Lesotho prime minister digs in his heels

Tom Thabane seems to be reneging on an agreement with South Africa that he would quit this week.

Embattled Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane has given notice that he’s not ready to resign immediately, despite giving that impression to South African mediators, headed by ex-Cabinet minister Jeff Radebe.

The South African mediators say all the main Lesotho political and civic leaders agreed at a meeting with them on Monday that 80-year-old Thabane would step down by Friday this week, after the enactment of necessary legislation. 

But Thabane told the Lesotho Times in an interview on Wednesday 22 April that people “that I don’t report to” had no right to push him into retirement. His retirement was a domestic issue that would be discussed and decided by him and his children when the time was right, he said. 

That seemed to be a dig at Radebe, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoy to Lesotho, who on Monday announced that various stakeholders including Thabane’s own ABC party, his governing coalition partners, opposition parties, churches and civic organisations had unanimously agreed that Thabane should be allowed a “dignified, graceful and secure” retirement from office.

Though the agreement signed by Radebe and Lesotho Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki did not give a timeline, a source close to the mediation told Daily Maverick that all those in the meeting had agreed Thabane should step down by Friday this week (24 April).

They said the agreement was that the Senate would meet on Thursday to pass an enabling constitutional amendment already passed by the National Assembly. The legislation would then go to King Letsie III to be signed into law – “and Thabane would step down.”

The legislation would bridge a gap in the constitution by providing for a prime minister who retired, resigned or died in office to be replaced without Parliament being dissolved and new elections being called.  Thabane has threatened to dissolve Parliament if it adopts a vote of no confidence in him. 

Radebe’s team visited Lesotho on Sunday and Monday to defuse the latest crisis in the troubled mountain kingdom. This one had been provoked by Thabane ordering the army to deploy on Saturday to restore law and order and to take action against individuals and institutions which he said were undermining the rule of law, his government and democracy.

His move was seen by some as an attempt to preempt the democratic process as Parliament was expected to meet on Monday when a new majority coalition formed by defectors from the governing coalition and the opposition was likely to vote him out of office.

Thabane told his ABC party earlier this year that he would retire from office in July. He agreed to do so under considerable pressure from the ABC which had become exasperated by the scandals surrounding Thabane. Most involved his current wife, Maesiah, who had annoyed government ministers and the ABC by meddling in government and politics.

The final straw was when she was formally charged in February for involvement in the murder of Thabane’s divorced first wife, Lipolelo, in 2017 and then police let it be known they intended also charging Thabane in the murder. 

Thabane’s political opponents told the Lesotho Times on Wednesday that if Thabane did not quit this week, they would oust him by passing a vote of no confidence in him. DM


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