Southern African Development Community intervention in Lesotho

Southern African Development Community intervention in Lesotho

The 1998 military intervention in Lesotho, codenamed Operation Boleas, was a military invasion launched in the name of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and led by South Africa through its South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Troops from Botsawana were supposed to join SANDF forces when they crossed the border to quell a suspected coup d'état. However, the Botswana contingent lost its way and only SANDF troops entered the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho. This led, after an incident at the Katse dam to rioting in the Lesotho capital, Maseru, initially directed at South African-owned businesses. But this soon spread and much of the centre of Maseru was severely damaged with shops and hotels looted and burned.

Trouble began in March 1998 when parliamentary elections in Lesotho resulted in an overwhelming majority for the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, which won 79 out of 80 seats. However allegations of vote fraud soon surfaced, and after a failed lawsuit by the opposition parties, widespread rioting broke out and there was talk in August and September of a possible coup by Lesotho's small army.

In September while President Nelson Mandela of South Africa was out of the country, Inkatha Freedom Party leader and then home affairs minister in the African National Congress-led government, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, acted in his place. It was he who took responsibility for ordering SANDF troops to lead a SADC "intervention" into Lesotho and some 700 South African troops enterred Lesotho on September 22. Mandela subsequently endorsed the decision and the invasion. South Africa was particularly keen to ensure control of the Katse dam in the Maluti mountains above Maseru and which provides much of the water for South Africa's major industrial region of the Witwatersrand.

Looting and arson erupted, and it took several years to rebuild Maseru's town centre. SADC troops were pulled out in May 1999.

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