Cape Town — Southern African regional leaders are holding a mini-summit on Monday amid fears that the political deadlock in Lesotho could lead to violence.
The South African foreign ministry announced on Friday that President Jacob Zuma would convene an enlarged meeting of the security arm of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to consider in particular the "political and security situation" in Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The announcement followed soon after the publication of a report in The Herald, the pro-government daily in Harare, saying Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe had announced a full extraordinary summit of the SADC in South Africa on Wednesday.
Both developments come in the wake of belligerent rhetoric from Maseru, reported in the Basotho media last week.
Notably, a leader of the biggest party in Parliament, the Democratic Congress (DC), threatened that if Prime Minister Tom Thabane, who heads a coalition of minority parties, persisted with his plan to replace the country's military commander, "the atrocities and bloodbath that will befall this country will completely dwarf those of 1970."
The man who made the threat, DC executive member Tlohang Sekhamane, was referring to the coup which ended democracy four years after independence. It was not restored until 1993.
Despite winning the largest number of seats in Parliament in the 2012 election, the DC was sidelined by a coalition comprising Thabane's All Basotho Convention, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP) led by Chief Thesele 'Maseribane.
However, the LCD has fallen out with Thabane over his perceived lack of consultation and Thabane fled the country at the end of last month after the army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, sent troops to take over police facilities in Maseru.
Regional leaders brokered a deal including Thabane's return under South African protection, but the parties are now deadlocked over the way ahead:
Thabane has fired Kamoli but he refuses to step down, backed by both the DC and the BNP, according to reports in the Basotho media.
The regional deal provided for Parliament, which Thabane suspended in June, to reconvene on September 19, but Thabane and 'Maseribane are resisting this, saying control of the military needs to be resolved first.
If Parliament is reconvened, Thabane faces the possibility of being ousted by a new coalition comprising the DC and the LCD and led by the immediate past prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili.
The LCD's acting secretary-general, Tšeliso Mokhosi, has been quoted by the Lesotho Times as insisting the Parliament should be reopened. "As far as we are concerned, there is no reason not to open Parliament on September 19 as agreed unless the ABC and BNP want to continue playing games and defying regional commitments they would have agreed to," he said.
Both the Lesotho Times and Public Eye News reported Sekhamane at a party news conference as accusing Thabane of entrenching himself in power by taking control of all the country's institutions of government.
Sekhamane reportedly continued: "In fact, if he [PM Thabane] succeeds in his current bid to replace Lieutenant General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli with Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, then cry the beloved country...
"General Kamoli is quite literally and without exaggeration, the last thread by which Lesotho's democracy is hanging. Mark our words."
The Times reported that the stalemate over the leadership of the Lesotho Defence Force "has ... left many Basotho fearing for their safety, with many opting to vacate their workplaces early to be indoors at their homes. Some businesses have also been closing early due to security concerns."
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the name of PM Thabane's All Basotho Convention.