Zuma leads talks on Lesotho political crisis
The SA government has warned that it will not tolerate an unconstitutional change of power in Lesotho.
JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma is currently meeting with the Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thaban e and his deputy following a coup attempt over the weekend that led to him fleeing to South Africa.
An urgent Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting was also held late last night and it's understood Zuma will attempt to return the mountain kingdom to its Constitution.
The South African government has warned that it will not tolerate an unconstitutional change of power but the South African National Defence Force has not yet been deployed there.
Nelson Kgwete, spokesperson for the Department for International Relations and Cooperation says, "The president is sitting with the prime minister and deputy prime minister of Lesotho in Pretoria. The objective of the meeting is to consider the political and security situation in Lesotho and to explore ways in which Lesotho can return to constitutional normality."
Thabane fled Lesotho for South Africa early on Saturday, hours before the army surrounded his residence and overran police stations in the capital Maseru, in what the prime minister called a coup by the military.
Lesotho's army denied seeking to oust Thabane, saying it moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the southern African nation. One policeman was shot dead and four others wounded.
The unrest stems from a power struggle between Thabane, who is supported by the police, and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who has the loyalty of the army, diplomats said.
Relations have been stormy between Thabane's All Basotho Convention party and Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) group, which formed a coalition with another party after elections in 2012.
Thabane dissolved Parliament in June to avoid a no-confidence vote against him amid feuding among the ruling parties. Metsing later said he would form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.
Thabane told Reuters on Saturday he had fired an army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But on Sunday Kamoli said he was still in charge of the military.
In Maseru, the atmosphere was quiet but tense on Monday after the police commissioner said soldiers had carried out further raids on police installations and even officers' homes, taking away weapons and uniforms.
Commissioner Khothatso Ts'ooana told Public Choice FM radio station that this meant police would not be able to carry out their normal duties. Police stations were deserted and some officers had fled over the border into South Africa.
The Southern African Development Community's defence and security troika, which includes officials from South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, met Thabane through the night to try to find a peaceful settlement to the crisis.
Thabane told Reuters on Saturday he had fired the army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But on Sunday, Kamoli said he was still in charge of the military.
Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people encircled by South Africa, has suffered a several coups since independence from Britain in 1966. At least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died during a political standoff and subsequent fighting in 1998, when Pretoria sent in troops.
Besides textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho's other big earner is hydropower and water, both of which it supplies to neighbour South Africa.
Lesotho's massive mountain ranges that have made it a favourite of trivia fans as "the world's highest country" - its lowest point is 1,380 metres above sea level.
LESOTHO RESIDENTS STILL ANXIOUS
Scores of people entering Lesotho at the Maseru border say they are still anxious about reports of an attempted military coup and political instability in the country.
The radio stations in Lesotho are back on air this afternoon after their signal was apparently terminated by the military on Saturday.
But there are no reports on the turbulence inside the country on Lesotho Radio which is continuing with normal programming.
Meanwhile, a mass anti-government demonstration planned by opposition parties for today has been cancelled.
ISS DOWNPLAYS SITUATION
The Institute for Security Studies's Dimpho Motsamai has downplayed the current unrest, opting instead to label the situation as the "flaring of rival activity between two government officials".
Asked if the situation could escalate and lead to violence, Motsamai said this pocket of insecurity can definitely escalate.
"I don't think it would reach the magnitude of nationwide military attacks. It would be very sporadic and concentrated in Maseru and very quick to be put out."
Motsamai said that the current situation could be labelled a subversion of authority.
She also said that Kamoli had gone on public record to undermine Thabane stating that he would not respect his authority.
"The current commander of the Lesotho Defence Force was appointed by the previous Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. So this bravado is because he believes that he has a lot of support from the Democratic Congress and the LCD and believes that he has a lot of power as a result."
She added that soldiers had not claimed intent to take over the government and were really only making a move to threaten Thabane in a grossly illegal way.