Lesotho’s embattled prime minister, Tom Thabane, has once again left the tiny kingdom in suspense.
First, he promised to resign but would not give a specific date.
And now, he has failed to honour a court date.
Thabane (80) was expected to appear before the Maseru Magistrates’ Court on Friday to face charges of murder, attempted murder and malicious damage to property.
It was expected that he would be charged alongside his wife, Maesaiah Thabane, for killing his estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
They would also face charges of the attempted murder of Thato Sibolla, who was travelling with Lipolelo when she was gunned down.
Thabane’s senior private secretary, Thabo Thakalekoala, said the prime minister had gone to South Africa for medical treatment.
He said Thabane’s scheduled check-up date had coincided with his court date.
Thakalekoala dismissed reports that Thabane had deliberately skipped the country to avoid facing the court as untrue, calling them “erroneous”.
“I am not sure when he will come back from South Africa,” he added.
Thabane’s supporters gathered outside court on Friday in anticipation of his appearance.
They were dressed in the regalia of ruling party the All Basotho Convention (ABC).
Deputy commissioner of police Paseka Mokete said Thabane, together with his wife, had been charged with a common purpose to commit the abovementioned crimes.
He said law enforcement authorities were stunned by Thabane’s no-show on Friday as they did not receive an official report from his office informing them that he would be out of the country.
Describing the news that Thabane had left for neighbouring South Africa to attend a medical check-up as rumours, Mokete said: “We are now going to verify these rumours. We will take it from there.”
He said that if the police were not convinced about Thabane’s stated sick leave, they would approach the court to issue a warrant of arrest for him.
His lawyer could also face charges of defeating the ends of justice if found guilty of misleading the police when he confirmed to them that Thabane would appear in court.
Last month, police summoned Thabane after their probe showed that his cellphone may have been used during the killing of Lipolelo.
But Thabane did not go to police headquarters. Instead, the Attorney-General, Advocate Haae Phoofolo, asked the police to go to Thabane’s office for interviews.
Mokete said that Thabane had responded to their questions verbally and in writing, but did not disclose the contents of these replies.
This week, ABC MPs rallied to their leader’s defence, saying the charges against him were politically motivated.
ABC MP Chalane Phori said that if the police were serious about investigating crime and prosecuting criminal cases, they should direct their attention to the more than 50 suspects who had died in the country’s holding cells.
Meanwhile, Thabane announced on Thursday that he would step down before or in July, without offering a specific date.
He said he had served the country for almost 55 years and was no longer fit enough to continue in the civil service.
During his remaining months in office, Thabane said, MPs would have to seek his successor.
He said his successor should dedicate himself to uplifting the impoverished Basotho nation, which was wallowing in abject poverty.
He appealed to other political leaders to support the country’s on-going comprehensive national reforms.
A month ago, Thabane had first announced his intention to resign from power. At the time, he did not say when he would step down; only that he intended doing so.
Thabane said his resignation should not be misconstrued as it was offered in good faith.
Motlalentoa Letsosa, deputy leader of opposition party the Democratic Congress, called on Thabane to step down with immediate effect.
He said the nation did not want to be led by a prime minister who was a murder suspect.
“We want him to write to the king and tell him that he is resigning,” he said, adding that never in Lesotho’s history had there been a premier who was a murder suspect.
Letsosa said he wondered why Thabane was clinging to power, given that he was a suspect in the murder of his estranged wife.
Professor Kopano Makoa of the National University of Lesotho echoed these sentiments, adding that never in Lesotho’s political history had it happened that a premier voluntarily relinquished power.
However, Thabane’s move to step down raises many questions because it comes with conditions – including that MPs first find a suitable successor.
Makoa said Thabane’s promise to leave office only in July created uncertainty. “What if he does not resign?” he asked.