Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs Minister reveals details of agreement with Pik Botha


Lesotho flag.

Friday, 4 December 1981

On 4 December 1981 Lesotho's Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Mooki Molapo, told The Star of an agreement reached with the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pik Botha, a few months earlier. It was agreed that SA will curb the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), the military wing of the opposition Basutoland Congress Party (BC), if Lesotho will expel members of the ANC.

This was the first implicit indication from SA that the LLA was operating from its soil. This claim turned out to be valid. Ntsu Mokhehle, then leader of the BCP, was based in Diepkloof, Soweto and was believed to have been directing LLA operatives from there. However, South Africa continued to deny that it had any knowledge of LLA using bases in the country to launch attacks into Lesotho.

The agreement that was reached in 1981 was dissolved by the mid 1980's. In order to understand why this agreement was reached and later dissolved, we should examine the history of the relationship between the South African and Lesotho governments. A 'friendship' between Lesotho and South Africa was forged in 1966, soon after the country gained independence from Britain. Lesotho's ruling party, the Basutoland National Party (BNP), was suspected of having rigged the results in a poll believed to have been won by the BCP. As tensions escalated, the Lesotho Government under Leabua Jonathan, declared a "Qomatsi" or State of Emergency, which forced BCP into exile. Many BCP members fled to Botswana, where they remained until Leabua fell from power in 1985.

At the outbreak of the Soweto Revolt  in June 1976, this cordial relationship waned.  Hundreds of youth from South Africa fled to Lesotho, swelling the ranks of the ANC. This meant the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe , was provided with an opportunity to increase their number of recruits, a development that left the South African Government concerned. This led to tensions between the two countries.

During 1979 the LLA mounted numerous attacks on Lesotho's key installations. Lesotho suspected that the South African government turned a blind eye to the LLA's operations or encouraged them. In June 1979 the BNP declared "Qomatsi II" or the Second State of Emergency.

In the early 1980s Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) mounted numerous attacks in South Africa. The South African Government blamed the neighbouring states of Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland for aiding the MK and launched attacks of its own on them. Lesotho was raided on 9 December 1982 by the South African Defence Force (SADF).During this raid 30 people, including members of the ANC and Lesotho nationals were killed. Relations between South Africa and Lesotho continued to deteriorate, culminating in a bloodless coup organised by the Lesotho Defence Force, which toppled Jonathan's government in 1985.

• Horrell, M. (ed)(1982). Survey of Race Relations in South Africa 1981, Johannesburg: South African Bureau of Race Relations, p. 58).
• Information on Ntsu Mokhehle's stay in Diepkloof Soweto was provided by members of the family that hosted him, acting as couriers for him and his associates inside Lesotho and those still in Botswana at the time.
• lesotho.blogspot, Qomatsi (State of Emergency), [Online]Available at:www.lestho.blogspot.com, [Accessed on 20 November 2013] 
• sahistory,'reveals details of agreement', [Online]Available at www.sahistory.org.za, [Accessed on 20 November 2013] 

Last updated : 04-Dec-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011