SUMMARY OF EVENTS IN LESOTHO

Volume 1, Number 2 (Second Quarter 1994)

Summary of events in Lesotho is a quarterly publication compiled and published by  David Ambrose since 1993 at the National University of Lesotho, P. O. Roma 180, Lesotho.

Deputy Prime Minister Murdered by Army Faction
Prime Minister Announces Creation of Ministry of Defence
Budget Speech
Lesotho Police on Strike

Deputy Prime Minister Murdered by Army Faction

The army had been, since November 1993, in a state of unsuppressed mutiny, and moreover was divided into factions between which there was an uneasy peace following the fighting in January between the Ratjomose and Makoanyane Barracks. Arising from the disturbances the Presidents of Zimbabwe and Botswana had compiled a report with recommendations, and there was a general demand that its contents be made public (apparently it had already been leaked to the South African Press). Government’s response was to set up its own Commission of Inquiry into the Army and the events which had taken place.

However, on the morning of Thursday 14 April 1994, soldiers from the Makoanyane Barracks struck against the government, abducting four cabinet ministers from their houses and offices, and surrounding the house of Selometsi Baholo, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, in the suburb of Ha Matala. According to eyewitnesses Baholo appeared at his window asking his neighbours to raise the alarm, but he was gunned down and his body later found in a pool of blood in the kitchen. The soldiers apparently even climbed a nearby tree to facilitate firing into the house, and after the shooting they remained in the vicinity for some hours, refusing access to all who came near.

Concern was raised about the safety of the other four Ministers (one other, the Minister of Information, Mpho Malie, had slipped past soldiers coming to abduct him and taken refuge in the American Embassy). However all four abducted Ministers were released later in the day unharmed, having been detained in Makoanyane Barracks. These four Ministers were the Minister of Natural Resources, Monyane Moleleki; the Minister of Education, Pakalitha Mosisili; the Minister of Justice, Kelebone Maope; and the Minister of Trade and Industry, Shakhane Mokhehle, brother to the Prime Minister. The Commonwealth negotiators, Dr. Moses Anyafu and Max Gaylard, had meanwhile been despatched to Lesotho to try to secure the release of the Ministers, but on their arrival they found they were already free.

The murder of Selometsi Baholo left Lesotho in a state of shock. It was not overlooked that he had been Minister of Finance and that the soldiers’ demand for a 100% pay rise had not been met. There was a general belief therefore that the murder had been motivated by the soldiers’ greed for more pay. The weakness of the government in the situation became more and more evident as it became clear that no-one had been arrested for the crime, and the soldiers concerned, even though their names were generally supposed to be known, were going unpunished.

Two days of public mourning, to be observed as holidays, were declared for Friday and Saturday 22 and 23 April, and Selometsi Baholo was buried at his home town of Hlotse on Saturday 23 April, after a large public funeral held on the old golf course at the town. Eloquent speeches were made by the Minister of Agriculture, Ntsukunyane Mphanya and by the veteran politician and MP for Thabana-Morena, Malaisa Mahosi, whose words Rasethunya, Rasethunya, Rasethunya, ngoane’no Selometsi o kae? (O gunman, gunman, gunman, where is your brother Selometsi?) were broadcast and much quoted in the press. Final speeches were made by King Letsie III and the Prime Minister before the interment. back to top

Prime Minister Announces Creation of Ministry of Defence

On Tuesday 26 April, the Prime Minister addressed members of the Royal Lesotho Defence Force at Makoanyane Barracks for the first time since assuming office. He announced the formation of a new Ministry of Defence, and that the new Assistant Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (Mr. Sephiri Motanyane, MP for Malibamatšo) would assist him in this Ministry, which would be supported by a British adviser, and would be housed in the new Lesotho Tourist Board building (the Tourist Board at short notice had to move to offices in the Lesotho Sun Hotel). The Prime Minister also mentioned the government’s inability to provide increased salaries, and emphasised that the guns in the hands of the army should not be used to murder people but to protect the weak. The Commander of the Armed Forces, Major-General Mosakeng, speaking at the same meeting, assured the Prime Minister that the army was ready to serve the government. back to top

Budget Speech

Although the new financial year had begun on 1 April, Selometsi Baholo had been murdered before he had been able to deliver the Budget Speech. This task was undertaken on Monday 2 May by the Minister of Information, Mpho Malie, who by then had been appointed Acting Minister of Finance. In relation to salaries, the Budget was quite unequivocal. All civil servants, including the police and army, were to get a 10% pay rise which, like the 12% pay rise the year before, was in line with inflation, and did not favour any particular group.

Murmurings against the 10% pay rise were widespread in the civil service and elsehwere. Tables which were published in Mohlanka, the BNP newspaper, appeared to show that politicians had given themselves much enhanced salaries. The government could have countered this by publishing the facts and showing the comparative tables of salaries over the years in real terms, rather than in figures for which there had been no adjustment for inflation. However it did not do this, and rumours of enormous salaries for ministers and MPs, and of a secret unpublished salary deal with the army were widespread. back to top

Lesotho Police on Strike

One week after the Budget Speech, and on the eve of Nelson Mandela’s installation as President of South Africa, the Maseru evening was disturbed by sirens from police stations. Apart from the police themselves, no-one at first seemed to know what event was being announced. It turned out to be a police strike, led by junior policemen, who issued a somewhat garbled demand note, whose main demand was for a 60% pay rise for themselves and also for soldiers. On the day after the strike began, Tuesday 10th May, criminals took advantage of the absence of the police, and there was looting in most of Lesotho’s lowland towns. In Maseru, several shops in the old bus stop area had their whole stock taken, while at Mafeteng, the town’s most modern row of shops was gutted by fire. The army was called in to take over police duties, and by Wednesday most looting had died down. However, by this time it became clear that prison officers had joined the police strike. There was apparently an attempted break-out by criminals from the Maseru Central Gaol, and it was said that several had been injured in gunfire. However facts about the incident were hard to come by because all normal prison activities, including visits to prisoners, and court appearances by prisoners, were suspended.

It appeared on the Thursday of the police strike that the police were ready to go to the negotiating table, but an insuperable stumbling block became the Ministry of Home Affairs vehicles which the police had hijacked at the beginning of the strike and were not willing to return.

The strike continued, and during the second week, police abducted (but later released unharmed) the Principal Secretary for Information, Seeiso Serutla. To the surprise of many, all police received their monthly salary cheques on Friday 20 May as if nothing unusual was happening.

A few days later on Monday 23 May, it was the turn of the Minister of Information and Acting Minister of Finance, Mpho Malie. He was abducted from the Prime Minister’s House at about midday, where he had apparently gone after a tip-off that he was wanted by the striking policemen. He was also released by the police unharmed. However, the fact that such incidents could occur resulted in a general questioning by the public as to whether there was any government left in Lesotho.

The police strike, which had begun on 9 May, finally ended on Tuesday 31 May. The police celebrated the end of the strike as if it were a victory, and it was generally believed that many of the police demands had been met, while the matter of an overall 60% increase in salaries was to be referred to an international salary commission.

Among casualties of the strike was the Minister of Natural Resources, Monyane Moleleki, who resigned and left Lesotho for Botswana. He was quoted in Makatolle of 1 June 1994 as saying that he believed that he was likely to be next in line for assassination in the manner that had befallen Selometsi Baholo. His place was eventually taken by the veteran politician, Tšeliso Makhakhe. back to top

[updated to 30 June 1994]