Leabua Jonathan

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Chief
Leabua Jonathan
Minister-president Jonathan van Lesotho (1970).jpg
Prime Minister of Lesotho Jonathan (1970)
2nd Prime Minister of Lesotho
In office
7 July 1965 – 20 January 1986
Monarch Elizabeth II (1965–1966)
Moshoeshoe II (1965–1986)
Preceded by Sekhonyana Nehemia Maseribane
Succeeded by Justin Metsing Lekhanya
As chairman of the Military Council
Personal details
Born Joseph Leabua Jonathan
30 October 1914
Leribe, Basutoland
Died 5 April 1987(1987-04-05) (aged 72)
Pretoria, Transvaal
South Africa
Nationality Basotho
Political party Basotho National Party
Religion Roman Catholic

Joseph Leabua Jonathan (30 October 1914 – 5 April 1987) was the second Prime Minister of Lesotho. He succeeded Chief Sekhonyana Nehemia Maseribane following a by-election and held that post from 1965 to 1986.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Leribe, Jonathan was a minor chief, like many others a great-grandson of the polygamous King Moshoeshoe I.

Jonathan worked as a mine induna at Brakpan but because he was a chief he went back to Rakolo's and got involved in local government in Basutoland from 1937 and was a member of delegations to London that sought self-government in Basutoland.

Politics and premiership[edit]

Jonathan converted to Catholicism and in 1959 founded the Canadian Catholic missionary-backed Basutoland National Party (BNP), renamed Basotho National Party at independence. In the 1960 election, barely a year after its formation, Leabua's party came fourth but in the election where women were disfranchised. In the pre-independence elections of April 1965, the BNP won 31 parliamentary seats out of a total of 60 and thus became a legitimate government that eventually took Basotho to independence in October 1966, despite protests from opposition BCP and MFP who now wanted independence post-poned. Chief Leabua did loose his seat and had to stand for election in a safe seat later. He took office as Prime Minister on 7 July 1965.

Soon after Basutoland gained independence in 1966 as Lesotho, executive power was transferred from the British High Commissioner to the Prime Minister. Jonathan's government took a pacifist stand in South Africa, and this was supported by independent Southern African states such as Zambia of KK Kaunda, Malawi of Banda, Botswana of Sir Seretse Khama, Tanzania of Nyerere among others as they understood the unique situation Lesotho was in as it is completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa and the majority of its people work in the mines there; also because Jonathan at the time thought that he could talk sense with South African prime ministers Henrik Verwoerd and Balthazar Johannes Vorster, who were contemporary with him. Jonathan was hostile to the Pan Africanist Congress of South Africa who supported the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) and Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP, but friendly to the African National Congress (ANC). He forged closer links with the ANC after the PAC-backed Lesotho Liberation Army, the exiled BCP military wing, prepared to target Lesotho after 1973.

State of emergency[edit]

The first post-independence elections were conducted in January 1970. However, the opposition BCP had organized its youth to steal ballot boxes and staff them with their own stolen papers in the highlands of Lesotho; many BNP supporters were killed on the day of the elections and some were prevented to vote by violent BCP youths; in the lead up to these election, the King openly associated with opposition parties and even attended their public gatherings against the constitution of Lesotho and advice from his elected Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan; it is also worth noting that when Ntsu Mokhele and his BCP were fighting against Lesotho's independence in 1965-66, Mokhehle warned Chief Leabua to seek independence and an army to protect himself! Before the pre-independence election of 1965, the BCP despised all chiefs and referred to the King (then Paramount Chief - PC) as Pole Cat, and promised to keep him as far away as possible from the reigns of executive government. It is against this background that Chief Leabua was adviced by the Council of State as per the constitution to suspend the counting and announcement of the 1970 elections. At first, the BCP wanted to get violet, but the government had already anticipated this and it dealt swiftly to bring the culprits to order. Eventually Leabua Jonathan and Ntsu Mokhetle made a public announcement to annul the results of 1970 election and work together a government of national unity that will prepare Lesotho for fresh elections as soon as possible. However, after many deal-breakings by Mokhehle and his BCP, as was the case in many years before and to come, Mokhehle reneged on the deal and in 1973 he tried overthrow the government but failed. They killed some policemen, especially in the northen region of the country, where N. Mphanya of the BCP was well prepared and supported by retired police officers. Many BCP leaders were jailed and tried in court, found guilty and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 1 to 5 years. Mokhehle and his brother Shakhane and some leaders had already escaped to South Africa and they later moved to Botswana, where they were later unceremoniously deported after being found to be working with apartheid South Africa against not only Lesotho but all Southern African liberation movements.

The King, who had associated himself with the opposition parties against the consitution, was then sent to the Netherlands and then Wantage in England near Oxford, where he had previously studied, to learn how a constitutional monarch functioned in a stable and matured democracy.

Racial policy and opposition to apartheid[edit]

Despite Lesotho's economic dependence on South Africa and the government's official policy during the 1970s of dialogue with its neighbour, Jonathan began criticizing the South African government's policy of apartheid supporting for the prohibited African National Congress (ANC) when international advisers suggested Pretoria's days were numbered.

During the late 1970s, Jonathan, despite his regime's protests to Libya, nevertheless accused the South African government of supporting the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA). Mokhehle is fact did indeed go over to Pretoria but only in late 1981. The main LLA force was wiped out in 1979 but later recruits were assisted by a Transkei-based American mercenary with Rhodesian army service, Major Bob MacKenzie, son-in-law of the former CIA deputy-director, Ray Steiner Cline, a former member of the 1969 Nixon administration. The South African government denied these claims but later admitted Mokhehle was part of the notorious Vlakplaas operation. Much of Leabua's unsavoury early political life history has been obscured by his late opportunistic alliance with the ANC, which itself was a highly controversial organisation despite its ostensibly principled stance against apartheid. The best accounts of Leabua's life are in archive material (included over 20 hours of audio recordings of Basotho leaders) provided to university collections by a White Tanzanian intelligence officer, Lt. Gen. Bernard Leeman PhD, who served as a Major in the Lesotho paramilitary and gathered evidence supporting the view that the 1970 was peaceful and the Police Mobile Unit was surprised when the state of emergency was proclaimed.

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Dag Harmaschalt award in 1983
  • Honorary PhD in Education by NUL in 1984
  • Companion of OR Tambo Award (gold) in 2007 (posthumously)

Downfall and death[edit]

On 15 January 1986, a military coup led by Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya ironically under pressure both from Pretoria and the Leballo faction of the Pan Africanist Congress deposed the Jonathan government. Leabua Jonathan was placed under house arrest in August 1986 and died of a heart attack on 5 April 1987 at the age of 72.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Sekhonyana Nehemia Maseribane
Prime Minister of Lesotho
1965–1986
Succeeded by
Justin Lekhanya