‘I don’t kill people’ – Lesotho PM Thomas Thabane ready to step down, but denies killing wife

Johannesburg – On the cusp of stepping down,
Lesotho’s embattled prime minister has denied in an interview with AFP any role
in the murder of his estranged wife, a drama that has gripped the tiny kingdom
for months.

The octogenarian Thomas Thabane has been under
pressure even from his own party to resign over the accusations, and he has
agreed to go – but only on the grounds of his old age.

In a telephone interview with AFP, Thabane
vehemently denied he was involved in the 2017 killing of his 58-year-old wife
Lipolelo, who he was in the process of divorcing.

Police have questioned but not charged Thabane in
the case, which has triggered a protracted political crisis in the mountainous
southern African nation, although his current wife has been indicted.

“For me it is not the best subject to deal
with because a woman who was my wife and who I loved was killed and I don’t
kill people and I wouldn’t kill my wife. No, no!” he said.

‘Very painful’

The couple had been locked in a bitter divorce at
the time and her death sent shockwaves through a country with a history of
political instability.

Thabane admitted that they had “a bit of a
disagreement” just before she was killed – two days before his
inauguration.

“This matter is not only a matter of great
pain to me and it came out as a huge embarrassment. And it’s painful, very
painful,” he said.

His political rivals say he has been seeking
immunity from prosecution as part of a “dignified” exit from office
that has been mediated by South Africa.

Sounding relaxed and contemplative in the
interview, the two-time prime minister said he did not want to serve out his
term which is due to end in 2022.

“I have served enough in this…and other
capacities and the time has come for me to retire,” said Thabane, who
turns 81 in two weeks’ time.

“All I look forward to…is for me to be left
alone,” he said.

“All the other things that are being said are
just nonsense.

“I don’t want to worry my heart about that and
I also don’t want to spoil my happiness by delving into things that just make
me feel very sad.”

New coalition emerging

In January, he set himself a target to leave office
by 31 July as the murder accusations swirled.

But rivals in his own All Basotho Convention (ABC
party and outside have been pushing for his early departure.

Mediation talks led by South Africa, and legal and
parliamentary processes, culminated in the disbanding of his fractured
coalition government on Monday.

Speaking in his first interview following the
coalition collapse, Thabane sounded buoyant.

“A new coalition is emerging and it is a good
thing,” he said.

He refused to give the exact date that he plans to
clear his desk and hand over the reins, saying there were still some loose ends
to be to tied up – to make his retirement “as smooth as possible”.

But he said he intended to turn in his resignation
letter to the king on Wednesday.

Parliament is due to meet on 22 May to appoint his
successor and install a new government.

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, 58, has been
nominated to be the new premier.

‘I’m trying to set a precedent’

The saga has also sucked in his new wife Maesaiah,
43, whom he married two months after the killing and who has been charged with
murder.

“How they involve her in this, I don’t know, I
don’t understand. All that rubbish they have been collecting to try and involve
her, is not working,” Thabane said.

Thabane’s time in office had brought hopes of
stability to Lesotho.

He first came to power in 2012 as the head of the
country’s first coalition government, formed after an inconclusive vote.

But his second term was rocked by Lipolelo’s
murder.

While no premier has served out a full five-year
term in Lesotho, Thabane boasted that he has set an example to fellow African
leaders who have the propensity to cling to power.

“I’m trying to set a precedent that leaders in
Africa must volunteer to leave when they think it’s time to leave or at the
very worst, they must leave when their term ends.”

Besides writing a book about his life, and going
back to reading the plays of William Shakespeare that he studied at university,
Thabane says he wants to serve as lay minister in his evangelical church.

'I don't kill people' - Lesotho PM Thomas Thabane ready to step down, but denies killing wife