'I don't kill people' - Lesotho PM Thomas Thabane ready to step down, but denies killing wife


Johannesburg – On the cusp of stepping down, Lesotho's embattled prime minister has denied in an interview with AFP any role in the murder of his estranged wife, a drama that has gripped the tiny kingdom for months.

The octogenarian Thomas Thabane has been under pressure even from his own party to resign over the accusations, and he has agreed to go – but only on the grounds of his old age.

In a telephone interview with AFP, Thabane vehemently denied he was involved in the 2017 killing of his 58-year-old wife Lipolelo, who he was in the process of divorcing.

Police have questioned but not charged Thabane in the case, which has triggered a protracted political crisis in the mountainous southern African nation, although his current wife has been indicted.

"For me it is not the best subject to deal with because a woman who was my wife and who I loved was killed and I don't kill people and I wouldn't kill my wife. No, no!" he said.

'Very painful'

The couple had been locked in a bitter divorce at the time and her death sent shockwaves through a country with a history of political instability.

Thabane admitted that they had "a bit of a disagreement" just before she was killed – two days before his inauguration.

"This matter is not only a matter of great pain to me and it came out as a huge embarrassment. And it's painful, very painful," he said.

His political rivals say he has been seeking immunity from prosecution as part of a "dignified" exit from office that has been mediated by South Africa.

Sounding relaxed and contemplative in the interview, the two-time prime minister said he did not want to serve out his term which is due to end in 2022.

"I have served enough in this...and other capacities and the time has come for me to retire," said Thabane, who turns 81 in two weeks' time.

"All I look forward to...is for me to be left alone," he said.

"All the other things that are being said are just nonsense.

"I don't want to worry my heart about that and I also don't want to spoil my happiness by delving into things that just make me feel very sad."

New coalition emerging

In January, he set himself a target to leave office by 31 July as the murder accusations swirled.

But rivals in his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party and outside have been pushing for his early departure.

Mediation talks led by South Africa, and legal and parliamentary processes, culminated in the disbanding of his fractured coalition government on Monday.

Speaking in his first interview following the coalition collapse, Thabane sounded buoyant.

"A new coalition is emerging and it is a good thing," he said.

He refused to give the exact date that he plans to clear his desk and hand over the reins, saying there were still some loose ends to be to tied up – to make his retirement "as smooth as possible".

But he said he intended to turn in his resignation letter to the king on Wednesday.

Parliament is due to meet on 22 May to appoint his successor and install a new government.

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, 58, has been nominated to be the new premier.

'I'm trying to set a precedent'

The saga has also sucked in his new wife Maesaiah, 43, whom he married two months after the killing and who has been charged with murder.

"How they involve her in this, I don't know, I don't understand. All that rubbish they have been collecting to try and involve her, is not working," Thabane said.

Thabane's time in office had brought hopes of stability to Lesotho.

He first came to power in 2012 as the head of the country's first coalition government, formed after an inconclusive vote.

But his second term was rocked by Lipolelo's murder.

While no premier has served out a full five-year term in Lesotho, Thabane boasted that he has set an example to fellow African leaders who have the propensity to cling to power.

"I'm trying to set a precedent that leaders in Africa must volunteer to leave when they think it's time to leave or at the very worst, they must leave when their term ends."

Besides writing a book about his life, and going back to reading the plays of William Shakespeare that he studied at university, Thabane says he wants to serve as lay minister in his evangelical church.

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