Week 1: Military Coup – Time to Leave

September the first. I had been looking forward to this day for a long time being my first of a 3 month volunteer contract with Kick4Life (K4L). I’ll be helping with the K4L hotel and No.7 restaurant come October and in the mean time will be preparing for the two tours coming up. So, a lot to get up to speed with. So why on my first day was I sitting in a coffee shop across the border in Clarens, South Africa? 

I was greeted at a cold (4 degrees) King Moshoeshoe I international airport in Maseru on Friday afternoon by Chris and K4L staff Livho and Stume, having completed three flights between Gatwick, Dubai, Johannesburg and Maseru. I got this far with all possessions still in tact…result! The flights included learning about Jahovas Witnesses with a 24 year old cake-making JW from Chatham travelling to South Korea to spend a month with Korean JW’s she met online, and a 45 year old Canadian artist visiting Joburg to stay with friends she also met online…”Well”, I thought to myself, “judging by these conversations this should be an interesting 5 months”…

Gatwick Goodbyes: See you in February!
Downsizing for the final leg
Above Johannesburg
Lesotho: The Mountain Kingdom
King Moshoeshoe I International Airport!  
I met some K4L staff and toured the new impressive Football for Hope Center as the sun was setting (being reminded of the arrival back in 2009) and as Chris rushed to complete deals before the transfer window closed.

A 2010 World Cup Legacy,
hopefully soon to be home to a Bullock Brother 5-a-side Reunion


We then headed back to my new home in Maseru West where I was introduced to our housemate Moses and friend Catriona. Moses was adopted at birth in Lesotho and raised by missionaries in Kentucky, US and is back here with a 1 year contract providing IT courses for youth through K4L. Cat is an architect working as a project manager for the construction of a new Sentebale OVC village, having just completed 3 years with the Prince’s Trust in Sierra Leone. 

After a quick hello and enjoying the banter between Chris, American Moses and Scouse lass Cat, Chris and I headed off to K4L’s No 7 social enterprise restaurant to be greeted by a warm, intimate atmosphere in a rustic and friendly setting. This place is genuinely excellent in service, food and price and aims to support young trainees into the catering and hospitality industries while also raising awareness and funds for K4L. 

Feeling very satisfied – especially with Chris paying – Chris took me to Maseru’s current ‘place to be’, the Lehakoe Club. I had a great time enjoying the live band, a heated discussion between Chris and his suitably-named local wheeler-dealing equivalent ‘Pokha’ about who gained from the football kit purchase between them, and observing the local culture… 

“We’ve been advised to leave the country immediately” is not the first sentence you expect or want to be woken up by on the morning after a series of long flights and a late night. But within an hour (would have been quicker if it weren’t for Moses’ maticulous vacuum packing) of hearing Chris’ Australian neighbour explain the instructions received from her employee, we were heading for the border in Catriona’s pick up truck loaded with all possessions loaded in the back. 

With Lesotho’s TV and radio out of action, limited internet connections and rumours of a military ‘coup’ overnight, things were pretty uncertain and slightly concerning. But we handled this in the way that only Western ex-pats could; settling in to a beautiful South African town filled with art galleries and restaurants surrounded by a mountainous backdrop eating pizza and drinking cheap beer. What’s more, we were introduced to the area by a rather mysterious and nomadic 63 year old Sean Connery-ish-looking, story-telling South African photographer who grew up in Jersey and was fluent in Afrikaan, French and English. Cat recently met the magnetic ‘Rene-Paul’ at a Lesotho lodge. 


The rest of the evening was spent in local bar ‘Amigoes’, enjoying an excellent atmosphere where some brilliant live music competed for our attention with the live 6-3 Chelsea game and eating burritos with two Parisian sisters we bumped into just an hour before in an art gallery. Although Rene-Paul seemed to have the latter covered quite nicely. 


We spent the night at ‘Maluti Mountain Lodge‘ at a discounted rate negotiated by Rene-Paul, enjoying a simple Rondavaal with staggering mountain views. 

Rene-Paul negotiating rates with the owner

The View from Maluti Mountain Lodge 
Maluti Mountain Lodge – a snip at around £20 per night
Chris, writing an important email in the lodge lounge

I don’t intend to write this much on future blogs, but it is difficult not to now given the current circumstances, time on our hands and peaceful coffee shop and hotel lounge blogging settings. 

Sunday was spent trying to gain updates on the Lesotho situation whilst following Rene-Paul’s Land Rover through Golden Gate national park, spotting Zebra and Wildebeast.

Moses on his return to the car after retrieving lost jumper…
“Right, I’m off”. 

“What, off off?” we quizzed Rene-Paul in surprise. With that, we watched as he stuck his finger out of his Land Rover window to test the wind direction and therefore decide where he was going to head next. Rumour has it he received a text message from a young Norwegian acquaintance in Cape Town. 

Anyway, the rest of the day was spent walking through the hills, enjoying dinner in the German themed Highlander restaurant and a quiet evening back at the lodge flicking between the many live football matches on the tele. 

Entertaining Moses finds his long lost hat, complete with tyre marks in our original parking space

Monday we visited Cat’s Barbers at Room 28 Maluti Mountain Lodge and mainly sat at the Highlander cafe where I wrote most of this before being distracted by a German themed brewery restaurant!  

Chris takes the plunge first at Cat’s Barbers

Before
After
Highlander Coffee House – our communications point for the day
Chris in Clarens, making an important phone call
The Clarens Brewery including free beer tasters
Today we’ve been debating over a dilemma as to whether to return to Maseru as some expats now have, take up the offer of free accommodation just over the border in Landybrand or alternatively move on to Drakensburg, east of Lesotho. Initially we decided on the latter to maintain our insanity and sense of adventure whilst the situation remains unclear in Lesotho and US citizens (therefore Moses) have been advised to leave. 

‘PBA Bear’ Ready for the Next Stop

In the end, en route to Drakensburg our indecisiveness and waning patience have got the better and we have settled for a compromise half way (and half way between Joburg and Durban) at the motel style ‘Mountain View Inn’ in Bergview just outside the quite random town of Harrismith (named after British colonel Harry Smith). 

Our latest stop: Mountain View Inn, Bergview
Sunset Cliffs, an increasingly familiar site

Fingers crossed we may be able to think about moving back to Maseru tomorrow. In the mean time, here’s what we think we know about the situation: 

  • An uneasy coalition government has been in place in Lesotho since 2012, between All Basotho Congress (ABC), Lesotho Democratic Congress (LDC) and Basotho National Party (BNP). 
  • Parliament has been suspended since June by Prime Minister Thebane (ABD) after MPs threatened a vote of no confidence
  • The vote of no confidence is linked to the LDC under Deputy Prime Minster Metsing who is due a court case for corruption during his time under previous ruling party LD
  • PM Thebane has sacked a of political figures recently including Army Lieutenant Commander General Kamoli, also linked to LD’s corruption charges 
  • PM Thebane fled to SA on Friday night having been tipped off of the imminent ‘coup’ apparently led by the sacked army general. Kamoli’s loyal troops attempted an assassination on his successor after raiding Thebane’s state house in Maseru West (near our house), but only managing to kill his dog 
  • The police are loyal to Thebane, with the army loyal to deputy Primary Minister Metsing (LDC) who is due in court for corruption charges as part of the previous ruling party LD. The police were stripped of arms by the army and many officers have fled Lesotho 
  • It is not clear who is currently in power though Komoli has claimed he is, a small amount of gunfire and power cuts have been reported and international NGO staff have apparently been advised to leave the country

Finishing this post off in the Rodriguez themed ‘Sugarman Cafe’, fingers crossed next time I write a blog post we’ll be back in a stable Lesotho with my feet under the table at K4L helping host the first of two tours…At the very least I hope this new random group of mates can continue to put up with each other! I guess this is technically no longer only ’30 stops before 30′!


…Let’s see what the next days bring! 

Hope you’re all keeping well. 

Andy