Southern Africa Report
SAR, Vol 14 No 1, December 1998
"Lesotho - Update"
CURRENT MOMENT IN MASERU
BY TSEBO MATS'ASA
Tsebo Mats'asa is Lesotho correspondent for Africa Information Afrique
In the aftermath of the storming of Maseru in September by South African and Batswanan soldiers under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) banner, Lesotho ponders its options and assesses the damages.
Business has almost come to a standstill after angry civilians, in reaction to the military intervention - which they describe as an invasion - looted and burnt shops and offices.
South Africa has already made it clear that it will not be responsible for the damage in Maseru, which is estimated to be almost US$1 million. South African Safety and Security Minister Sydney Mufamadi says the Basotho have to take responsibility for the burning of their capital.
More than 2,000 people have been rendered jobless. This, combined with the on-going massive retrenchment from the South African mining industry, and the estimated military cost of about US$200,000 a day that Lesotho spent during the military intervention has intensified poverty.
Before the SADC `intervention' 58 percent of the country's population was classified as living below the poverty datum line.
Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa and has traditionally provided cheap labour for the mines of Gauteng, where 50 percent of its male population works.
Another bone of contention is the continued presence of the SADC troops. General suspicion over the role of the troops could jeopardize the agreement between the three main opposition political parties and the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy, LCD, that general elections be held afresh within the next 15 to 18 months.
According to the government the main task of the troops is to oversee confiscation of property that was stolen from looted businesses and repossession of firearms in the hands of civilians.
"They should pack and go immediately. They are soldiers of occupation and aggression ..." said Reverend J. Khutlang, a political scientist and lecturer at the National University of Lesotho.
Khutlang said the intervention was not necessary as the problems in the country were entirely a domestic matter which had nothing to do with any other country.
Unrest had been growing in Lesotho following accusations by opposition parties of poll rigging in the August elections, when the party of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili won 78 out of 80 seats.A commission of enquiry was appointed, headed by Justice Pius Langa of South Africa, but its findings have yet to be made known.
Khutlang said the intervention was neither peace keeping nor peace enforcing because SADC violated all international laws regarding peace keeping missions.
He said if the troops left the Basotho would work together in finding a lasting and peaceful solution to the problem.
The Justice and Peace Department of the Catholic Bishops' Conference said that inviting the troops in was just "a political trick to down-play the negotiations."
A group of women who call themselves Concerned Women of Lesotho, recently presented a petition to the South African High Commissioner to Lesotho, Japhet Ndlovu, calling for the removal of the troops.
They said it was astonishing that the ANC would invade Lesotho after being supported and given refuge by the people of Lesotho during the anti-apartheid fight . "Is this how you thank us? Graves of you ANC people who, together with some Basotho, were killed by former apartheid soldiers are here in Maseru," said Malefa Mapheleba, spokesperson for the group.
The SADC soldiers, who are widely referred to as "Satan's Troops" have been slammed for alleged rape and hooliganism. About 15 soldiers appeared before the military court in Lesotho recently charged with rape, being absent without leave, drinking and taking drugs while on duty. They were given prison sentences ranging from two to five years.
Maseru, 9 November, 1998
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