to decide Thabane’s fate in the party.
Central to the grievances against him are claims that he has failed the state and there has been no rule of law under his leadership.
Before Thabane’s resignation, Mathibeli Mokhothu, leader of the opposition Democratic Congress party, spoke on behalf of all opposition parties in Parliament and said that, in light of unfolding events in Lesotho relating to the first lady’s alleged involvement in the murder of Thabane’s former wife, they saw no reason for Thabane to stay in power.
Mokhothu said they also wanted Parliament to reopen so that this “crisis” could be resolved as soon as possible.
He also cited dissatisfaction with police progress on murder cases, including high-profile ones such as the 2017 killings of both Lipolelo and Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motsomotso, Lesotho’s former defence force chief.
Lipolelo was brutally gunned down on the outskirts of Maseru, while Motsomotso was allegedly fatally shot by rival military officers.
Mokhothu also accused the courts of moving at a snail’s pace in dealing with the case against former army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli and eight other soldiers, who had spent almost three years behind bars awaiting trial.
“We want to see justice done about these cases, and done on time. We want to see progress on these cases,” Mokhothu said.
The ABC has been embroiled in internal skirmishes since its national executive committee elections, held in February last year, where a faction supported Thabane while another voted for Professor Nqosa Mahao.
Mahao serves as the party’s deputy leader.
Meanwhile, the first lady is on the run, after having failed to appear before police for questioning in connection with Lipolelo’s murder on January 10.
Deputy police commissioner Paseka Mokete said the court had issued a warrant of arrest for Maesiah.
He said police had raided State House, but she was nowhere to be found.
Mokete said it was difficult to conduct the raid at State House because of tight army security, adding that investigations into Maesiah’s whereabouts were ongoing.
Through her lawyer, Maesiah filed an urgent application in court to suspend the arrest warrant, but it was rejected earlier this week.
High Court Judge Tseliso Monaphathi said on Tuesday that he could not dispense justice to a fugitive.
He said Maesiah should appear before the court in person to enable him to make his ruling, adding that he could not dispense justice without knowing for certain that she was within the court’s jurisdiction.
He also wanted to be sure that it was Maesiah who had signed the affidavit to suspend the arrest warrant and authorised the legal proceedings.