Birthday parties by themselves tend to bring excitement to both the host and the guests. Speeches in such occasions come a bit early in order to ensure that what is consumed does not colour their content. I suspect that in Metsing’s birthday party in Ladybrand, South Africa, the speeches came much later thus making it difficult for us to judge whether it was influenced by what was consumed. This is so because, Metsing is a former Deputy Prime Minister; he is also in self-imposed exile which would necessitate avoiding incendiary remarks about his country in his hosting country. Contrary to expectations he went full speed to incite an uprising in Lesotho.
The circumstances around which Metsing made his speech are unique and need to be examined in order to understand why they were made. More importantly, it is crucial also to clarify what he says; and in plain English explain what he meant. One of Metsing’s lieutenants apparently refused to comment on the speech by obfuscating that “Sesotho has se tolokoe”, meaning that what was said in Sesotho needs no clarification. That may be so, but using Sesotho to Basotho speaking audience with forked tongues does not hide what one is saying. It actually helps in deciphering the evil intent in the speech.
It is clear therefore that Metsing’s speech a week ago was meant to disrupt peace and tranquillity in Lesotho. It was also a response to several body blows he had suffered in recent days in both his party and the entourage of others from allied political parties who had hitherto listened and acted on his instructions. His reactions are directly related to the on-going political realignment of political forces in Lesotho. He was bound to react with anger and threats.
Disintegration of grant alliance of opposition forces
From 1998 national elections to the latest ones in 2017 there has been a steady decline in support of the dominant Congress movement which had in 1993 won all parliamentary seats in Lesotho. With splits and defections, those who stuck to the earlier dominant party found themselves being abandoned by the voters until the 2012 elections where they could not form a government on their own. Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) managed to stay in power as a junior partner to the All Basotho Convention (ABC). When that coalition broke down, a campaign to bring together the different factions of the congress movement to form a government was launched. The campaign was successful in cobbling together a seven party coalition government led by the Democratic Congress but with Metsing as a key member who was reputed to have been a de facto Prime Minister with the support of the then Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force, Lt. General Kamoli.
The continued splinter of the DC and the LCD within the coalition where two other parties emerged from their womb brought down the grant coalition after a vote of no confidence and subsequent elections where the LCD was decimated despite borrowing votes from DC which did not stand in twenty five constituencies where LCD stood. All the adherents of the congress movement were swept into opposition for the first time since 1993. In disarray and facing criminal charges, Metsing and his deputy, together with the Deputy Leader of the DC went into self-imposed exile claiming that they feared for their lives. Needless to say that Metsing’s deputy went into self-imposed exile after being given bail after a charge of murder had been preferred against him. His bail conditions are interesting for someone in exile. He was instructed to report himself to the police on a monthly basis and he has complied. The solidarity of Mokhothu, of the DC and Mokhosi of the LCD was absolutely crucial for Metsing’s campaign internationally that Lesotho is going through a reign of terror. For those of us who have been in Lesotho since 2015 when hooded men roamed the streets; when abductions and torture reigned supreme; and when murder was the preferred mode of silencing opponents under Metsing’s watch we always wonder why reality is being inverted by the likes of Metsing.
Two developments may account for Metsing’s vitriol in his latest speech on his birthday. Developments within the broader opposition and also in his party indicate more fracture of the opposition and also loosening of the grip Metsing has had on the LCD. Briefly these are the indicators:
a) Since the 2017 elections, two Members of Parliament from the DC have defected to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) whose leader is Deputy Prime Minister. Indications are that several others are likely to follow. This in itself indicates that the opposition which Metsing has been its ideological leader is weakening. But more significant, was the return from self-imposed exile of Mokhothu whom I always believed was just a “hostage “of Metsing’s politics. He returned (02/03/2018) in spite of the thirteen point conditions Metsing had put to then South African President Zuma as Chairperson of SADC as the preconditions for the return of the three leaders from exile. Mokhothu returned without any of those being met and in his speech to his supporters at the Maseru border he mentioned none of those and since his return he has been anonymous and did not go to Metsing’s jamboree in Landybrand .He probably realised that his self-imposed exile was futile.
b) Within his own party, Metsing does not seem to have as firm a grip as he used to. In spite of his vehement protestations that he would not engage in any reforms related processes unless his conditions are met, his political party has always been in attendance in meetings arranged to deal with the reforms. It took Metsing in Ladybrand to scold them that they found an excuse to walk out of the latest meeting with other political leaders. But more interesting is the fact that he had a veiled threat to those like Mamello Morrisson who represented LCD in meetings with some organ of SADC who had revealed that the abandonment of the cases involving Kamoli and others which SADC had said should go ahead was not on the cards. He accused them of being soft and that Kamoli’s case is top of the lists of his supporters who should be released from prison. What Metsing is slowly beginning to realise is that his grip is loosening and threats to both those in the party who are cooperating on the reforms process and those in government who don’t accept his diktat are logical. He promises mayhem!
In this context then what are Metsing’s demands and what does his programme of action entail? Specifically what does he see as the future of Lesotho if his demands are not accepted?
Metsing’s key demands and their implications
In his thirty five pages document to President Zuma he outlined in detail his key demands for returning to Lesotho. In retrospect, I wonder whether Zuma was not amazed that a person should put so many conditions to return to his country. In an accompanying letter Metsing put thirteen conditions for returning to Lesotho. In his birthday speech he mentioned those two documents, but provided highlights to those which he believes are on top of the list. They are the following:
1) “Politically inspired charges” must be withdrawn against all his supporters until the reforms have been completed;
2) A Commission of Inquiry should be appointed to investigate the deaths of both Lt. General Motšomotšo, Sechele and Hashatsi;
3) Both the dismissal of National Security agents and the reversal of police promotions which were effected a day after the 2017 elections be cancelled;
4) A Truth and Reconciliation Commission be established’[
5) The continued detention of Kamoli awaiting trial should be done away with;
6) A Government of National Unity should be formed’
The overall theme of the above is that the rule of law should be suspended on the crimes committed during his vengeful two and half years rule swept under the carpet. Putting aside all the verbiage two things emerge from the above.
a) Kamoli and those of his accomplices in the military, intelligence service and the police should be released as a precursor to his return from self-imposed exile into government under the auspices of a Government of National Unity. He would then feel secure enough with his old security detail restored to be in Maseru negotiating nothing since he will have achieved his objectives of saving his erstwhile allies and would be in government;
b) His erstwhile intentions of wiping off the crimes committed during his vindictive rule under the General Amnesty Bill would be achieved through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It must be noted that Metsing denies the existence of atrocities and killings and consequently says nothing about the victims. Victims of his rule cried during his rule and he wants them to continue to cry in the present era where he lost elections. This is his type of justice.
It is not only about what Metsing was saying, but how he said it which is significant. After boasting about his connections with ruling parties in Botswana, China and South Africa where he can seek help if his demands are not acceded to, Metsing then went on to threaten that he would bring about mayhem and Lesotho would be destroyed in the process. A literal translation which does not fully capture the essence of his speech in Sesotho says:
We will not always cry. The LCD supporters will not continue to cry when I am still their leader or be expected to just keep quiet. Our request is that the other parties must work with us to normalise the situation and we have told SADC that a peaceful and stable path is the only one for Lesotho because the other one will reduce Lesotho to nothing.
The situation was the same when Ntate Ntsu Mokhehle went into the bush in the 1970s to challenge the-then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan and came back with fighting sticks.
For those of us who lived through that period which Metsing refers to as coming back with “fighting sticks “, “melamu” in this context was not “fighting sticks” it was about an apartheid regime supported group called the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) which planted bombs and engaged in assassinations of political opponents. Amongst the prominent victims mention can be made of the late Matete Majara, Rampeta and Chakela. It is a truly treasonous statement which should not be confused with a drunken statement in a birthday party. What Metsing is saying in clear Sesotho is to incite an uprising and hopes that he can enlist in the support of his friends around the world.to mount his challenge. The fact than he is delusional in the extreme does not lesson his culpability. In his words, Metsing argues:
We have friends all over the world- political parties that are governing in their countries and we can ask for their assistance. For example, we are friends with the governing parties in Botswana and China. We are also members of the Socialist Initiative with many others like the African National Congress of South Africa.
His delusional pronouncement was an echo of an earlier statement by a member of Metsing’s crew, Lekhetho Rakuoane, who was a member of the previous coalition under Prime Minister Mosisili. Rakuoane argued that the ascendance of Cyril Ramaphosa as President of South Africa is a source of their optimism that their demands will be acceded to. He referred to his trips to Angola, Botswana and Namibia as a sign that they will win their tussle against the present coalition government. Unfortunately, both Rakuoane and Metsing are likely going to be disappointed. The world is unlikely to accept impunity as a way in which Lesotho’s progress will be judged.
Putting thirteen demands to political opponents is acceptable as part of the political process, but threatening an insurrection is totally out of bounds in civilised polities. Metsing has crossed the line and it is now time to tell him so. It is also time for those in Lesotho and outside to take their responsibilities seriously that Metsing should not be afforded an opportunity to plot an insurrection from their territory. We know what South Africa has done to one of the South Sudan leaders who went there for medical treatment but was later not allowed to leave to the theatre of war in his country. Metsing should be treated so as well. He has not been accorded asylum but a mere guest. A guest should not be accorded rights to disrupt peace in his country.
I have long argued that the rule of law should always be adhered to since without that, we may find ourselves engaging in self-help. Imagine, what would happen if all those suspects who killed people while they were in the army or police are released and now no longer command the army and the police. Those they used to hunt and torture are now in the Command of the army. Their children and spouses continue to suffer the effects of their separation from their parents by those who are now facing trial. Does it not appear to Metsing and his cohorts that the victims could conceivably seek revenge which would also lead them to be charged? This chain can only be broken by letting the law take its course. As for for Metsing’s hunger to be part of the government through the agency of the GNU, let him be reminded that democratic government is not a hereditary system where he will always be in. It is only by the will of the people who have now rejected him that he can get to power.
Let the rights of the victims trump those of the perpetrators!