Lesotho’s beleaguered prime minister Thomas Thabane resigned on Tuesday, ending a months-long crisis that engulfed the kingdom after he was accused of playing a conspiratorial role in the murder of his estranged wife.
The June 2017 killing sent shockwaves through the tiny landlocked southern African nation, plunging the country of 2.2 million into political turmoil and prompting calls for Thabane, now 80, to step down.
Thabane and his then wife Lipolelo Thabane were in the midst of a bitter divorce when she was shot dead outside her home two days before her husband’s inauguration. She was aged 58.
Police said they found Thabane’s mobile number in communications records from the crime scene.
The alleged evidence prompted rivals within and outside Thabane’s party All Basotho Convention (ABC) party to demand his immediate resignation.
On Tuesday he confirmed he was stepping down.
“I appear before you to announce that the work that you had assigned me may not be over but the time to retire from the great theatre of action, take leave from public life and office has finally arrived,” he said in a nationally televised address.
– ‘Polarisation’ –
Thabane, whose term was due to end in 2022, said earlier this year that he would leave office by July 31 because of his advanced age.
“When I made a voluntary announcement in January this year to retire from office on or before the 31st of July 2020, I did so with all sincerity because of my full conviction and belief that to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the heaven,” Thabane said Tuesday.
“But because of the deeply entrenched political polarisation in our society, some decided to use my announcement for political gain while others resigned themselves into further entrenching divisions among Basotho.”
The ruling party and the opposition nominated Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to be his successor after Thabane’s coalition government was disbanded last week.
The country’s supreme ruler King Letsie III has also been advised to appoint Majoro as premier and he is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday.
Thabane pledged his backing of the incoming premier, urging citizens to “give my successor utmost support”.
Thabane has vehemently denied any involvement in his ex-wife’s murder, and told AFP last week he is not a killer.
“I don’t kill people and I wouldn’t kill my wife. No, no!” he said.
His current wife Maesaiah, 43, whom he married two months after Lipolelo’s death, is considered a co-conspirator in the murder case.
She has already been charged with murder and is out on bail.
– ‘Nothing has changed’ –
While no premier has served out a full five-year term in Lesotho over the past decade, Thabane boasted in the interview with AFP that he has set an example to fellow African leaders who have a propensity to cling to power.
“I’m trying to set a precedent that leaders in Africa must volunteer to leave when they think it’s time to leave or at the very worst they must leave when their term ends.”
Thabane will remain the leader of his ABC party for the time being.
For ordinary people in Lesotho like 28-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor Nthabiseng Mofolo, Thabane’s departure brings little relief to his life.
“Nothing has really changed for me. My problems remain the same regardless of change of government. I am not bothered,” Mofolo said.
But Thabane’s supporter Limpho Mohai is of the opinion that “Thabane has worked really hard for this country”.
“He was just unfortunate that he became a prime minister at an old age,” said Mohai, who is in his 50s.
Analyst Sofonea Shale, who heads civil society organisation Lesotho’s Development for Peace Education, said Thabane’s exit offers an opportunity for much needed reforms in the crisis-prone country completely surrounded by South Africa.
“The new prime minister and his partners, can bring a tangible change if they prioritise reforms,” Shale said. AFP