Raid on Lesotho dissident’s hideout threatens diplomatic row
Former Lesotho's former Defence minister claims video of raid leaked to Lesotho politicians
A diplomatic row is looming between Lesotho and South Africa after opposition party members, who fled the mountain kingdom fearing for their lives, accused SA police of working with Lesotho officials to plan their assassination.
Concerns were sparked following a raid last month on the Ficksburg hideout of Lesotho’s former Defence minister and opposition MP Tseliso Mokhosi.
Mokhosi claims 15 South African police officers descended on the house on the night of December 28, with no warrant or explanation.
They took photos and video footage of the property, which he claims later landed in the hands of Lesotho officials and on a Facebook page administered by the principal secretary in the Ministry of Police in Lesotho, and another run by Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s wife.Information on the occupants of the property was also leaked, he said.
Mokhosi alleged no search warrant had been produced by the police.
“The fact that the room where I sleep was identified [makes me] strongly feel that my security in South Africa has been compromised by the concerned police officers,” he wrote in a letter of complaint to the station commander at Ficksburg police station, which was copied to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Mokhosi has been hiding out in South Africa since last September, along with fellow MP and former deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who also believes his life is in danger.Metsing is the president of Lesotho’s opposition party, Lesotho Congress for Democracy, while Mokhosi is his deputy.
Mokhosi’s allegation, if proven true, could undermine South Africa’s role as mediator in Lesotho, said David Monyae, international relations scholar and co-director at the University of Johannesburg’s Confucius Institute.
“This appears to be a complicated and complex matter. It is important that SA as the mediator in Lesotho investigate what appears to be a breach of security. The status of the former minister and politicians from the previous government in Lesotho ought to be defined and protected,” he said.
Lesotho has been plagued by instability since 2014 after Thabane fired his army chief, Tlali Kamoli, replacing him with Maarparankoe Mahao. Mahao was assassinated about a year later during Pakalitha Mosisili’s term as prime minister (Thabane was ousted in March 2015 and re-elected in June 2017), plunging the country into chaos and prompting SADC to intervene.
Ironically, after his ousting, Thabane was also hiding in Ficksburg.
Ramaphosa was delegated by the SADC to intervene and mediate a transition to last year’s elections, which saw Thabane return to power.
Two months after the election, Mokhosi was arrested for the alleged murder of a member of Lesotho’s police service. He was released on bail in September and escaped to South Africa two days later, alleging he had been “savagely” tortured and that there was a plot to assassinate him.
Twice a month he travels to Lesotho to report to the Lesotho Mounted Police Station, as per bail conditions, with security detail provided by SADC.
Free State police spokesperson Brigadier Motantsi Makhele confirmed Mokhosi’s complaint. It had been handed over to the cluster commander to meet with the complainant.”
However, he said Mokhosi had been away in Durban and “has not yet availed himself”.
He said it was “routine” for police to conduct raids following up on information.
Asked if a warrant was required, he said: “It is our duty as law enforcers in line with the constitution of our country to interact with any inhabitant within the borders of this country during our tour of duty while following any information, and if any individual feels aggrieved by the conduct of our members, he or she is more than welcome to approach the supervisor of those members involved and the matter will be investigated internally.”
The Lesotho embassy in Pretoria did not respond to questions from Times Select.
Ramaphosa’s office said although they were not aware of the December incident, they were aware of Mokhosi’s presence. They referred queries to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco).
Dirco spokesman Clayson Monyela said: “The South African government can confirm their presence in the country. The deputy president, in his capacity as the SADC facilitator, is working with the leaders of Lesotho around the issue of reforms in the mountain kingdom (this includes concerns around the personal safety of some leaders etc).”