Factory workers' strike nears its fourth month, while Chief Justice is unlawfully suspended

Peaceful Assembly

On 9th August 2018, an ongoing strike by a worker’s union composed of security guards, factory and general services workers escalated into protests in Maseru. During the protests which were held at the Thetsane Industrial Circle and at Maputsoe, the worker’s union expressed their disappointment that the Ministry of Labor and Employment had failed to address their grievances, including a 15 percent wage increase. Protestors blocked the main road and burnt tyres.

The protests resumed on 14th August as factory workers gathered at Thetsane industrial area, outside Maseru demanding increased wages. The demonstration however quickly descended into chaos after police fired rubber bullets and used water cannons to disperse the protestors. The protests continued on the following day, on 15th August, as the factory workers staged yet another demonstration in Maseru near the Lerotholi Polytechnic Institute, while others blocked traffic on Moshoeshoe Road. On 21st August, it was reported that protests by the factory workers resumed in Maseru. The protests were staged at Thetsane Industrial area after which protestors marched on Moshoeshoe Road toward Kingsway. Gunfire, burning tires in streets, and incidents of vandalism were reported amid a heightened security presence, as military and police personnel were deployed to the area.

According to local media, the factory workers have been on strike since 9th July - when the government failed to meet the workers' 14-day ultimatum demanding increased wages.

In other developments, on 1st August 2018, women protesters in Lesotho joined their South African counterparts to march against gender based violence, as the #TotalShutDown protests spilled over to Lesotho. The protestors gathered at Setsoto Stadium and marched to the historical Sefika Sa Moshoeshoe in Maseru. As previously reported in the CIVICUS Monitor, the month of August is commemorated as the women’s month (in South Africa), where issues such as gender-based violence are highlighted.

On 26th July 2018, it was reported that female opposition members from the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) gathered at the Manthabiseng Convention Centre to protest against the Thomas Thabane-led administration, carrying placards outside the conference centre which was hosting first ladies and delegates from other countries who were attending the 12th Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancers in Africa Conference and Exhibition (SCCA) conference. The protestors decried the government’s failure to address several issues including the June 2017 murder of the former First Lady, Lipolelo Thabane and the disappearance of Makarabo Mojakhomo, a suspect accused of defrauding the First Lady ’Maesaia Thabane Trust Fund. According to authorities, Mojakhomo allegedly escaped police custody on 31st May, two days after she was arrested by the police. Her family however disputed this narrative and expressed fear that she had been subjected to enforced disappearance ‘due to the history and pattern of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment in Lesotho’. 

Association

On 12th September 2018, King Letsie III suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara following a recommendation by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Civil society organisations have considered the suspension to be political motivated, as it went against two High court orders which prohibited the Prime Minister from taking any measures against the Chief Justice or recommending to the King, the suspension of the Chief Justice pending the full determination of an ongoing court case.

According to Amnesty International, the suspension of Majara follows recent persistent attacks on the judiciary, the office of the chief justice, the minister of justice, Attorney General and the Lesotho Law Society, by the authorities. Between November 2017 and June 2018, Chief Justice Magara has been subjected to several attacks from government authorities, including a public statement on 9th December 2017 by the Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Lebohang Hlaele MP, in which he accused the Chief Justice of political bias and corruption and threatened that she should resign or face impeachment.