MASERU - After a month on the run, Lesotho’s First Lady Maesaiah Thabane is in police custody, and on Wednesday was served with charges over the killing of her predecessor, former First Lady Lipolelo Thabane.
The late Mrs. Thabane was shot dead in the capital, Maseru, two days before Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s inauguration in 2017. At the time, the couple were in the middle of a bitter divorce and the prime minister was living with Maesaiah.
But political players in the tiny kingdom say this arrest is unlikely to fix the many problems that have long swirled around Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who announced last month that he would step down over the controversy — but didn’t say when.
His rule has been marred with a number of killings of high-ranking officials in recent years. Critics say this is an inevitable consequence of Thabane’s failure to keep the nation’s security forces out of politics.
The saga has illuminated a wider concern in this tiny mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa — for years, critics say, the ruling party has been divided into warring factions and rule of law has been ignored.
'He should have gone by yesterday'
Mathibeli Mokhothu, leader of the opposition Democratic Congress, offered a suggestion to the prime minister.
"He should have gone by yesterday, I think,” he told VOA. “He should be leaving as soon as possible. That will somehow culminate into some sort of stability.”
But the secretary-general of Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, Lebohang Hlaele, disagrees.
"He did not mention time,” he told VOA. “There's no timeframe for that exercise. He's intending to stand down and he actually said he'll be waiting for his party and the coalition partners to prepare smoothly to get a smooth exit. So the party and the coalition partners are actually in the process of preparing for his exit.”
Thabane V. Mahao
Motlamelle Anthony Kapa, an associate professor in political science at the National University of Lesotho, said the real conflict in Lesotho is not between Thabane and his wives -- but between Thabane and his rival, Professor Nqosa Mahao, who is vice-chancellor of the university.
Mahao’s brother, a top general, was killed in 2015, but no one has been brought to book. Mahao has pushed for the killers to be prosecuted.
“There was a faction that was pro-deputy leader Professor Mahao,” Kapa told VOA “There was a faction, also, which didn’t want him, which we saw later, that it was supported by the prime minister, who is also the leader of the All Basotho Convention, Thomas Thabane. …. So you could say it is Mahao versus Thabane. Probably because Thabane fears that Mahao would push for his wife to be prosecuted for having been involved in the killing of -- allegedly involved -- in the killing of his other wife.”
Hlaele said he knows the matter weighs heavily on Thabane’s conscience, though he says he hasn’t spoken to the prime minister lately. But he disputes local headlines that say there is a crisis in Lesotho.
“There's no political crisis in our country,” he said. “Everything's normal. There’s nothing. I mean, you're in the country. Well, what do you see? Nothing. Everybody's going to work. Everybody's doing whatever -- you are actually interviewing me now. What is the problem? Do you experience any crisis? Nothing.”