Lesotho PM to be charged with murder of estranged wife
Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane pictured with his wife Maesaiah at his inauguration on June 16, 2017. (Samson Motikoe/AFP/Getty Images/CNN)
MASERU, LESOTHO -- Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane will be charged with the murder of his estranged wife, who was gunned down ahead of his inauguration in 2017, police said Thursday, as the beleaguered premier announced he would quit by the end of July.
Lilopelo Thabane, 58, was killed in June 2017 by unknown assailants on the outskirts of the capital Maseru, two days before the premier, now aged 80, took office.
The couple had been embroiled in bitter divorce proceedings when Lipolelo was murdered in front of her home in the capital Maseru.
Her death shook the tiny mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa.
Police investigations found that communications records from the day of the murder included his cell phone number.
Deputy Police Commissioner Paseka Mokete told AFP that the 80-year-old prime minister "will be formally charged with... murder".
"It does not necessarily mean he was there but that he was acting in common purpose," Mokete said.
The case also drew in the prime minister’s current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, 42, who has also been charged with the same murder of her rival.
"She was charged under common purpose even though she did not pull the trigger, but people she was acting in consent with pulled the trigger," said Mokete by phone.
Sporting a bright yellow outfit complete with a matching headscarf, she sat straight-faced, next to the prime minister during his inauguration that was held at a stadium in Maseru, two days after the murder.
The long unresolved murder had plunged the PM's leadership into question, forcing his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party to ask him to resign.
- 'Old man should go' -
The ABC had given him until Thursday to step aside but he snubbed their deadline, instead saying he will only go by July 31.
"I effectively retire as prime minister with effect from the end of July this year, or at an earlier date if all the requisite preparations for my retirement are completed before then," he said in an address on national radio.
He said the decision to step "has been the hardest to make in my over half-a-century career as in the public service. I have been battling with this idea for over a year now".
"The truth is at my age I have lost most of my energy. I'm not as energetic as I used to be a few years ago," he added.
"I hope that the remaining months that I will spend in office will afford parliament and my party enough time to work on transitional arrangements."
Thabane's re-election in 2017 had brought hopes of stability to Lesotho, a country with a long history of turmoil.
He first came to power in 2012 as head of the country's first coalition government, formed after an inconclusive vote.
But his second term was rocked by Lipolelo's murder and ructions in the ruling party, buffeting the picturesque kingdom of 2.2 million people.
Opposition parties and many ordinary people in the country also want Thabane gone.
"It defies logic how he still wants to remain in office despite the controversy that surrounds him," said street vendor Malefa Mpobole, 42.
Another citizen, Lenka Ntjabane, 43, said: "This old man should just go. He should just take his wife and go."