news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Lesotho: Church Statements

Lesotho: Church Statements
Date distributed (ymd): 981001
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains three documents from African church groups concerning the crisis in Lesotho. Additional comment from South African and regional press sources about the crisis, many aspects of which remain obscure, can be found on the Africa News web site (

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Note: Ongoing internal disputes in Lesotho over the May 1998 election led, on September 22, to intervention of South African and Botswanan troops to support the Lesotho government against mutineers. The intervention, which has come under heavy criticism in South Africa and the region, was followed by looting which resulted in the virtual destruction of the capital Maseru and an estimated $750 million in damages. Lesotho government and opposition representatives are reported to be meeting on October 2, along with mediators from South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, to discuss conditions for recovery and for withdrawal of the South African and Botswanan troops.

Lesotho 1998 general elections report


Ecumenical Documentation and Information Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (EDICESA),
P.O. Box H94, Hatfield, Harare, Zimbabwe
Tel: 263-4-572979/572958/570311/2; Fax: 263-4-572979

[distributed by EDICESA September 22, 1998]


The Lesotho's general elections were held on 23 May 1998. This was the second time to hold elections since its return to civilian rule in 1993. There was no violence that erupted throughout the country. Everything was conducted in a peaceful manner.

"The Basotho people turned out to vote in significant numbers and with great patience, this showed that people really want to choose a leader who they want for the next five years", said Reverend Ishmael Mqathazane, General Secretary of the Christian Council of Lesotho in an interview with Hitler Mhomwa, a Documentalist from the Ecumenical Documentation and Information Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (EDICESA). He added, "The Basotho people were praying day and night that the elections be free and fair". The General Secretary emphasized that Churches should monitor elections as non partisan observers. This would ensure that they are free and fair.

The Christian Council of Lesotho had organized the ecumenical monitoring team in conjunction with the different denominations of the Small Kingdom of 2 million people together with the Fellowship of Councils of Churches in Eastern and Southern Africa (FOCCESA) represented by its secretariat EDICESA. Thus significantly shows how the Churches are now actively involved in participating in the general elections and other political issues of their countries.


The history of Lesotho has been characterized by decades of political instability. The Mountain Kingdom got its independence from Britain in 1966. It was ruled first as a one-party state and then as a military dictatorship. A coup in 1986 resulted in several years of military rule. Democratic civilian rule returned to Lesotho in 1993 with the holding of parliamentary elections. The Basotho Congress Party (BCP) won all the 65 seats.

The 1993 elections were declared free and fair by domestic and international observers although some political parties alleged cases of bogus voting and inaccurate registers.

In 1997, the political environment was marked by tension within the ruling BCP. These differences resulted in the formation of a new political party. In June 1997, Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle and 41 members of Parliament formed the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). The remaining BCP Members of Parliament refused to accept the LCD government as legitimate.

The BCP and extra Parliamentary groups, rallied in protest and called upon the monarch to dissolve Parliament. Appeals to neighbours in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe and the broader international community to intervene were to no avail. The BCP were declared the official opposition and refused to take opposition seats in parliament.


There were 12 political parties and 30 independent candidates who had registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to contest in the 1998 Lesotho general elections and these were:

Marematlou Freedom Party, M.F.P. Sefate Democratic Union, S.D.U. Basotho National Party, B.N.P. Basotho Congress Party, B.C.P. Lesotho Congress for Democracy, L.C.D. National Progressive Party, N.P.P. Popular Front for Democracy, P.F.D. Kopanang Basotho Party, K.B.P. Lesotho Labour Party/United Democratic Party Alliance, L.L.P/U.D.P. Alliance, Lesotho Educational Party, L.E.P. Christian Democratic Party, C.D.P. National Independent Party, N.I.P.


Under pressure from local advocacy groups and the international community, the government of Lesotho introduced and enacted legislation in 1997 to establish an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). This was fully responsible for the preparation and all logistics involved in the holding of the elections.

Three of the country's major political parties, the BCP, BNP and the MFP, on 19 May 1998 sought a High Court order to postpone the elections to enable the IEC to examine some irregularities in the election registration process. Although the court conceded there was validity in some of their complaints, for instance, the voters' roll suggests that eight times as many people are born on the first of January in Lesotho than on other days of the year and in some cases 10% of the voter population was dully accredited by the IEC officials without providing any date of birth.

The Chief Justice Mr. Justice Joseph Kheola ruled that this was not so serious as to warrant the postponement of the elections and also it had no powers to overturn a decision taken by King Letsie III calling for the May 23 elections.


"They will choose for themselves a single leader and once again they will grow and prosper" Hosea 1:11. This was the situation in Lesotho on 23 May 1998. Both the old-aged and the youth were choosing a leader for themselves who would make their country prosper. The voting started at 7:00 am and ended at 5:00 pm. Most of the polling stations were properly identified and located.

By 10:00 am, the National Radio of Lesotho had announced that some of the polling stations in the northern surbubs were through with the voting process but in some areas, especially in the mountains (rural areas), very few people had come for voting. The number then increased in the afternoon when the morning dew had disappeared as it was the cold season.

The old-aged were allowed to vote first or as soon as they arrived. The voting process especially in the mountains was very slow because most of the people are not literate so they needed some guidelines although voter education programmes had been carried out before.

Throughout the day, there were no reports of violence. People had been voting peacefully. Very few minor problems occurred such as, voters spoiling their ballot papers and asking for new ones. These were solved by polling officers easily and peacefully.

Election officials administered the voting process according to the electoral laws and regulations. Voters were free to ask for any assistance. The officers assisted in a manner that protected the voter's freedom of choice and right to secrecy.

Key Election Players involved in the Election


The Independent Electoral Commission 2. Director of Elections 3. Area Electoral Officer 4. Returning Officers 5. Presiding Officers 6. Polling Officers 7. Counting Officers 8. Official Witness 9. Domestic Observers 10. Party Representatives and Candidates' Agents 11. International Observers


The elections were monitored by more than 400 domestic observers from the Christian Council of Lesotho, individual Churches and the NGO's. Among these, 181 were from the Churches as organized by the Christian Council of Lesotho. There were also 150 international observers from 15 different countries including EDICESA, an ecumenical organization representing the 12 National Councils of Churches in Eastern and Southern Africa. Rev. Mqathazane praised the churches for participating in this programme of active solidarity.

The observers monitored the conduct of elections in 79 constituencies and visited at least two thirds of the polling stations. All the monitors were working under the IEC and were answerable to it. Part of their role was to report any events that were contrary to the electoral law. The monitors were identified by white aprons and caps with a Lesotho badge and written "Observer".

It has now become the norm for ecumenical organizations to monitor elections in different countries. This has been done in South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and this time in Lesotho.

Both the domestic and international observers pronounced themselves satisfied with the vote. The evidence collected by the observers supported the conclusion that the elections were held in a good manner which made it acceptable according to international standards. Rafael Pinter, representing the United Nations Development Programme said that the election was internationally acceptable.

Observer Delegations and Organizations:

National NGO's

Lesotho Council of NGO's (LCN), Lesotho Federation of Women's Lawyers (FIDA), Lesotho Catholic Bishops' Conference / Justice and Peace (LCBC), Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), Lesotho Trade Union Congress (LTUC). Lesotho Youth Federation (LYFE), Lesotho Young Christian Students (LYCS)

International Observers by Country

Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mozambique, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Regional and International organizations

Ecumenical Documentation and Information Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (EDICESA) * European Union * Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) * Organization of African Unity (OAU) * National Democratic Institute (NDI) * United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) * World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC)


The whole election process was covered by the media organizations that comprised of the National Radio, Television and Local English Newspapers. On the radio, there were comments and updates on what was going on in all the districts throughout the day. The Local Newspapers were not biased in their reporting.


Lesotho's ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy swept to a general election victory. Mr. Pakalitha Mosisili, the LCD leader who has been Deputy Prime Minister was sworn-in as Prime Minister on 29 May. Ntsu Mokhehle who was the former Prime Minister had already stated that he will not stand for another term due to his poor health which has been deteriorating for the past two years.

Out of the 79 contested constituencies, the ruling LCD captured 78 of the constituencies, nearly all of them with margins of thousands while the Basotho Congress Party won one seat. Out of the 834,446 voters who registered to cast their votes, only 557,726 were able to do so. There were obvious reasons why the LCD could have outperformed initial expectations. These include; the granting just before elections of a 10% pay rise to civil servants; the appearance on election day of supervising policemen in brand-new uniforms; most notably the promise of R850-million to Lesotho's farmers if the LCD was returned to power.

The opposition parties in the tiny Kingdom were unhappy with the results. The BNP and the BCP were on the lead saying they were not satisfied with the results. "We are not accepting the whole results," Selala Sekhonyana, whose brother Evaristus leads the BNP, told to about 600 supporters in Maseru. His comments were backed by an official from the BCP, who said the two parties would explore ways of forming a united opposition to the LCD.

The streets of Maseru were fairly quiet after the LCD emerged as the clear victor, with one or two trucks carrying cheering supporters waving party flags through the nearly deserted streets. Some of the contesting political parties were demonstrating the day after the elections saying that the elections were not free and fair.


The BNP, BCP and the MFP have discovered malpractice in the election and have filed petitions in the High Court. In a document made available to media after the elections, the three parties constituted a combined task force to audit documents relating to the elections.

The parties allege that of the 31 constituencies made available to the task force, there were very large differences between the physical count of those who actually voted and those who had been cancelled on the voters roll. According to the statement of the 31 constituencies examined, the LCD had captured only 12 not all of them.

The Christian Council of Lesotho and FOCCESA had send election monitors who issued a statement saying the 1998 Lesotho general elections "were substantially orderly, peaceful, free and fair."

The CCL later noted that there were some people who had some suspicions over the whole process of voting. The council then issued a statement that "these issues should be investigated."

GENERAL REPORT ON ELECTIONS 270 polling stations 94% correctly 4% not quite correctly 1% OK but some irregularities 0% badly 0% very badly

AVERAGE PRESENCE OF PARTY AGENTS 270 polling stations BCP, LCD, BNP - 69% One or two members BCP, LCD, BNP - 29% No party - 2% Other situations - 1%

AVERAGE TIME SPEND - by observer unit at polling station by time category
270 polling stations 0 - 15 mins - 65% 15 - 30 mins - 26% 30 - 45 mins - 5% 45 - .... mins - 4%

P O Box 4921, Johannesburg 2000.
Tel: (011) 492 1380


September 22, 1998


The South African Council of Churches expresses deep dismay and concern over the South African military intervention in the neighbour state of Lesotho. Such an act can not contribute towards a peaceful settlement of the deep divisions within that nation.

The act denies the basic premise upon which our own democratic nation was founded- the principle of negotiated settlement and peaceful resolution of differences by the parties concerned without any dominating intrusion by outside forces.

The act denies the independent statehood of Lesotho and constitutes an invasion of that nation on the part of South Africa.

The act denies all that has been said by our own political leaders during recent weeks about this conflict and those in other parts of Africa.

Our own delay in issuing the Langa Commission report to the people of Lesotho caused the tension in Lesotho to increase. We now take it upon ourselves to deal with that tension through the use of armed forces. This is an intolerable situation which calls for the immediate withdrawal of our forces and an apology to the people of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

In making this statement we express our deep concern for the lives of all those affected by the violence and our prayers go out to all those who suffer as a consequence of the discord and, more especially, the intervention of the South African military.

South African Council of Churches

September 22nd 1998

distributed by Bernard Spong, 13 Clieveden Ave, Auckland Park, 2092 Johannesburg;
Tel: +27 11 726 7969; EMail:

Press Statement 11/98
Pretoria, 25 September 1998



We are shocked at the tragic loss of life, the wanton destruction of property and the fleeing of business people from Lesotho as a result of the intervention of the South African defence force. We are deeply disturbed that by all accounts the diplomatic solution was not fully pursued in addressing the political crisis in Lesotho.


The military intervention by the SADC forces in Lesotho has unleashed a trail of death, and destruction. While this intervention was ostensibly to avert a possible coup d'etat, there is no escaping the fact that it is being seen as unjust aggression against sovereignty of the kingdom of Lesotho. SADC's ill-advised and ill-prepared military intervention has deepened the divisions and intensified animosity between the governing party and the opposition and also between the Basotho and the people of South Africa. South Africa's participation in this blunder is in stark contrast to the hospitality offered by Lesotho during the apartheid era. South Africa made a costly and tragic miscalculation.


We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, wish to express our sympathy to the King and to his people. We acknowledge and are grateful to learn of the establishment of the directorate for the purpose of bringing about law and order.

Nevertheless we urge SADC to execute an ordered and an immediate withdrawal of its armed forces and instead to pursue the path of diplomacy by convening a multi-party summit giving due cognisance to the role of the King. Furthermore we urge that immediate steps be taken to repair the damage done to relations between our two nations, and that clarification be given as soon as possible regarding to compensation to those who have suffered loss as a result of this SADC initiative.

Issued by: Secretary General
Date: 1998 - 09 - 25
Ref: Fr Buti Tlhagale OMI
TEL: (012)323-6458; FAX: (012)326-6218: E-mail:

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

URL for this file: