Prime Minister Thomas Thabane faced charges related to his alleged complicity in murder and attempted murder, although no one had been brought to justice for the crimes by the year’s end and witnesses had received death threats. Thousands faced forced eviction to make way for a dam. The outbreak of COVID-19 in the country put the livelihoods of tens of thousands at risk and led to state of emergency measures, which the authorities used as a pretext to violate the rights to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly. Health care workers went on strike when their demands for PPE were not met.
No one was brought to justice for the murder of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane, and the attempted murder of her acquaintance, Thato Sebolla. In February, the police announced that the then Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, faced charges in connection with the crimes. Lipolelo Thabane was shot dead in 2017 by unknown assailants while driving home on the outskirts of the capital, Maseru, with Thato Sebolla. The authorities failed to provide adequate protection to witnesses in the case. Thato Sebolla and other key witnesses fled the country after they felt unsafe due to lack of witness protection. Three people, also believed to be witnesses in the case, died in mysterious circumstances in Maseru between 2017 and 2020.1
In May, following mounting pressure from various political parties for Thomas Thabane to stand down, he resigned as Prime Minister.2
Freedom of movement
On 27 March, the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency which was backdated to 18 March, and which introduced measures to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19 after South Africa recorded its first case on 5 March. Security forces used the measures as a pretext to violate the rights to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly.
Right to health
In April, senior government officials acknowledged that the country’s health care system would be unable to deal adequately with a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak. They had no capacity to test for the virus until mid-May, before which samples were sent for testing to South Africa.
In April, many health care workers including doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians, went on strike to demand PPE provision and higher wages which they said should reflect the health risks arising from their exposure to COVID-19. They returned to work after their demands were met.
The construction of the Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong district in the early part of the year threatened nearly 8,000 people with forced eviction and the loss of their livelihoods. The affected communities were not engaged in a process of genuine consultation or adequately compensated for losing their homes and some of the displaced were given just over US$1 as compensation for being resettled far from their homes in areas around Mokhotlong. The dam was being constructed to supply water to South Africa as part of the transnational Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
Economic, social and cultural rights
COVID-19 disrupted the economy, putting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people at risk. Many businesses were forced to cease operations leaving their workers unemployed. Mining and manufacturing sectors were hardest hit with more than 40,000 workers losing their incomes after being laid off.
In March, the government took measures to address the economic meltdown, including by providing financial relief for the private sector and its employees who had lost their jobs in the mining and textile industries. However, hundreds of thousands of people were adversely affected as the financial relief was not enough. Those who worked in the informal economy were disproportionately affected and faced food insecurity.
In April, the government announced that its already failing health system would not be equipped to deal with the return of tens of thousands of Basotho, an Indigenous People from Lesotho, and appealed to them, especially those living and working in South Africa, not to return home while the authorities implemented measures to mitigate against the economic and social impact of COVID-19.
At the end of June, the International Monetary Fund approved US$49.1 million for emergency support to Lesotho to address the pandemic.