The SADC Wrap: Coup or no coup? Lesotho leaves everyone scratching their heads

Each week award winning journalist KRISTEN VAN SCHIE brings you all the news that’s worth knowing from across the SADC region. Here is this week’s SADC wrap. This week she breaks down the Lesotho coup story and walks us through Zambia’s succession issues.

KvS lesothoLesotho
Usually, when I get that little Google Alerts email in my inbox letting me know Lesotho’s been in the news, it has to do with their football team.

Not so this week, with the Mountain Kingdom making it’s way into world headlines for a maybe-it-was-maybe-it-wasn’t coup on Saturday morning.

If you missed it, here’s a quick summary: Maseru residents woke early Saturday to the sound of gunfire in the capital after the army surrounded police headquarters. Radio stations were jammed (except for the Catholic channel, which apparently carried with a broadcast about marriage). Prime Minister Thomas Thabane spoke out from South Africa – to which he’d escaped in the early hours of the morning on a tip-off – crying coup. The military denied it, saying sure, they’d surrounded police HQ and fired shots, but that was all part of disarming the cops who wanted to give weapons to allegedly rabble-rousing youths who were planning on disrupting an anti-Thabane protest march scheduled for Monday.

This is still an unfolding story, so the gaps in the story are continually being filled – little details like Thabane wanting to fire the army chief on Friday, just the day before the Could-Be-Coup, and a assassination attempt on the man who would be his replacement. (!!!)

But this is also a story that goes months back, maybe even years. See, Lesotho’s 2012 elections resulted in a hung parliament that led to a coalition between three parties (NOTE: there are so many different political parties involved in this fracas that I’m not even going to begin saying is which is which here). It’s the tensions in this coalition that are behind the weekend’s events. Thabane’s coalition partners aren’t thrilled with his leadership and an attempt to introduce a motion of no confidence in him earlier this year was thoroughly swatted aside when he simply suspended Parliament instead. And that’s what that aforementioned anti-Thabane protest march was all about: forcing him to reopen Parliament.

Recommended reading

  • The best resource to keep up-to-date with this has to be the Lesotho Times – I cannot recommend their coverage enough: it’s rolling and nuanced and thoroughly up-to-date for the reader who wants to really know the nitty-gritty this story. You can follow their reports months back.
  • For a quick Dummies’ Guide to the background to all this, I put out a Special Edition SADC Wrap over the weekend that explains it all in basic, tongue-in-cheek detail. (I also did a more serious piece for Al Jazeera on the same topic for people who don’t want to deal with my sense of humour).
  • This remarkable piece on IOL also gives a brilliant explanation of how we got to this point. (My name is on this piece, too, but really I contributed the bare minimum – all credit has to go to IOL foreign editor Peter Fabricius and our Lesotho correspondent Basildon Peta, who just overflow with experience and knowledge).
  • SABC also has a correspondent in Maseru in the form of Nthakoane Ngatane – she’s been tweeting and blogging updates on the Parliamentary crisis for months and is absolutely worth the follow.

KvS zambiaZambia
Zambian president Michael Sata is apparently still alive after months of speculation about his absence on any public platform, apparently due to his ill health. It’s led to discussions about who would succeed Sata should he die – the deputy Guy Scott? The justice minister Wynter Kabimba? The finance minister Alexander Chikwanda?

Well, Sata threw a spanner into the works like a grumpy old man screaming “I’m not dead yet!” by firing Kabimba, who thought by some as the favourite in the race.

Recommended reading

  • Zambia Reports is an excellent resource for anybody interested in the country’s news, and this specific piece claims to give some insider info on what Sata said to Kabimba after the firing: “You know the answers to all your questions. You think I am foolish, I have been watching you from time back, I have seen what kind of an element you are, you and your friends, I shall fix all of you one by one. I know you wanted me dead while you acted illegally as president so you could take over but God didn’t allow you.” Joh.
  • It’s another Peter Fabricius punt, but this great piece of his on the ISS website (published just before Sata was fired) is a very good read for anybody wanting to understand the succession battle that’s been playing out over the last few months: “The divisions between the factions are evidently deepened by personal, tribal and ideological animosities … Because of the ideological differences between the rival factions jostling to succeed Sata, the succession struggle could, in theory, have significant implications for investors and the economy.”

In other news
KvS swazilandA Twitter account inspired by Wikileaks is exposing the high life of Swaziland‘s monarchy. Swazi Leaks has been tweeting pictures of police beating protesters and, more tellingly, pictures of King Mswati III’s children living it up abroad. “The king has an annual household budget of around $60-million (45 million euros) in a country where about 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day,” writes Neo Maditla for AFP. The country is routinely lambasted for labour and human rights abuses. Political parties are banned and a number of journalists and activists are currently behind bars.

KvS malawiMalawi ministers last week requested for a 600% increase in their salaries. President Peter Mutharika quickly nipped that in the bud. According to the Nyasa Times, the president’s spokesman said Mutharika “finds it unethical to raise ministers’ salaries when the cost of living is not only high for them, but for every Malawian”. The ministers were asking for K3.5-million (that’s Malawian kwachas, by the way), about $8,800 or nearly R95,000. Yes, ridiculous. But also keep in mind that these guys currently only earn K600,000 – that’s just over $1500 or R16 000 a month. (Somebody tell the Generations actors.)

KvS drcThe DRC confirmed two Ebola cases last week, but said they were unrelated to the current epidemic in West Africa that has so far killed over 1500. According to reports, a quarantine was quickly imposed – this is the DRC’s seventh Ebola outbreak, so by now they should know by now what they’re doing. In fact, two weeks ago they even offered their assistance to the West African countries currently battling the disease. But even this isolated case in the DRC is already having knock-on effects: according to reports coming out of Zambia, a group of truckers coming through the country from the DRC are stuck on the border between Zambia and Botswana. This after Botswana imposed a travel restrictions on anyone coming in from Ebola-affected countries.

KvS namibiaAnd a protest in Namibia turned violent last week, ending in the shooting of a 26-year-old woman, Frieda Ndatipo. Ndatipo was part of a crowd of “struggle kids” – children of fighters in Namibia’s battle for independence – protesting for jobs outside the headquarters of the ruling party. “The shoot-out erupted after the seemingly peaceful crowd of demonstrators allegedly opened fire on the policemen, who were in the process of searching the group for weapons,” reported local newspaper The Namibian. The protesters also reportedly “had stones and sticks on them when they were searched”. The struggle kids deny this. You can read the interview The Namibian did with Ndatipo’s family and friends here: “But how do you shoot somebody who is running away and who is posing no threat to you? I really don’t understand this. Someone must explain this to me. These children are campaigning for their rights. Their parents died for this country.”


Kristen van SchieKristen van Schie is a South African journalist working at the Weekend Argus in Cape Town. Raised in Namibia, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, she has reported from the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Namibia, Vietnam, Antarctica, and a ship in the Indian Ocean. She is a three-time winner at the Sikuvile Journalism Awards, South Africa’s premier newspaper awards. She blogs about news from the region at The SADC Wrap. Follow her on Twitter.