Fragment of an Oral History of Opposition to the 1986 Paramilitary Overthrow of Chief Leabua Jonathan's Government

  • Motlatsi Thabane National University of Lesotho
Keywords: oral history methodology, military coup, resistance to apartheid, Lesotho-South Africa relations, ANC in Lesotho


In January 1986, the Lesotho Paramilitary Force (LPF) overthrew the Basotho National Party (BNP) government of Chief Leabua Jonathan. In the aftermath of the coup d’état, Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya led a military government with a civilian cabinet made up of individuals, some of whom, like Major General Lekhanya himself, were members of the BNP. The coup followed years of (a) general fear in the country as a result of acts of political violence and brutality perpetrated by the BNP Youth League against individuals and groups considered as anti - BNP government; and (b) the BNP government’s vociferous support of the struggle against apartheid in regional and international forums. Against that background, the overthrow of Chief Jonathan’s government was welcomed on the one hand by the people of Lesotho — happy to be rid of the BNP Youth League terror — and on the other hand by the South African government — happy to be rid of a fierce critic, Chief Jonathan, whose small country greatly depended on the South African economy. Indeed, the South African government was known to have encouraged the overthrow of Chief Jonathan’s government. This article presents oral testimonies about the events around, and opposition to, the coup. In this way, it seeks to draw attention to the experiences of those who could be said to have failed, as opposed to the stories of the victors, which tended to dominate writings on the 1986 coup.

Author Biography

Motlatsi Thabane, National University of Lesotho
Department of Historical Studies