Tim Knight in Lesotho
Recently a disturbance in Lesotho caused only a slight flurry in the region. Soon everyone went about their business without much discussion about the so-called coup. But in Maseru there is still a distinct nervousness and some unresolved issues. The Journalist correspondent Tim Knight is in the capital brushing shoulders with dubious peace keepers.
My first war is fifty-five years ago in the Congo.
Trillions of dollars involved. Unknown thousands of people killed.
I’m 24 years old, certain I’m immortal.
The Congo is great for my journalistic career.
Fifty-five years later I’m covering this almost-war in Lesotho.
Mostly just politics involved. Only one person killed.
I’m 76 years old, my body tells me I’m not immortal any more.
And anyway, there’s too little time left to worry about my journalistic career.
Here’s a timeline of what it seems to be all about next door to us in Lesotho after what might or might not have been an attempted coup.
A couple of years ago, the politicians form a coalition government. Very unusual for Africa.
Maybe that’s why the coalition falls apart earlier this year.
When that happens, as is customary in democracies, the opposition politicians demand a new election.
But to everyone’s surprise, the Prime Minister simply closes Parliament and proceeds to run the kingdom more or less all by himself.
Which mightily pisses off all the other politicians. Particularly the deputy prime minister who had hopes of his own.
Then, at the end of August, to everyone’s even greater surprise, the prime minister fires the general commanding the Lesotho army and appoints the general’s deputy to the job.
But the fired general refuses to quit.
Instead, he takes to the mountains with a bunch of his best soldiers and lots of guns.
The prime minister, apparently taking this as an omen, ups and flees across the border to South Africa.
Once in Gauteng, he announces he’s there because the Lesotho army wants to kidnap him and force his resignation.
So suddenly, Lesotho has no prime minister. But it does have two much-beribboned commanding army generals with lots of guns.
It gets murkier.
The day after the prime minister does his cross-border trip, soldiers raid three Maseru police stations, and seize a load of weapons.
According to the usual unreliable reports, they think the police are supplying unnamed rebels with guns and they have to prevent a civil war.
During the raid, one of the cops does his duty as he sees it, refuses to hand over police guns to the soldiers. He’s shot and killed — likely the only hero in all this sorry affair.
This is where the the feckless Southern African Development Community (SADC) is called in, presumably to prevent civil war and persuade the politicians to do the right thing.
Whatever it is.
Guess who the SADC sends to Maseru to gain the trust of the squabbling Basotho and help solve their constitutional crisis?
None other than the Big Two most untrustworthy politicians in our part of the world, Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma.
Not unexpectedly, Mugabe and Zuma fail to win anyone’s trust.
So guess who the SADC sends next?
It’s the politician who in the past few months has gone from the likely most-trusted presidential candidate in the next South African election all the way to winner of the “Just Like All The Rest of Them” award.
Think billions of rand.
Think Cyril Ramaphosa. A man nobody here in Maseru seems to trust any more than they do Mugabe and Zuma.
And to guard the kingdom’s politicians, the SADC sends more than a hundred police from neighbouring countries.
Their job is to protect all the important people here who need protection.
From what and from who, nobody can quite explain.
Now, the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is Africa’s only constitutional monarchy.
And being a monarchy, you’d think the king might have something to say about all this.
After all, he’s one of the world’s richest monarchs in one of the world’s poorest nations. So presumably he does something to earn his luxurious keep.
But kings don’t lead soldiers into battle any more. And it seems kings don’t even feel the need to reassure their loyal subjects that all will be well when night falls while warring generals roam the land.
So not a word from His Majesty King Letsie lll, direct descendent of the great statesman-warrior Moshoeshoe, who unites the local tribes to defy the mighty Shaka Zulu and is the revered father of Lesotho.
Now to bring you right up to date.
A month after all this confusion starts, nobody here seems to know which conspiracy theory to believe.
Is it really an attempted coup?
If so, in favour of which politicians? And what, if anything, is the role of the king? And his younger brother, Prince Seiso?
Your guess is just as good as mine.
Meanwhile, the prime minister is back in Maseru under SADC police guard.
Ramaphosa is back too, still trying to persuade the politicians to re-open Parliament.
The renegade military commander is still somewhere up there in the mountains with his men and guns (although he’s been spotted in Maseru.)
The Americans have issued a travel alert warning their nationals to stay away from the dangers of Lesotho.
Even so, you can drive around Maseru and no men with guns — and certainly no sense of humour — will stop and search you at roadblocks.
My hotel is full of very large men with shaved heads who refuse to chat in the lift. Not even “good morning”. Many carry submachine guns and wear badges that say “Police” but don’t necessarily disclose where in Southern Africa they come from.
The man in the room next to me wears a small South African flag on his shoulder and the word “EXPLOSIVES” very large on the back of his military jacket.
And the hotel has just put notices on all the elevators:
” … SOME GUESTS ARE NOT AWARE THAT THEY HAVE TO MAKE PROVISION FOR THEIR OVER NIGHT GUESTS AT THE RECEPTION, KINDLY BE ADVISED THAT ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAVE REGISTRATION CARDS WILL ONLY BE ALLOWED ACCESS INTO THE HOTEL ESPECIALLY (ROOMS FROM 6PM ONWARDS).”