Report on Situation in Lesotho


02 November 1998
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Meeting report



2 November 1998


Documents: Please note that the full briefing to the committee can be accessed from


The Chair, Mr. Yengeni (ANC) welcomed the members and the Deputy-Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence as well as the Chief of the SANDF and other generals and staff of the SANDF. The chairman stated the aim of the meeting as getting a full briefing from government on the situation in Lesotho.

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aziz Pahad, and the Deputy Minister of Defence, Ronnie Kasrils, proceeded with a background briefing on the Lesotho affair. They stated that the members should realise that Lesotho has had 7 coups since the 1970s. Previously South Africa, together with Botswana and Mozambique, had been asked by SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) to attend to the problem of the 1994 coup in Lesotho. This was the first time SADC had become involved and this troika of states had been asked to take guardianship of Lesotho.

The latest crisis was due to the results of the election held in Lesotho in May this year where the LCD (Lesotho Congress for Democracy) obtained 79 out of a possible 80 seats. Opposition parties started demonstrations and raised objections. The intervention by SADC lead to the agreement by all political parties in Lesotho that a commission of inquiry should be held into the election. It was agreed to that Judge Langa should head the commission and he was given two weeks to deal with the allegations. The results of the commission showed that there where some irregularities but it was difficult to prove that the government was responsible for those irregularities. The situation turned when rebel soldiers of the Lesotho Defence Force removed the entire command structure of the army and when protestors started to confiscate government cars and threatened ministers. The Minister of Defence, Mr. Modise negotiated with the mutineers and they agreed that their actions were illegal. They subsequently released the officers but continued harassing the officers and the entire officer corps escaped to the Freestate town of Ladybrandt. The mutineers were told that in terms of the SADC understanding no illegal coup of any legitimate government will be tolerated and that any such coup will be met with full military force. The intervention was requested by the Prime Minister. The situation was considered grave as anarchy and chaos were ruling the streets. It was then decided that there was no alternative to a military intervention. and the Lesotho Government request, the RSA and Botswana were authorised to intervene militarily in Lesotho to prevent any further anarchy and to create a stable environment for the restoration of law and order.

In accordance with the SADC agreement, it was decided to take action. The Prime Minister of Lesotho asked for an intervention on the 12th of September. Only after all other options were considered did the SADC forces intervene on 22 September 1998. Botswanan forces were given permission to enter South Africa on the 17th September 1988. On the 21st the command was given by the presidency to intervene on 22 September 1998. On 2 October 1998 all political parties agreed to the formation of an interim structure.

Mr. Pahad stated that there are still some issues that are to be addressed such as the role of the monarchy and the electoral system. He stated his dismay with the actions of South African opposition parties during the Lesotho crisis. It was unprecedented and would not have been seen anywhere else in the world. He was disgusted that opposition political parties in South Africa wanted to use a matter of national security as political capital. According to him the opposition’s actions came close to treason. This statement was met with strong disagreement from committee members of the opposition.

The Chairman restored order and asked the members to act in such a manner that the briefing would be fruitful, providing the members with important answers.

The delegation of the SANDF gave a briefing on Operation Boleas. The Chief of the SANDF gave a further briefing of the political run-up to the intervention: He stated that the SADC intervention took place in the context of increasing regional instability. The situation in Lesotho was of such a nature that the government was unable to govern. The repeated pleas for a return to normality were fruitless. Accordingly after a decision was taken on the Lesotho matter by the SADC heads of states at the SADC summit in Mauritius, the chiefs of the defence forces of SADC met in Gabarone on 18 September 1998. The final decision was given by the President’s office on 16 September 1998 to the SANDF to prepare for military intervention. The original mission stated that the Lesotho government in accordance with the SADC has requested the RSA and Botswana to intervene militarily in Lesotho to prevent a possible coup d’etat.

Genl. Ferreira stated that the mission was accordingly planned in four stages, making provision for the movement of the forces to the Ladibrandt area. Phase 1 was to secure the border post; phase 2 was a move to secure the King’s palace, government buildings and military installations. Phase 3 was to plan the stabilisation of military targets and to start the disarmament of the dissidents of the Lesotho Defence Force . This would then be followed by continuous stabilising operations and relief and demobilisation.

Colonel Ronnie Hartslief, Boleas Operation Commander, continued by giving a briefing of the Boleas operation. He stated the mission he received was to stabilise Lesotho by disarming the dissidents. For this purpose three priorities where identified. Namely to create a stable environment in Maseru – secure the border post, secure the Lesotho Defence Force bases, secure the Lesotho Radio Broadcasting station; and secure the embassies. The second priority was to secure the royal palace and the airforce bases. Lastly the aim was to secure the operational areas such as Maseru and the Katse dam as a whole. Information had been received that the Lesotho Defence Force dissidents might attack around the Katse dam where there are two villages with 198 South Africans. These had to be secured.

The following weak points where identified at the subsequent debriefing after stage 2 of the Boleas Operation:

- South Africa has no clear national security policy, i.e. the order for a military intervention came as a surprise .

- There was too little time for a proper planning cycle in the absence of a contingency plan.

- There was too little time for deployment drills. It was mentioned that at least 7 days are needed to prepare for a conventional operation. For a peace support operation 8 weeks is needed.

- There had been a lack of co-operation with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

- CJ ops was understaffed for an operation of this kind in such a short time.

- The Defence secretariat, MCC, AOS did not brief before operation.

- Many of the experts have had all the training but no experience in such operations.

-There was limited intelligence liaison with BDF.

- Lack of air photographs , a 1971 photograph had to be used.

- A minimal flow of Central Intelligence.

- There was no time for force preparation.

- There was no financial support available – Operation Boleas drained the Free State regional task force of all its funds.

- The participating units were not combat ready.

- Stock level of planning for operational reserves not done.

- Backloading of weapons.

- SA army war reserves depleted due to budgetary restrictions.

- Limited reserves on ration packs.

- Units arrived unprepared

- Lack of external communication, visitors interfered with time for commanding.

- Lack of media liaison.

- There was no plan for the looting that took place. Did not regard this as the responsibility of the SANDF.

- The nature of the operation was problematic. This was a military intervention, not a peace-support operation.

- The intelligence available was outdated (1994). The intelligence equipment was outdated and unserviceable

- the SADC taskforce had no powers of arrest and there was no time to study the laws of Lesotho.

In general it was regarded that there was too little time for planning and preparation of forces. The media war was lost which was detrimental to the operation. The right people at the right level were not informed of intentions in time. The effect of budget cuts was clearly seen in this case. There was also a lack of effective external communications. The citizens of Lesotho did not know the intentions of the SANDF – SADC intervention.

The operation succeeded in all military objectives within an extremely short planning cycle. The force had shown an extremely good battle discipline. The Special Force-recce teams deployed were extremely effective and there was extremely effective internal communications. They also had good electronic warfare support. Furthermore the members of the SANDF had shown a high level of understanding and commitment to the rules and law of armed conflict. All participants had shown great morale and this would contribute to a positive effect on the integration and transformation of the SANDF. The SANDF staff expressed their wish that the debriefing would have a positive effect on the budget allocation.

The lessons learned from Operation Boleas were that:

- The current logistical function does not support rapid deployment of forces.

- Contingency planning on the corporate level must include stockpiling.

- Finance for logistics must be made available.

A number of concerns regarding the situation brought the following to the fore:

-There was no weapon inventory kept in the Lesotho Defence Force

- Too many illegal weapons were in circulation

- Lesotho government’s lack of confidence in the security forces.

- SADC not having a working procedure to handle a crisis situation of this nature.

- Discrepancies in allowances between the SANDF troops and the Botswana Defence Force troops. (This should be addressed in the future where there is a co-operation between the defence forces from different countries.)

- The question arises to what extent should the Defence Force be involved in the domestic situation.

It was stated that the situation in Lesotho was now relatively stable and there was no immediate threat. However Gen. Nyanda expressed his concern about the level of illegal weapons still unaccounted for and the threat this holds for South Africa.

A member from the South African Health Services then proceeded to give a report on the role of the Health Services in addressing the humanitarian issues regarding the military intervention. They had to deal with displaced persons both within South Africa and Lesotho. For this they had to work closely with the Lesotho government departments, NGOs such as theRed Cross and Salvation Army and many others. A number of services had to be performed due to the breakdown of the Lesotho Health Services and the aim was to restore this as soon as possible. The humanitarian part of the operation is still continuing and a stable environment is needed for this purpose. All of the displaced persons were returned to Lesotho and only a small number of children remain in the Maseru orphanage.

Gen. Nyanda ended the briefing by stating that in future the SADC should give the participating forces more direction and security/military guidelines. There should be greater consideration of the disarmament process. What should be done with the weapons under the control of the SANDF and that are still in Lesotho? What strategy should be followed with regard to disarmament?

The casualties for the SANDF was 8 dead and 17 wounded. 4 died not during the operation itself. The Lesotho Defence Force had 29 dead and 51 wounded. A large number of arms were confiscated but according to the inventory there is still a number of weapons missing. This is cause for concern.

The Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr. Kasrils praised the SANDF for doing in an extraordinary way what the government has asked it to do. It should be realised that the objectives were achieved and if left unchecked it would have threatened the stability of the whole Southern African region. It must however be ensured that lessons are learnt. It should also be noted that the members who died in this instance were volunteers to the SANDF and they were not forced to be a part of it. He also expressed his disgust with the way the media handled the situation. There was no hoisting of a South African flag at the palace as was alleged. The Basotho royal flag has many of the same colours as the South African flag. Also the accusations of rape had not been followed up: it surfaced that the woman had accused her own long-term friend because she had been forced to do so. Also the entire Maseru was not raised to the ground. It was mainly South African shops in the central business district that were looted.

The chairperson then opened the floor for questions by the members with a warning that questions should only be for matter of clarity.

Questions by members:

Mr. Smit (NP) thanked the SANDF for the informative briefing and stated the fact that the National Party had asked for such a meeting already on the 26 October. He expressed his dismay at the attack of the Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs on the opposition parties and saw this as a misuse of his position.

Question by ANC member: Could a figure be put on the extent of the damage, were those who incurred damage insured and were the factories in the non-damaged industrial area operating normally?

The deputy-minister replied that he had been amazed to see a normal, bustling city, there had been normal activity after the first week. The capital was fully functioning. There had been a lot of damage but it was not clear what the costs would be. The Medical Services representative added that the government of Lesotho had already started providing alternative locations for those businesses that lost their properties in the crisis.

Ms Modise (ANC) congratulated the SANDF for completing the operation in the midst of grave deficiencies. She stated that the Joint Standing Committee on Defence should fully discuss with Foreign Affairs how to define peace-making efforts.

Dr Steenkamp (NP) stated that it was generally believed that all peaceful means had not been exhausted in this situation. The opposition in South Africa was not informed of the situation. He asked whether the deputy minister would be able to ensure that any intervention in the Congo will not be done in the same manner with the same mistakes. Also there had been reports that the Botswana troops had been cheered and the SANDF troops jeered at. He continued by asking the Deputy Minister of Intelligence why the intelligence was not up to scratch and wondered what the minister had been doing since 1994.

Deputy Minister Pahad responded by saying that South Africa had to act quickly to stabilise the situation in Lesotho. South Africa could not ignore its regional responsibilities. If South Africa become involved in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they had to be prepared. Cabinet had recently given approval to increase South Africa’s capacity building ability. Deputy Minster Kasrils said that the reports as referred to by Dr Steenkamp, were not true, there were a media fabrication.

The Deputy-Minister of Intelligence reported that the Lesotho situation was a chronic one. The head of the South African Intelligence Service, and the secret service had been in Lesotho for some time before the intervention. The problem was that they needed time to co-ordinate the different sources of intelligence. The intervention still came as a surprise as diplomats and the intelligence community had been optimistic up until the last moment.

Mr. Gibson (DP) stated that according to the minister it seemed that South Africa had had all the necessary intelligence. He wondered why that intelligence had not been given to the military. He noted that he himself, together with Mr. Selfe, supported the SANDF. What concerned the opposition were the political aspects of the operation. He still wanted to know why the government had waited two days before informing the opposition of the situation and he asked the Deputy Minister when South Africa would have a clear national security policy.

Mr. Pahad said that the opposition had the tendency to call on their God-given right to be critical in all circumstances. If one wanted to take up the right to be critical, one should be prepared to take criticism oneself. The opposition parties had clearly not considered national security in this instance.

Mr Themba Khoza (IFP) stated that they had for the first time realised the damage of the historical divide. He said that he could not get a proper picture on the kind of intelligence that the military had. South Africa was supposed to have proper intelligence on its neighbours since 1994. What they had seen was just the opposite. The army could not lose its preparedness. It was dangerous for political parties to stand divided on such a matter.

Rev. Magoba (PAC) expressed his appreciation of the briefing by the SANDF. He raised the question that, considering the terrain of Lesotho, could one be sure that the mutineers had not gone into hiding. Further he commented that although this was a SADC intervention, one got the impression that SADC policies had not been involved and it did appear like an invasion.

A number or ANC members then expressed their concern about the missing weapons and the lack of a national security policy. They wanted to know when they would be able to expect such a policy.

Gen. Nyanda replied that the SANDF did make a proper assessment and it was believed that every dissident within the Lesotho Defence Force had been accounted for. There was no immediate military threat to South Africa. Mr. Kasrils added that they were not sure when there would be a national policy on South African security.

The Chairperson thanked everyone and asked for a minute of silence for those soldiers that had lost their lives in the operation. The meeting adjourned afterwards.


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