The flight to Maseru takes about 45 minutes from Johannesburg. There were only 8 passengers on the plane. Someone said it was because of the time (3 pm), another one because of the price (indeed) and another one pointed out that it is “bumpy” (indeed again).
Coming out of the airport no one was waiting for me as we arrived early. That gave me a chance to talk with a Salesian Sister from Mexico working in the country who was waiting for a couple of volunteers that came in the same flight and ask… “what's the spirit in the country these days?”.
In the meantime Fr Richard Menatsi (IMBISA) arrived and took me to the Mazenod centre in Maseru where we would be staying. He also brief me on the meetings they had (or could not have) these days.
These were short and quick updates. The best one came in the evening when, during supper, I happen to meet someone who had just been working on “voting education” in the country. A member of the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace (CCJP) he had been out of Maseru for the last six weeks as part of the team.
I understand that, following the Maseru agreement last year, it was requested that voter education was done in the country in preparation for the February (2015) elections. The Independent Electoral Commission of Lesotho partnered with local NGOs in order to show transparency and avoid being associated with any political party. The CCJP was one of these organisations. The goal was to build capacity and effective participation of the people.
I must say I enjoyed every minute of the sharing. Through house to house visits, community gatherings, music events and connecting with other stakeholders (local councils, chiefs, government officials) they raised awareness of the coming elections which are being held two years' before time as a result of the crisis experienced last year.
It was interesting to see how they adapted to every local situation: in some cases they would have to meet the people after work, in others they asked for a 10 minute slot at a community meeting. They addressed pensioners on “pension day” and they invited a famous musician to sing at a popular spot. After a couple of songs people would be asked what they knew about the coming elections…
Debates were done at schools: “Elections, the right to vote is the centre of a democratic society”. Those who supported the idea and those who challenged it. These ones probably reflected what is in the hearts and minds of some or many. “Why do we need them? How does this change or improve our lives? What progress bring to our country? Isn't elections linked to corruption?”.
Things were not always easy. They needed to make clear they were not representing any specific political party (as parties are doing their own campaign going door to door too), they had to deal – as the young people had indicated – with those who felt disappointed with the political situation and would just not attend any gathering or would not listen to them.
“Know your candidate” was another important initiative. They organised meetings between candidates of the seven strongest parties and local communities so that each one could present in 10 minutes their platform after which people could ask questions (in some cases seriously challenging what they had presented).
I was particularly grateful to God for such an unexpected gift just after a few hours of being in the Kingdom of Lesotho.