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Issue 33, December 1998

Lesotho invasion condemned

SOUTH AFRICA'S invasion of Lesotho on 22 September was an act of aggression worthy of the old apartheid regime. That negotiations brokered by the South African Development Community (SADC) seem to have secured the promise of new elections within 18 months should not obscure that fact.

The invasion left at least 66 dead, nine of them South African soldiers. It has generated a legacy of bitterness among the masses of Basotho, and shocked most South Africans. We must demand the immediate withdrawal of South African troops and support the right of self-determination for the people of Lesotho.

The invasion was supposedly called to prevent a 'creeping coup' by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) against the government of Pakalitha Mosisili's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) which, at the end of May, overwhelmingly won elections, taking 79 out of 80 seats. But the LCD is an artificial party, formed in 1997 as a breakaway from the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) to enable leaders who had lost the confidence of the BCP membership to continue to rule the country. Its formation was itself labelled a 'coup' at the time.

The opposition parties - BCP, Basutoland National Party (BNP) and the Marema Tlou Freedom Party - said the elections were rigged, and from 4 August their supporters camped in a mass protest outside the palace of the Lesotho monarch. The South African invasion was thus sustaining a questionably-elected government in power.

Until the invasion, the protest had been relatively peaceful. But within hours of the arrival of South African troops the capital Maseru was in flames, with an estimated R2 billion worth of damage through arson and looting by desperate and powerless Basotho. So much for promoting 'peace and democracy' - the declared aims of the ANC government!

Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa and totally dependent on it. Its independence history since 1966 is riddled with turmoil. In 1970 the leader of the BNP government, Chief Jonathan, suspended the constitution when the BCP won the elections, then ruled until overthrown by a military coup in 1986. Elections in 1993 finally brought the BCP to government. South Africa's apartheid regime supported first Jonathan against the BCP and later the military coup against Jonathan.

  In August this year the ANC government in South Africa spearheaded an SADC initiative for a commission under judge Pius Langa to investigate the fairness of the Lesotho elections. Rumours circulating that the Langa Report would call for new elections proved false on publication. It did, however, record serious irregularities in at least 41 of the 80 constituencies. But two weeks had elapsed between the completion and issuing of this report, leading to accusations that it had been altered by politicians in the meantime. During those two weeks, junior officers and rank-and-file members of the LDF arrested 40 senior officers and forced them to resign: most fled to South Africa. Civil servants ceased working and the government was paralysed. What was taking place was not a creeping 'coup' but more a creeping insurrection.

It was the display of power by the masses that could not be tolerated by the ANC government. Though brought to power essentially by the revolutionary mass movement in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, the ANC leaders' support for capitalism gives them a common interest with the other rulers of Southern African states. The invasion was a lesson to the masses of Southern Africa not to try to overthrow unpopular regimes.

With a world economic recession on the way to compound South Africa's economic problems, and make the delivery of jobs, houses, decent education, health and wages even less possible, the ANC government might be forced in the future to take similar action against the masses at home.

Not a voice can be heard in the townships of South Africa in support of the invasion. The South African Council of Churches has condemned it. But - nearly two weeks after the invasion - the ANC's partner in the so-called 'triple alliance', the South African Communist Party (SACP), issued a statement in support. 'Condemnation of the SADC initiative in Lesotho', it says, 'has generally been grossly unbalanced and unfair... The SADC troops are now a factor for stability, and their continued presence in Lesotho for the present must be supported'. Junior ranks in the Lesotho army are blamed for 'undermin(ing) the unity of the army and terroris(ing) the police'! Rather than blaming the ANC government, it blames the 'Lesotho political elite' for the situation. The SACP will be judged harshly by its members for this craven betrayal of the right of self-determination of the people of Lesotho.

  It is true that none of the political parties in Lesotho stand for the interests of the working class. All of them have at one time or another connived with reactionary white elements in South Africa. Most recently the National Party and Democratic Party have given publicity to a spokesperson of the Marema Tlou Freedom Party.

A large number of COSATU's National Union of Mineworkers members are from Lesotho. Yet COSATU played no role in strengthening the presence of Lesotho workers in the protest demonstrations. Since the invasion it has been disgracefully silent.

The fates of Lesotho and South Africa are interlinked. The largest component of Lesotho's workers are in South Africa, mainly on the mines. The future for the people of Lesotho lies in the achievement of workers' democracy in South Africa and the establishment of a socialist federation of Southern African states.

Martin Legassick

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