Lesotho upheavals 'serious threat' to SA

02 September 2014 - 02:07 By Graeme Hosken and Rea Khoabane
CONFISCATED: A member of the Lesotho Defence Force at Mokoanyane barracks displays weapons taken from the police in the capital, Maseru. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who has fled to South Africa, has called for an SADC peacekeeping force to restore order
CONFISCATED: A member of the Lesotho Defence Force at Mokoanyane barracks displays weapons taken from the police in the capital, Maseru. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who has fled to South Africa, has called for an SADC peacekeeping force to restore order
Image: ALON SKUY

South Africa's economy and security are threatened by Lesotho's increasing political instability.

The threats, according to defence analysts, include cross-border weapons smuggling and a political vacuum at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which supplies water to Gauteng.

Tensions intensified yesterday with the collapse of Lesotho's judicial system and army raids on the police training college.

In a bid to avert further violence, the Southern African Development Community said yesterday that it would send a facilitator and observer team to Lesotho "as a matter of urgency".

The SADC meeting in Pretoria said affected parties had "agreed on a 'road map' with clear time lines on how to remove the parliamentary prorogation".

Lesotho's deposed prime minister, Thomas Thabane, who fled to South Africa on Saturday, yesterday called for an SADC peacekeeping force to be deployed to his country, warning that the "situation is out of hand".

Tensions have simmered in Lesotho since June, when Thabane dissolved parliament ahead of a planned vote of no confidence in his administration.

Violence erupted on Saturday after Thabane removed defence force chief Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli from his post on Friday.

Within hours of Kamoli's removal, an attempt was made to assassinate the new military chief, Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao.

Mahao, who also fled to South Africa, has labelled Kamoli a "renegade general".

The call for peacekeepers follows a series of emergency meetings in Pretoria yesterday during which Thabane agreed to lift the suspension of parliament.

Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said the situation was a serious economic and security threat to South Africa.

"The situation is volatile. The threats facing South Africa are varied, the biggest being the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. If our water supplies are interrupted there will be a huge economic knock-on effect on South Africa.

"If people take up arms, they will have to get the weapons from somewhere and they will either come from, or through, South Africa, posing a stability threat to this country," Heitman said.

Andre Roux, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said it was urgent that civilian, democratic control of the armed forces be restored.

"In the midst of a political crisis, when you replace the defence force chief you create conditions for a coup, especially when the chief has support in the army.

"While threats to the Highlands Water Project will be a consideration to intervention, with the police 'neutralised' because they are considered opposition to the military, the threat to law enforcement, especially in stopping cross-border crime such as smuggling, poses a serious threat to South Africa," he said.

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