The Presidential Years

Return to 15.7 Lesotho

What happened was that there was this SADC group set up at the Mauritius summit: Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Mozambique said yes to everything - they didn’t want to travel to all the meetings and there were constraints on them and they would agree with whatever it was that we decided. We would call them and we would say, ‘This is what was discussed’. It was the same with the Zimbabweans: ‘We are fine, as long as you inform us we support you’. The person who was consulted almost on a daily basis, was the deputy president of Botswana, Khama, who handled the matter on behalf of his country, and was talking to us. We went there a few times.

There was this view in our government that we should put a stranglehold around Lesotho, just encircle the country and let nothing in and out and they would succumb. That view was popular with people at the political level. They used to go to Lesotho to try to persuade those people to abandon their arms and submit to the political authority. Over time attitudes hardened. I was playing the role of being prepared in case there was anything needed like stranglehold or encirclement, whatever options were put on the table.

And then at the critical moment, Khama was saying, ‘No, let’s go in there and put this thing in order’. All the time we would come and report. Events were moving very rapidly and I think at one point the decision had to be taken. We went to Botswana again and the decision was taken: Khama said, ‘Let’s go, I’m sending a battalion and it will pass through you’.

Before that, Mandela was flying to New York from Waterkloof [after the SADC summit in Mauritius]. I went with Joe Modise, with all that group, to brief him on the plane at Waterkloof to say that ‘The situation is unravelling and we want your decision.’ He told us, ‘Go to Botswana and whatever the decision that you take, fine, but you will have to sort it out with them.’ So Joe Modise and I and another person went to Botswana where the decision was taken.

Then we talked to Mozambique who said, ‘Fine,’ and we talked to Zimbabwe who said, ‘Go ahead, whatever you two have decided, the minister of defence of South Africa and the deputy president of Botswana.’

The president was in New York now and we had to act on the decision in a matter of days. We had already appointed a commander, Colonel Hartslief, who was going to lead that mission, who would prepare the plans and bring them for approval.

So we go to Cape Town, where the acting president, Buthelezi, is. All of us are sitting at this huge table and we say this is what SADC has decided, that we must go in there and we already have the contingency plans to do that. There were two views amongst the people there. Some were of the view, ‘Let’s call Thabo,’ and we say, ‘But he is not the commander-in-chief and the commander-in-chief understands that when there is a decision of SADC, we must proceed.’

It is at this point that we brief Buthelezi. He sees there are two views, so he says, ‘What I’m going to do, I’m going to refer to the real commander-in-chief.’ So he goes to his office and leaves us there. He comes back, and he’s signed this thing. So Mandela said, ‘Yes, go ahead.’ Buthelezi had called the president and the president said, ‘But I told those chaps that if it is the decision of SADC they must go.’ The truth of the matter is that Mandela was always briefed about this thing and he approved.

Siphiwe Nyanda
Return to 15.7 Lesotho