Lesotho: EU Speaks Out On Thabane Murder Allegations, Retirement

7 February 2020

European Union (EU) Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, has urged Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to announce a specific date for his impending retirement, saying this is necessary to "facilitate a smooth transition to a successor".

Dr Manahl also said it was up to the courts of law rather than public opinion to decide whether or not Dr Thabane was guilty of murdering his former wife, Lipolelo, on 14 June 2017.

He said this in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week. His comments came against the background of Dr Thabane's announcement that he was stepping down from his government and party posts due to his "waning stamina" after over 50 years in the civil service and politics.

Dr Thabane's decision to retire is widely believed to have been influenced by the incessant pressure he was subjected to by his own ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, the opposition and non-governmental organisations who said he should step down after Police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, implicated him in the murder of Lipolelo which occurred just two days before Dr Thabane was sworn in for his second stint as premier in 2017.

Dr Thabane's wife, 'Maesaiah Thabane, has also been implicated in the murder. The police have since declared her a fugitive from justice after she ignored a 10 January 2020 summons for her to report at the Police Headquarters in Maseru for questioning. She remains at large and is believed to have fled to Ficksburg after the police obtained a warrant for her arrest that same day.

The exact date of Dr Thabane's departure remains a bone of contention with the premier remaining tight-lipped on when he will finally go. ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, last week told the Lesotho Times that the party wants him gone by the time parliament re-opens either on 14 or 21 February 2020. Mr Hlaele said they expect to have nominated a successor and forwarded the name to parliament by then.

Commenting on the issue this week, Dr Manahl urged Dr Thabane to announce a specific date for his retirement to "facilitate a smooth transition to a successor".

"The Prime Minister has announced that he intends to retire. He (Dr Thabane) should let the public know when exactly he plans to do so to also to facilitate a smooth transition to a successor. As the Constitution does not prescribe a clear procedure on how such a transition should happen, it is important that both the procedure and the successor have the consent of a critical mass of members of parliament to ensure effective governance leadership for the remaining duration of the current parliament (whose tenure ends in 2022)," Dr Manahl said.

Dr Manahl also broke his silence on the sensational murder allegations which have made local and international headlines, saying only the courts of law could decide whether or not Dr Thabane and the First Lady were guilty.

"Regarding the murder allegations against the Prime Minister and the First Lady, it is up to the courts to determine whether these allegations are well founded or not. A universal fundamental principle of justice is the presumption of innocence until judgement is delivered. It is not up to public opinion to judge Prime Minister Thabane or anybody else on a matter of criminal justice, it is up to the courts."

The EU ambassador also said they were anxiously waiting for the presentation of the budget speech to see what measures the government was taking to address the food insecurity which has affected thousands of Basotho in the aftermath of the poor harvests of the 2018/19 farming season.

A recent United Nations (UN) report has revealed that more than 500 000 people, or a quarter of Basotho are in need of urgent food assistance and the EU has joined the UN and the World Food Programme (WFP) in providing assistance to avert starvation.

International development partners have however, questioned the government's commitment to addressing the food insecurity.

This week, Dr Manahl said, "we are waiting for the new budget to be presented as this will give us an idea about the Government's own efforts to address the challenges created by the drought of last year. Luckily Lesotho has received good rains since December 2019 and we hope this will help alleviate the hardships experienced by so many people in the country".

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro is expected to present the budget speech when parliament re-opens next month.

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