Contact Person: Chris Matlhako
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The political situation in Lesotho

At the end of this debate the participants of the African Conference on Participatory Democracy will be familiar with the:

i) Introduction to the above objectives
Lesotho was designed to be a labour reserve economy of South Africa by the British from 1850s to date. This situation has created the struggle for the control of state power by various forces, examples being politicians, the army and the church. Economic development outside the state is very minimal. The private sector is very small, the main employer is Government and Lesotho is characterised among others by unemployment. Therefore Lesotho's work force is very small. This explains why political parties are many as a result of the splits due to lack of internal party democracy and the fight for positions in the party structure. Also this answers the question why Lesotho is politically unstable. Diamonds are mined on a small scale and also water is exploited and exported to South Africa. These economic activities are carried out to cater for the needs of 2 million Basotho.

ii) The emergence of political parties in Lesotho
There are political movements which emerged as an initiative of Basotho oppressed by British colonialism namely, Lekhotla la Bafo (the Commoners League) and Basutoland Progressive Association (BPA). Thereafter most of the parties in Lesotho emerged in the period 1952 - 1984, as a result of the South African liberation struggle. The political parties were either for or counter the South African liberation. The African National Congress (ANC) assisted in the formation of Basutoland African Congress (BAC) in 1952 supported by the protestant church. The Basotho National Party (BNP) was formed in 1957 through the influence of the South African National Party (NP). The Catholic Church was assigned the role of building the mass base of the BNP to counter the spread of communism championed by the BCP. The Marema-Tlou Freedom Party (MFP) emerged from splinter groups of BCP in the early 1960's and called for the establishment of the executive Monarchy in Lesotho.

The BCP abandoned the ANC in 1959 and aligned itself to the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), while the BNP shifted its stance of working with the NP through the influence of Chris Hani initially and later by Oliver Reginald Tambo in 1977- 1986. The BNP won the first multiparty democratic elections. The Communist Party of Lesotho (CPL) had been established in May 1962 through the influence of the South African Communist Party (SACP) as the ANC and the SACP were without allies in Lesotho who would do overboard activities. This relationship has existed from 1962 to date. The second multi-party elections were held in 1970. The BCP became the victorious party. The BNP seized and refused to relinquish state power, instead it suspended the constitution and banned the CPL. The period 1970 - 1986 was characterised by repression under a civilian coup and it was followed by the period of military dictatorship, 1986 - 1992.

The Dark Period
Major events of 1984 - 1985 precede the dark period. In 1984 the then Prime Minister, leader of the BNP, Leabua Josefa Jonathan, announced that the citizen of Lesotho should prepare for general elections that would be held in 1985. Hearing this announcement, the SA apartheid state through its Minister of Foreign Affairs, P.R. Botha, engineered the formation of Basotho Democratic Alliance (BDA) in 1984 by assembling disgruntled elements of BNP, BCP and MFP. The instructions given to the BDA by P. R. Botha were to contest elections and to expel Umkhonto we Sizwe from Lesotho should the BDA win elections. The CPL which by then operated underground, engineered the establishment of the United Fatherland Front (UFF) in 1984. The formation of the UFF was three-fold:

In 1985 the elections which never were, were held. All opposition parties boycotted the elections. BNP constituency candidates were returned unopposed. The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) staged a coup in 1986 engineered by the apartheid SA government. The first victims of this coup became Umkhonto we Siswe cadres and ANC leadership in Lesotho who were rounded up and deported. The imperialists were attempting to reverse the advance of the SA liberation by using Lesotho as a buffer zone against the SA liberation struggle led by the ANC and the SACP. The LDF also suspended political activities, and imposed a dawn to dusk curfew.

Despite the curfew imposed by the military junta, the CPL organised an underground congress in Maseru to analyse the coup and chart a way forward.Some of the resolutions of the 1986 underground congress were to provide logistical and material support to MK units to operate from bases in Lesotho. All members of the CPL resolved to provide overboard support to MK. Members of the CPL were expected to lead resistance from various social movements organisations in which they were members against the military junta.

Another important point worth noting is the CPL split of 1984. The cause of the split was the pressure applied by the BNP government and the ANC that the CPL should abandon its critical support policy towards the BNP governments. The CPL had supported the BNP government for assisting the ANC in its fight for the democratisation of South Africa.

At the same time the CPL criticised the BNP domestic policy which was repressive. Some comrades of the Central Committee of the CPL yielded to pressure. The CPL CC had eight members who were split in the middle. The other four were dubbed a gang of Four led by Dr Michael Sefali argued that they had expelled another four led by Mokhafisi Kena from the CPL and dubbed this group the Maoist. The Dr Michael Sefali group wanted to dissolve the CPL and have its members joining the BNP.

The SACP tried in 1985 to reconcile the two factions of the CPL. The then General Secretary of the SACP Cde Moses Mabhida, Cde Chris Hani and Cde Joe Slovo tried to have the two factions of the CPL reconcile through the Communist Party of the then Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1985. The Kena faction honoured the invitation while the other did not turn up for the meeting. This was a faction that was close to some of the ANC leadership.

During the 1986 military coup, members of the Dr Michael Sefali's faction of the CPL emerged as Ministers to the surprise of some of the ANC-SACP alliance leaders. It is also worth marking and noting 1974, the time of Chris Hani's arrival in Lesotho that changed the balance of forces in favour of the liberation movements in South Africa and the region. Without going into details, Chris Hani and Mokhafisi Kena must be credited for the formation of the Committee for Action and Solidarity for Southern African Students (CASSAS) in 1976. CASSAS main aim was to groom leadership, recruit students to fight neo colonialism and apartheid among others. CASSA was based at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

CASSA mobilised students at NUL to join various national liberation movements, join communist parties and form some were such organisations did not exist. Students were recruited from countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Some of these organisations are represented in the African Forum on Participatory Democracy today. These efforts have made us regard Chris Hani as a Southern African revolutionary.

The military repression was refined and heightened due to pressure from unions and social movements that were demanding democratisation of Lesotho. MK cadres became casualties, CPL activists who where uncovered fled and joined the MK. I always have an image of Selisa Kena who I met carrying on her back her one year child and was followed by the Lesotho Intelligence. She was attending a wounded MK Commander Mazizi Mpilo Maqhekeza at a government hospital. Maqhikiza was ambushed by the LDF who later killed him a hospital bed.

The progressive forces did not yield to repression particularly unions. With internal and international pressure, there was a palace coup in 1991. Lekhanya was ousted and Ramaema promised Basotho elections, unbanned the CPL, and lifted order No 4 that banned political activities.

Let us spare you the history and talk electoral politics in this political space created by the CPL.

In 1991, the UFF was reconstituted as the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) and contested elections, the 1993 elections. Elections in Lesotho have been contested under the First Past The Post 1965-1998. The 1993 elections were won by the BCP. The PFD only received 1000 votes.

The outcome of the 1993 and 1998 elections created instability as parliament became a one party show. Through the efforts of the CPL and SADC the First Past The Post electoral model was changed. In 2002 elections were conducted under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). The PFD received 7000 votes and one seat in parliament. In 2007 the CPL through its electoral front participated in the elections and was voted by 17000 and had one seat in a parliament of 120 MP's.

Proposed Regional Strategies: