South Africa’s Cautious Intervention in Lesotho’s Political Crisis

South Africa’s Cautious Intervention in Lesotho’s Political Crisis
Army personnel outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho, Aug. 31, 2014 photo (AP photo).

South African President Jacob Zuma visited Lesotho today to try to resolve a political crisis now in its second week. On Aug. 30, Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled to South Africa—which entirely surrounds his small, mountainous country—claiming to have escaped an attempted military coup. Thabane has since returned to the capital of Maseru, where, at his request, he is under the protection of a South African civilian police force. Meanwhile, an insurgency drawn from Lesotho’s elite Special Forces Unit, led by the ousted armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, has raided state armories and taken to the hills. It now falls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional bloc in which South Africa is the key player, to restore order to Lesotho.

What took place in Maseru was “not a conventional coup,” says James Hamill, a South Africa expert at the University of Leicester. “It has some of the classic hallmarks of a coup: the military in the streets, disarming the police, surrounding the prime minister’s residence, the prime minister fleeing,” Hamill adds. “However, the military did not formally take charge; it did not begin making announcements on national television or radio; and they formally denied a coup had taken place. So my take is that this was a kind of crypto-coup designed to force a particular political outcome.”

Dimpho Motsamai, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, agrees. “This is about creating a conducive environment to undermine Thabane at all costs,” she says, “knowing SADC is not interested in a military intervention.” Motsamai draws a distinction between two overlapping crises: a long-running political struggle between Thabane and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and a security crisis triggered by Thabane’s recent sacking of Kamoli over alleged corruption. Metsing has pointedly refused to condemn Kamoli’s insurgency, which is widely perceived as taking place on Metsing’s behalf. Thabane, for his part, on Monday refused to reopen Parliament, jeopardizing a SADC-brokered peace deal in order to avoid having his government disbanded.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.