SADC has sent a mediator to Lesotho following the killing of a former army chief which has aroused regional concerns. Tensions are still running high following an attempted coup and subsequent elections.
South Africa has sent its deputy president to Lesotho to try to stop a looming political crisis amid mounting concern over deteriorating security in the mountain kingdom. Six months ago, the country held early national elections, following an attempted coup. The elections were won by the party of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili who, immediately after taking office, fired army commander Maaparankoe Mahao and re-appointed Tlali Kamoli as army chief. Kamoli had previously been fired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who accused him of being behind the attempted coup.
Soon after Kamoli's re-appointment, several soldiers - including bodyguards of former Prime Minister Thabane - were arrested and allegedly tortured following allegations that they were conniving with former army chief Mahao and former police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana to overthrow the government.
Thabane and two other opposition leaders then fled the country, claiming they had been tipped off about plots to kill them. Last week Mahao was shot and killed by members of the Lesotho Defence Force while driving from his farm.
Thabane, who is now in South Africa, says this is an indication that the situation is out of control. He accuses Lesotho's Prime Minister Mosisili of turning a blind eye to what is going on.
Regional mediation efforts
The regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) is now seeking to de-escalate the tensions. South African President Jacob Zuma, who is the current chair of the SADC Troika on Defense and Politics, sent a fact-finding mission to Lesotho last week, led by South African Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Ngqakula. Now the SADC mediator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, has also gone to the tiny country which is entirely surrounded by South Africa.
Ramaphosa's spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa says the regional body is deeply concerned. "President Zuma has reiterated the need for all stakeholders in the kingdom of Lesotho to resolve their political differences only through legal and peaceful processes and further reiterated a pressing need to expedite the process of establishing institutional and security reforms," Mamoepa said.
Mamoepa says an envoy will soon be sent to SADC chairman, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, to brief him on the situation on the ground and make a call for action.
South Africa's objectivity questioned
Dimpho Motsamai of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told DW that the killing of Mahao took place "in an already politically charged and polarized environment in terms of the relationship between the government and the opposition." Motsamai said Mahao's family had released a statement addressed to international bodies, including the Commonwealth, United Nations, African Union and SADC, challenging the government's version of events. The family says it was a political assassination, orchestrated by reinstated army chief Kamoli. The government disputes this, saying Mahao's death occurred during a military operation that went wrong.
"The ball is now in the court of SADC and the international community on how to support objective and independent investigations into developments," Motsamai said, adding that South Africa was not generally regarded as fulfilling that requirement. Not least because of an agreement under which South Africa receives water from Lesotho and, in return, is supposed to make investments enabling Lesotho to develop its hydroelectric capability. However, Motsamai says the opposition in Lesotho claims South Africa is paying "only peanuts" for the water it receives, with the result that Lesotho remains dependent on South Africa for its electricity. Lesotho provides 90 percent of the water supply to the city of Johannesburg.
Lesotho has a long history of political unrest. The country of two million people has experienced coups, changes of kings and assassination attempts against politicians since independence from Britain in 1966.
Thuso Khumalo contributed to this article