Thomas Thabane. Picture: AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
Thomas Thabane. Picture: AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is to be charged with the murder of his estranged spouse, the deputy police commissioner said on Thursday, the latest twist in a love triangle murder case that has stunned the Southern African highland kingdom.

The 80-year-old Thabane took to the radio to announce that he will step down if "all the requisite preparations for my retirement are completed".

He did not mention the murder case in the radio broadcast. He instead cited old age as a reason for quitting as prime minister of Lesotho, which has a long history of political instability.

Thabane had been under mounting pressure over the death of former first lady Lipolelo, who was shot and killed in June 2017 near her home in the capital Maseru two days before he took office.

The prime minister’s current spouse, Maesaiah Thabane, was detained earlier in February and charged with ordering the murder, and is out on bail.

Two years earlier, Lipolelo had been involved in a legal battle with Maesaiah over who should be recognised as Thabane’s rightful spouse.

The case ended after the Lesotho High Court ruled that Lipolelo was the country’s official first lady until the finalisation of her divorce from Thabane.

Maesaiah, his spouse by customary law, was barred from "performing any functions and exercising any rights" of a prime minister’s spouse, including receiving financial benefits.

"The prime minister is going to be charged with the murder. The police are preparing directives and he will probably be charged tomorrow [Friday]," deputy commissioner of police Paseka Mokete said.

Maesaiah and Thomas were married two months after Lipolelo’s death, and denied any involvement in her killing.

Thomas Thabane’s spokesperson, Relebohile Moyeye, said he could not comment as he had not yet seen the charges.

Police said that Maesaiah, 42, had hired eight assassins to kill the former first lady but that she was not present at the shooting. Lipolelo, then 58, and Thabane were going through an acrimonious divorce at the time. It is unknown which assailant shot her dead in her car.

The prime minister’s resignation comes days after his party’s executive council called for him to step down immediately. "I have served my country diligently," Thabane said onstate radio. "I’ve worked for a peaceful and stable Lesotho. Today ... at my age, I have lost most of my energy ... I hereby retire as prime minister with effect from the end of July."

The deputy commissioner said the charge sheet has already been prepared but that Thomas Thabane’s lawyers had requested an extra day.

"I think it’s high time he goes [from office], but I don’t know why it’s taking so long. He has to go for the sake of the nation," Malineo Stoffels, a 30-year-old businesswoman, said after listening to the announcement on a taxi radio in Maseru.

"Everyone is talking about us [Lesotho], the economy has gone down," she said. "It has to end."

Reuters/Bloomberg