In Depth

First lady’s murder: Lesotho PM quizzed over killing of estranged wife

African leader Thomas Thabane remarried weeks after his former partner was shot dead

Police in the tiny African nation of Lesotho have called the country’s prime minister for questioning over alleged links to the 2017 murder of his estranged wife.

The Guardian reports that investigators in the landlocked southern nation hope Thomas Thabane can “cast light on the death of Lipolelo Thabane”. The 80-year-old PM’s ex was shot dead two days before he was sworn in for his second stint in office.

An arrest warrant has also been issued for Maesaiah Thabane, the African leader’s current wife, whose whereabouts are unknown.

What happened?

Lipolelo Thabane was shot dead by gunmen in June 2017 on the outskirts of Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, which has the highest murder rate per 100,000 people of any country in Africa.

The Guardian reports that the 58-year-old and her estranged husband had been “embroiled in bitter divorce proceedings”. The newspaper adds that she is understood to have refused to divorce her husband during his first term in office, between 2012 and 2015, and “won a court battle to retain her privileges as the country’s first lady”.

According to South African newspaper The Mail & Guardian, Thabane had gone to the Constitutional Court in an unsuccessful effort to have the woman who would become his second wife “declared as the official first lady instead of Lipolelo Thabane”. 

He remarried just three months after his ex was murdered, a crime that remains unsolved.

Why is the case back in the spotlight?

According to the Daily Mail, the case has come under renewed scrutiny following the emergence earlier this month of a letter from Lesotho’s police chief claiming that communication records show that someone at the murder scene had called Thabane’s mobile phone.

The letter, dated 23 December 2019, became public in court documents filed over a separate matter. 

Amid growing calls for action, Lesotho’s Deputy Police Commissioner Paseke Mokete sent a letter to the PM this week urging him to attend an interview with police in order to “cast a light” on the ongoing investigation, CNN reports.

The authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Thabane’s current wife, after she failed to appear for questioning at a police station in early January. Police believe she has left the country, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli told the US broadcaster.

What next?

Thabane announced last week that he would be resigning as PM, after senior members of his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party accused him of hampering investigations into the killing. 

However, “he gave no timetable for when he would be stepping down”, reports multilingual news Africanews

“As the prime minister, I have undertaken an oath to respect and protect the constitution and all other laws of Lesotho,” Thabane told reporters in Maseru this week.

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