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politics

‘Game of Thrones’ Has Nothing on Lesotho Murder Drama

‘Game of Thrones’ Has Nothing on Lesotho Murder Drama

  • Prime minister’s third wife linked to killing of second wife
  • Premier said Friday he’ll step down; his wife is on the run
Thabane and his wife Maesiah at the his inauguration on June 16, 2017, in Maseru.
Thabane and his wife Maesiah at the his inauguration on June 16, 2017, in Maseru. Photographer: Samson Motikoe/AFP via Getty Images
Thabane and his wife Maesiah at the his inauguration on June 16, 2017, in Maseru.
Photographer: Samson Motikoe/AFP via Getty Images

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Even in a country known for its volatile politics, the latest crisis in the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho is worthy of an HBO drama series.

Lesotho’s 80-year-old prime minister, Thomas Thabane, said on Friday he’ll step down following a chorus of calls for his resignation over the murder of his second wife in June 2017. A key suspect is 42-year-old Maesiah Thabane, the woman he married a little over two months after the slaying. Police have issued a warrant for her arrest, and she’s on the run.

Thabane was inaugurated as prime minister two days after his second wife, Lipolelo, was shot at the age of 58. An earlier stint as premier from 2012-15 was marred by an alleged coup attempt in 2014 as well as a legal battle between Lipolelo and Maesiah over who should be recognized as Thabane’s rightful wife.

That battle ended in 2015 after the Lesotho High Court ruled that Lipolelo was the country’s official First Lady until the finalization of her divorce from Thabane. Maesiah, his wife by customary law, was barred from “performing any functions and exercising any rights” of a prime minister’s spouse, including receiving financial benefits. The divorce was never finalized.

The killing was initially blamed on unidentified gunmen. But this month details emerged that implicate both Thabane and Maesiah, his third wife, in court documents filed by Lesotho’s police commissioner as he successfully fought his sudden suspension by Thabane. One is a letter linking Thabane’s phone to the scene of the crime.

Last year, Thabane’s daughter publicly accused Maesiah of orchestrating Lipolelo’s killing. Neither Thabane nor Maesiah have responded to the accusations, with Thabane promising only that he’ll “retire” -- without saying when.

The communications minister has urged Maesiah to turn herself in. She enjoys little public sympathy, widely seen as someone who’s tried to meddle in government affairs.

Lesotho is renowned for its murder rate, one of Africa’s highest, a distinction it shares with its much larger neighbor, South Africa, which completely surrounds it.

The mountainous country of about 3 million people is known for its natural beauty, diamond and mohair exports and conical straw hats. The government is now pushing for the establishment of plantations of cannabis -- long used by as medicine by the native Basotho people -- to supply the burgeoning global medical cannabis industry.

Read more about Lesotho’s drive to export cannabis

Cannabis Greenhouses

Cannabis greenhouses in the mountains of Lesotho.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

“The country was in trouble” with Thabane at the helm, said Motlamelle Kapa, associate professor of Political Science at the National University of Lesotho. “There was no effective leadership, the ministers were delinquent and nobody was putting anyone in order or holding them accountable for their actions.”

The opposition is threatening to organize protests, and the ruling All Basotho Convention, or ABC, has been holding a series of meetings with its three coalition partners to discuss how to deal with the affair. Thabane was already an increasingly divisive figure within his own party before the crisis.

“It won’t be easy for members of ABC to elect the new prime minister, but they will have to elect a candidate who will compromise and give direction to the party and the government,” Kapa said.