Addressing hundreds of crowds gathered in St. Peter’ square for the Angelus, Sunday 7 September, Pope Francis has made two passionate pleas for peace in Lesotho and Ukraine.
Referring to Lesotho, Pope Francis said, “I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Lesotho, who have appealed for peace in that country. I condemn all acts of violence and ask that the Lord will restore to the Kingdom of Lesotho peace that is (rooted) in justice and fraternity”.
On Thursday the Lesotho Times, reported that the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference (LCBC) had called for peaceful dialogue between the country’s feuding parties and also urged the international community to ensure that stability returns to the troubled kingdom.
Addressing a media conference in the capital, Maseru, Lesotho’s Bishop Augustinus Tumaole Bane, the Bishop of Leribe, spoke on behalf of his brother-Bishops and urged political parties in government as well as the security agencies to resolve their differences without resorting to violence, emphasising the need to exercise “restraint” in their actions. At the media conference, Bishop Bane, was flanked by Bishop Joseph Mopeli Sephamola, Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi, Archbishop Emeritus Bernard Mohlalisi, Bishop Emeritus Sebastian Khoarai, and Bishop John Tlhomola.
Lesotho is a small Southern African mountain kingdom of just 2 million people. It is completely surrounded by South Africa. It gained independence from Britain in 1966.
The recent troubles in Lesotho started, early Saturday morning on 30 August, when Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane escaped across the border into South Africa saying he feared for his life. In the early hours of that Saturday, the Lesotho military seized control of the kingdom’s central police station and jammed radio stations and phones. Some shots were fired and one person was killed in the clashes. AFP reported then that the military denied trying to stage a coup. They insisted that they raided police offices to get weapons they believed would have been given to “political fanatics”.
Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane returned to Maseru, on Tuesday, this week, after South African President Jacob Zuma and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervened. Zuma who Chairs SADC’s fifteen member-countries’ organ on Politics and Defence convened an urgent meeting in Pretoria. After the meeting ended, SADC ordered Prime Minister Thabane to return to Lesotho while the regional group pledged immediate peaceful intervention and support.
Before all the dramatic events of the last two weeks, Lesotho was already in a tense atmosphere which culminated in Prime Minister Thabane asking the Army chief, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, to step down and relinquish command. According to AFP, soon after that order, the military attacked police stations and Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao who was to be Kamoli’s successor (appointed by the Prime Minister) was the target of an attempted assassination. He too fled Lesotho.
Pope Francis’ appeal coincides with new information coming out of Lesotho that the renegade Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who has refused to step down as the commander of the Lesotho’s military has taken control of Lesotho’s state armouries and maybe preparing for a stand-off, a violent confrontation or even civil war.
Lesotho’s military is said to be loyal to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, who leads the Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, a partner in Lesotho’s coalition government. The police are instead widely regarded as close to the embattled Prime Minister, Thabane.
When things came to a head, national police commissioner Khothatso T’soana is said to have been investigating corruption charges involving the Deputy Prime Minister, Metsing. The latter believes the investigation is a political witch-hunt by the country’s police. As a result, Metsing is said to have declared that he could not be arrested because he was protected by the military.
In June this year, the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane managed to convince Lesotho’s King Letsie III to shut down parliament. It is alleged that he had learnt of a plot by the opposition, led by his deputy, Metsing to bring to parliament a vote of no confidence against him.
Political observers are weary of the military’s involvement in Lesotho’s political affairs. They think this is a great source of destabilisation and a recipe for civil strife. Similarly, they urge Lesotho’s politicians to learn to respect state institutions and not manipulate them for narrow personal and political interests.
At the recent media conference, the Bishops of Lesotho lamented the current state of anarchy and lawlessness resulting from the shutting down of police services, the judiciary and other public services. The Bishops have called for calm. “We call upon all the parties to respect their commitment to work together to restore security and political stability in the Kingdom.”
It is hoped that Pope Francis’s appeal and that of the Bishops of Lesotho will find a listening ear among Lesotho’s politicians and security agencies. In the words of the Bishops, “lasting peace is still possible, only if justice is done to the legitimate concerns and expectations of all the parties involved”.