One who is sure to be keeping an eagle eye on developments in Lesotho as well as the diplomatic peace brokering efforts of the South African deputy president is current SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke.
He was commander of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) force that went into the mountain kingdom 17 years ago to restore democracy and the rule of law after an outbreak of violence that threatened to destabilise the country.
That intervention, Operation Boleas, did not go smoothly with among others, delays experienced in the arrival of the Botswana Defence Force contingent and insufficient intelligence. The incursion also resulted in the deaths of 10 South African soldiers, a sad first for the then four-year-old democracy.
Operation Boleas drew any number of scathing headlines from South African newspapers. Among them were “SANDF’s chaotic invasion”, “Fearful milestone for South Africa” and “The incursion that went wrong”.
South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has again been despatched to Lesotho following a weekend fact-finding mission led by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. She is currently presenting her findings to SADC president Robert Mugabe and will do the same in Gaborone, Botswana, on instruction from President Jacob Zuma, who heads the SADC organ on politics, defence and security co-operation.
Johannesburg daily The Times has warned South Africa has “just days” to bring violence in Lesotho to an end or risk it spilling over the borders.
Koffi Kouakou of Wits University’s School of Governance, is reported by the paper as saying though SADC and South Africa were strong enough to resolve the situation, they would have to use “strong-arm political tactics”.
“Military intervention won’t work. The situation needs strong political intervention, stronger than what Ramaphosa used before, because his deal has failed with deadly consequences.
“South Africa and SADC must act quickly. If they don’t the violence will spread, with potentially severe implications for this country including fighting spilling over the borders, refugees streaming into the country and an increase in weapons being smuggled into Lesotho. As long as the murders and violence continue, the situation will remain volatile.”
The current outbreak of violence has seen Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, former Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), killed and three opposition party leaders fleeing the country. There are also reports indicating Lesotho Defence Force soldiers are being imprisoned and tortured.
An SADC Secretariat communique said Zuma had decided to again delegate Ramaphosa as the SADC point man to consult with Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Zuma will also send a special envoy, now identified as Mapisa-Nqakula, to SADC chairman Mugabe to “share his deep concerns about the security situation in Lesotho”.
The South African head of state wants all stakeholders in Lesotho to resolve their political differences through legal and peaceful processes.
At the time of publication there has been no indication from either the Presidency or the Department of Defence whether South African soldiers are on standby to move into Lesotho.