South Africa will pursue talks to restore calm in Lesotho after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane sent soldiers and armoured vehicles onto Maseru streets to restore order against “rogue national elements”.
Lesotho supplies residents and farmers in South Africa’s Gauteng with water and Africa’s most developed country helped broker peace talks in its smaller neighbour during previous political instability.
The South African envoys urgently dispatched to defuse weeks of political tension in the mountain kingdom of two million, would continue talks for a second day, Thabane’s spokesman said.
Thabane, fighting for political survival as he faces calls to quit and a possible criminal trial, deployed the army in the capital to deal with forces he said wanted to destabilise Lesotho.
The country experienced several coups since independence from Britain in 1966. In 1998 at least 58 people and eight South African soldiers died and parts of Maseru were damaged during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.
Thabane (80) was scheduled to address the people of Lesotho on Sunday, but postponed until Monday, spokesman Relebohile Moyeye said.
“We are not sure when the statement will be because the PM is meeting the South African envoys again,” Moyeye added.
The latest upheaval follows Thabane’s decision to suspend parliament without consultation over the coronavirus pandemic. Last month’s move was challenged in the constitutional court by coalition partners and some 20 rivals in his own party.
The court ruled against Thabane’s decision, calling it “irrational”, paving the way for a threatened vote of no-confidence against Thabane when parliament reconvenes.
A parliamentary caucus meeting scheduled for Sunday by the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) was postponed because of the South African envoys visit, a senior lawmaker said.
Internal divisions persist between Thabane loyalists and those who want him ousted. While no date has been set, Lesotho’s assembly is expected to meet this week.
“ABC is divided and we can no longer pretend,” said Lepota Sekola, adding some members refused to honour Thabane’s call for the meeting as a show of dissatisfaction.
“We have had enough and we are waiting for parliament to reopen. This is where he will meet us, not anywhere else,” Sekola said.
“He has nowhere to hide and has lost it. The electorate is against him, the judiciary and all other strategic institutions meaning the PM is finished,” Sofonea Shale, an independent political analyst, said.