THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) will send an independent pathologist to Lesotho to investigate the death of former army chief Maaparankoe Mahao, whose killing last week sparked violent protests in the mountain kingdom.
The regional body’s council on politics, defense and security “decided as a matter of urgency, to establish an independent commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Brigadier Mahao, and its deployment with immediate effect,” SADC said in an e-mailed statement late on Friday.
This followed a meeting of leaders of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi and Lesotho that day in Pretoria to discuss the political instability in Lesotho.
Tension has intensified since last week following the killing of Mahao by soldiers under the control of army commander Tlali Kamoli. South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa went to the land-locked nation this week to help mediate the conflict and reported back to the regional heads of state meeting called by President Jacob Zuma.
Workers at Lesotho’s national university went on strike and members of a community in Botha-Bothe, 116 kilometres (72 miles) north of the capital, Maseru, marched to the district administrator on July 1 to hand over a petition asking for the arrest of those involved in Mahao’s death. The defense ministry has said he was killed during an operation to apprehend suspected coup plotters.
Soldiers with AK-47s
His family, in a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and African leaders including Zuma, said soldiers with AK-47 assault rifles stopped Mahao’s car while he was driving with two nephews, shot him, and dragged his bleeding body across the road before driving off with him.
The letter was read by Mahao’s brother, Vice Chancellor of the National University of Lesotho Nqosa Mahao, at a June 30 press conference in Maseru.
Lesotho has been in turmoil since ex-Prime Minister Tom Thabane dismissed Kamoli as army commander and replaced him with Mahao in August. Elections on Feb. 28 produced no clear winner and a coalition government led by the Democratic Congress named Pakalitha Mosisili as premier and Kamoli was reinstated.
With a population of about two million, Lesotho earns foreign exchange from tourism and exports of mohair and is entirely surrounded by South Africa, whose mines it provides with labour. It also supplies water to South Africa’s industrial hub of Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The country may lose as many as 35,000 jobs in the textile industry if the U.S. drops the nation from its preferential trade accord, known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, because of worsening political tension in the country, Ts’eliso Ramochela, secretary-general of the Alliance of Progressive Trade Unions, said last month.