SACBC LESOTHO SOLIDARITY VISIT
28th -30th September 2015 DOWNLOAD>>
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has been very concerned with the happenings that have been taking place in Lesotho for some time. In their August 2015 plenary session, three bishops from Lesotho were invited to present the current situation in Lesotho. The Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference (LCBC) painted a picture of a troubled state which has the military and at times police commanders who show allegiances to individual politicians and not to the state. As the most powerful (politicians and army) have their public spats, the ordinary Basotho are the ones who end up suffering the most. A statement was then issued by the SACBC at the end of their plenary.
The SACBC then resolved at the invitation of the LCBC to pay a solidarity visit to Lesotho so that they can physically express their solidarity with the Church and the people of Lesotho. A delegation comprising Archbishop Nxumalo OMI (Bloemfontein), Bishop Valentine Seane (Gaborone Diocese), Bishop Xolelo T. Kumalo (Eshowe), Sr. Hermenigild Makoro CPS (SACBC Secretary General), Fr. S’milo Mngadi (SACBC Communication) and Danisa Khumalo (Denis Hurley Peace Institute) visited Lesotho on the 28th – 30th September 2015.
In their solidarity visit to Maseru, the SACBC were addressed by the Archbishop of Maseru: Archbishop Tlali OMI, who expressed joy that the neighbouring Conference has always shown concern to its neighbours (Lesotho). Archbishop Tladi underlined that the visit was a lived expression of the principle of solidarity. “The family that prays together, stays together and it is that family that stays together that shows solidarity, said Archbishop Tladi. He also pointed out that in life, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together .”
The Justice and Peace Department gave a briefing on the political situation and they pointed out that “Lesotho’s problem with the military and civilians started as far back as 1965.” A historical synthesis was presented to show that there has been a legacy of military and political conflicts. The recent killing of L. G. Maaparankoe Mahao on the 25th June, 2015 brought the Lesotho problems to the fore. More than 50 army officials were arrested but only 23 are being charged with mutiny. They are being kept at the Maximum prison of Maseru. The wives and children of these officials have been traumatised by this experience.
The LCBC has issued a statement condemning the status quo. The Justice and Peace Department reminded all present that mutiny in Lesotho is a serious offence punishable by the death penalty.
The international community was exerting pressure on the Lesotho government especially by threatening not to renew the AGOA agreement.
In the discussion that followed, it was acknowledged that the current situation had polarised the church in Lesotho. Archbishop Nxumalo pointed out that dialogue was essential in resolving any conflict and both sides need to be encouraged to come to the table and start having dialogue so as to solve their problems.
One of the panelists pointed out that Lesotho had developed a “post-election conflict syndrome. We need to break that chain and dialogue is needed.” Archbishop Tladi as the leader of Lesotho Council of Churches informed the delegation that the Council of churches in Lesotho had tried to coordinate the dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition. Not much progress has been achieved by this intervention.
The delegation went to visit the detained soldiers in Maseru Maximum prison. After some lengthy negotiation while the prison security was seeking verification, the delegation, including the LCBC team, were allowed access to the detained soldiers. At the entrance to the prison, the delegation was joined by the Lesotho Broadcasting Corporation. Inside the prison, we were led by Archbishop Tlali and Bishop Valentine Seane gave words of solidarity and encouragement. There were 21 soldiers ranking from private to that of Brigadier General. The detained soldiers also responded by giving words of appreciation for the visit and for the church’s acknowledgment of their existence and for taking time to come and visit them. The soldier who spoke on behalf of the others said that they wish to have their day when they can explain their side of the story and that they did not belong in prison. During all this, tears were shed both by the detained soldiers and one or two members of our delegation.
The delegation then met with the members of the opposition parties: Joang Molapo (Deputy BNP), Mr. Letuka (BNP), Mr. Motlohelda Phooko (RCL (Deputy) Mrs Mamolwa Ntabe (RCL) and Mrs Maremi (BNP). The members of the opposition stated that they had accepted defeat in the elections that were held on 21 February, 2015 and had peacefully handed over power to the new government. The new government after taking over, appointed a new army Commander who in turn pointed out that there was a mutiny which dates back to August 2014. Most of those who were accused of committing mutiny were later arrested. As the situation deteriorated especially after the death of Army Commander Mahao, the opposition left parliament in protest on the 26th May, 2015. “We felt that this was an issue of significant importance. We intend to boycott parliament until the army is contained” said Mr. Molapo.
The opposition parties think that Lesotho needs to address more issues such as poverty, hunger and joblessness. Some of the leaders of the opposition such as Mr Thabane are currently in exile in South Africa. The opposition members also expressed their sadness concerning the way some members of the military were behaving towards the commission of inquiry that has been set up by SADC to investigate what was happening in Lesotho.
A meeting was held with the Mahao Family. Four members of the family participated, led by the brother of the late Lieutenant General Mahao. They expressed their sadness and dismay as the family that has been affected in the most direct and fatal way. The brother said that “we knew it was coming and we expected it. From January 2014, onwards, Lt. Gen. Mahao was literally living in the shadow of death.” The Mahao family often had to be evacuated from their house as the threats increased, although Lt. Gen. Mahao would refuse to leave his house. The brother of pointed out that they had not received any information on who was involved and what will happen as no one has been arrested since the incident occurred.
A meeting was held with the wives of the detained soldiers and a sharing of experience took place in the Cathedral in Maseru. Two women stood to share the experience that their husbands had undergone. They pointed out that their husbands had been tortured and ill- treated. For their part, they had suffered mental, physical and psychological pain. Their children had also been affected by this ordeal. Sr. Hermenegild spoke words of comfort to the weeping women and the bishops also laid their hands and prayed for the women who are going through a difficult moment in their lives.
The two Bishops’ Conferences joined to celebrate the Holy mass at the end of the day, praying for peace.
On the next day, the delegation went to pay a courtesy visit to King Letsie III at his palace. Archbishop Nxumalo presented the intention of our solidarity visit to the King who was very cordial. Archbishop Nxumalo reemphasised the issue that Basotho need to dialogue among themselves and put the interests of the country and its citizens at the centre. He also pointed out that from our visit and what we had heard, it seems to be a small pocket of people that is destabilizing Lesotho.
The King expressed concern at the present situation and pointed out the need to have Basotho who are in exile such as Ntate Thabane to come back so that issues can be discussed. He pointed out that Ntate Thabane has almost half of the electorate supporting him and is thus a stakeholder who needs to be included in any discussion that maps a way forward for Lesotho. The delegation also expressed another concern that was pivotal, namely the meeting of the delegation with that Prime Minister and his Deputy who, unfortunately, on the day of the solidarity visit, were attending the United Nations Conference in New York.
Report by: Danisa Khumalo
Director: Denis Hurley Peace Institute