SOUTHERN African Development Community (SADC) soldiers are now set to leave Lesotho after regional leaders rejected Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's bid to extend their mandate by a further three months.
The Lesotho Times has authoritatively established that the leaders poured scorn on Dr Thabane's bid to have the mandate of the soldiers extended beyond the fast approaching deadline of November 2018, telling the Prime Minister that it was high time Lesotho put its house in order and implemented the multi-sectoral reforms recommended by the regional body to achieve durable peace and stability in the Kingdom.
The soldiers are deployed in Lesotho under the auspices of the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho's (SAPMIL). They are also alternatively known as the SADC Standby Force to Lesotho.
Authoritative sources within the government and SAPMIL said Dr Thabane had asked for the extension during the 38th SADC summit of heads of state and government held in Windhoek, Namibia last Friday and Saturday.
The sources said that Dr Thabane had asked for the extension in view of the fast approaching November deadline for the departure of SAPMIL but the regional leaders would have none of it. Instead, they reportedly told him to ensure that his government and other stakeholders fully utilised the remaining months of SAPMIL's tenure to implement the much-delayed multi-sector reforms.
The sources also said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had been taken to task at the weekend summit for allegedly being too soft on the exiled opposition leaders whose refusal to return to Lesotho had stalled the reforms process.
SAPMIL, also known as the SADC Standby Force to Lesotho, was officially unveiled in Lesotho on 2 December 2017 as part of regional efforts to foster a conducive environment for the implementation of constitutional, security sector, public service, media and governance reforms in line with the recommendations of the regional body.
The standby force is comprised of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts.
The standby force completed its original six-month mandate in May this year but this was subsequently extended to November 2018 to enable it to assist Lesotho in the implementation of the reforms which were recommended by SADC in 2016.
The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent rogue Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers from destabilizing Dr Thabane's coalition as it went about implementing the SADC recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the Kingdom.
The reforms include holding rogue LDF members accountable for their past atrocities and helping mould the LDF into a professional force via some targeted re-training.
The standby force would also help in the investigation of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi as well as the earlier killing of another LDF boss, Maaparankoe Mahao, among other tasks.
The official SADC communique released shortly after the summit stated that the regional bloc was concerned by the delays in the implementation of the reforms.
"The summit resolved not to entertain any further delays in the implementation of reforms and national dialogue and called upon SADC member states to take necessary measures against those with intentions to delay, or threaten to derail the reforms and the national dialogue processes".
In their usual diplomatic manner, the regional leaders further stated that "the summit urged the government of Lesotho to put in place a programme with clear milestones for the implementation of priority activities on the reforms roadmap and national dialogue, while recognising that the SAPMIL and Oversight Committee tenures end in November 2018".
However, the sources said the SADC heads of state were far from diplomatic behind closed doors and they flatly refused to entertain Dr Thabane's plea for an extension to the SAPMIL tenure.
"The regional leaders flatly refused to budge and instead read the riot act to the government and the opposition, telling them to be serious about the reforms process starting with the National Leaders Reform (which starts today).
"They told Dr Thabane to ensure that his government and other stakeholders utilise this period until 20 November when SAPMIL's tenure ends to cover as much ground as they can in the implementation of the reforms," one source said.
Another source said that SADC had decided on the hardline stance to force the government and the opposition into implementing the reforms.
"The (regional leaders') feeling was that the two parties would continue to bicker and procrastinate at a great financial cost to the region if the tenure of SAPMIL was extended.
"But even with this tough stance by the heads of state, it is unlikely that the constitutional and security sector reforms would have been fully implemented by the May 2019 deadline. There is so much ground to be covered to build consensus among stakeholders," the source said.
The Press Attaché in the Prime Minister's Office, Thabo Thakalekoala, yesterday said, "I cannot comment on the content of the meeting if at all what you are referring to was discussed in the SADC meeting".
"I can only refer you to the SADC Communique which is the official record of the decisions taken at the Summit. Anything that is not contained in the communique I cannot comment."
Another source said that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was also taken to task at the weekend summit for allegedly being too soft on the exiled opposition leaders whose refusal to return to Lesotho has stalled the reforms process. Besides Mr Metsing, other opposition leaders currently in exile are LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and Teboho Mojapela of the Socialist Revolutionaries party.
"President Ramaphosa was also urged to employ a tough stance on the exiled leaders to ensure that they return to Lesotho for the reforms to proceed. South Africa was told not to offer the opposition leaders political asylum so that they can return home for the reforms.
"That is why the communique of the summit warns of measures against those who seek to delay or derail the reforms.
The SADC leaders are of the view that the exiled leaders are only concerned about evading justice as they have pending criminal cases," the source said. The opposition in general is also seen thwarting the progress of the reforms for its own politicking ends.
The SADC position was communicated just three days after the exiled leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mothetjoa Metsing, said that the opposition would boycott the reforms process including today's National Leaders' Forum. Mr Metsing said this in a 15 August 2018 letter to the head of the SADC facilitation team to Lesotho, Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
In addition to the usual opposition demands which include the formation of a government of national unity, the release from remand prison of murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant Tlali Kamoli and the dropping of criminal charges against him, Mr Metsing issued new conditions for the opposition's participation in the reforms process and these include guarantees for the safety of fraud-accused 'Makarabo Mojakhomo.
However, SADC refused to entertain the opposition demands and told Mr Metsing and his colleagues to participate in the reforms processes beginning with today's National Leaders' Forum.
According to the government roadmap for the implementation of the reforms, the National Leaders' Forum is aimed at "contributing to trust and confidence building among the country's top political leaders by providing a forum where the leaders can check-in with each other from time to time as necessary in order to promote the reforms"