Zuma seen as key to halting Lesotho crisis

TWO days after an apparent military coup, it is unclear who is in charge in Lesotho, as the prime minister remains in exile and his deputy is allegedly also in South Africa.

This comes as the police appear to have deserted the capital city, Maseru, as they fear for their lives following an attack on their headquarters.

Last night, an official said he did not know who had the reins of power in Lesotho.

“All I can confirm is that the outcome of the crisis will be determined by President [Jacob] Zuma,” said the official, who did not want to be named.

Lesotho’s power vacuum began on Saturday when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled to South Africa, as soldiers from the Lesotho Defence Force stormed Maseru central police station, police headquarters and the Ha-Mabote police station. They confiscated weapons.

Shuttle diplomacy appeared to be under way yesterday, but who was meeting whom was unclear. Deputy Prime Minister Mothejoa Metsing said he had left for talks in Pretoria.

“It is through the invitation of the South African president who currently heads regional bloc the Southern African Development Community’s security committee,” Metsing said.

Also in South Africa, according to the official, is Lesotho Public Service Minister Motloheloa Phooko who, in the absence of the prime minister and his deputy, is supposed to take charge.

Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, referred all inquiries to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.

Its spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said he was unaware of such a meeting but that the foreign ministers of three SADC members – South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia – were to take part in emergency talks in Pretoria last night to discuss the situation in Lesotho.

But a South African diplomat confirmed that the Lesotho prime minister and his deputy were meeting Zuma last night.

The crisis was sparked when soldiers aligned to recently fired Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, who was sacked on Friday by Thabane, raided police stations.

District police commissioner Mofokeng Kolo said one officer had died in the attack.

The prime minister has said that Kamoli and his partners, mainly from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, were against him because of his anticorruption stance.

Kamoli’s supporters are also accused of being behind the attempted assassination of his replacement, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, on Saturday morning.

Shortly before dawn, Mahao’s home on the outskirts of Maseru was sprayed repeatedly with gunfire, as he, his wife and three sons, aged five to 15, were in the house.

“At around four o’clock, I heard some gunshots,” Mahao’s wife, Mamphanya.

“The gunshots went on for about 30 minutes,” she said, after which her husband fled. The family dog was killed.

However, the army has denied the coup allegations, saying they disarmed police following intelligence that police were arranging to arm some of the political sides in Lesotho.

Police headquarters in Maseru was still abandoned and most officers remained in hiding yesterday.

Amid the political turmoil, Maseru’s residents stocked up on food and basic necessities.

“We are not afraid of today – we are just afraid of tomorrow,” Mphasa Chonela said. – Rea Khoabane, Shaun Smillie, Lindile Sifile, AFP

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