MASERU – Action for Peace and Solidarity (APS) this week launched a scathing attack on former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing and former defence minister, Tšeliso Mokhosi, for trying to cover-up the murder of former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao. Yesterday marked exactly five years since his assassination. On June 25 2015, which also happens to have been a Thursday, Mahao was ambushed and killed by fellow soldiers. APS accused Mosisili, Metsing and Mokhosi of variously vilifying Mahao as a ringleader of a mutiny that “supposedly unfolded during the period of his tenure as commander” of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
“Strangely too, the government of the time made no efforts to investigate the matter and bring those responsible to book. Instead, (the government) shielded the criminals behind a weird shroud of what the rulers christened as independence of the army from civilian control claiming politicians had no right to interfere in the matters of security,” APS said in a statement. Efforts to get responses from Mosisili, Metsing and Mokhosi were unsuccessful this week. APS is an association formed by friends, comrades and peers of Mahao after his brutal gunning down by soldiers in 2015 to which seeks to promote his legacy of the defense of the rule of law and human rights.
When Mahao was ambushed and murdered in a daylight shooting outside his village, Mokema in Roma, while on his way to Maseru on June 25, 2015, LDF said he was shot while resisting arrest by soldiers for supposed complicity in the mutiny plot. His family has always differed with this account based on the version of his nephews who were with him during the incident. A total of 23 “mutiny suspects” were arrested while a legion of other soldiers fled the country and hid in neighbouring South Africa.
A Commission of Inquiry, initiated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), at the invitation of Mosisili, found that there were a series of previous attempts against Mahao’s life by members of the LDF manifesting “a desire to have him dead”. The commission dispelled efforts of those LDF members implicated in Mahao’s death to cast the shooting as having occurred in the course of arrest. It recommended stern action against the killers and also found that the alleged mutiny plot was “highly suspect”. The commission recommended an amnesty covering the arrested soldiers and those that skipped the country. The mutiny charges have since been quashed and the former suspects have been reintegrated in the army.
“When the SADC commission of Inquiry led by Judge Mpaphi Phumaphi confirmed our conviction that Comrade Mahao was indeed callously murdered in a predetermined manhunt, and named the killers for prosecution, the government first refused to receive its report, then went on to accept it under threat of sanctions only to excise the names of wrongdoers under pretext of national security,” APS said. Mosisili’s government topped its act with a statement that SADC’s decisions for its implementation were not binding on Lesotho as a sovereign state, the statement added.
It said: “The rulers of the time went further to draft an ill-fated general amnesty bill that placed the arbitrarily detained and tortured “mutineer” soldiers in the same bracket with their Phumaphi named tormentors, and sought to cast a wide net of amnesty to exonerate them. “The cloud of the threat of international isolation that overhung the country over the 18 months to the collapse of that regime in June 2017, is now legend – all as a result of the intransigence born of an unholy marriage of the rulers and criminals embedded in the army.”
Suspected Mahao killers were arrested and charged in November 2017, about five months after Mosisili’s government collapsed. Those soldiers are: Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko, and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Former LDF commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was cited as the 9th accused in Mahao’s murder in January 2019, in a case that is still pending in the High Court. APS this week called on government to garner the courage and do the right thing by putting its foot down to remove all hurdles to a prompt, swift, transparent, and complete prosecution of Mahao killers and “all other cases of the dastardly, murderous state-condoned violence of the security forces; and afford a fitting compensation to the families of the victims”.
Mahao’s death was preceded by power struggles within the LDF since August 2014 when then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane terminated Kamoli’s appointment as LDF commander and promoted the deceased from the rank of brigadier to the rank of Lieutenant General and subsequently appointed him commander.
Kamoli refused to step aside, challenging the legitimacy of his dismissal and subsequently the army attacked police stations and the State House, forcing Thabane to flee the country claiming the attacks were an attempted coup. The home of Mahao was also attacked with fire power which claimed the life of one of his dogs and left his cars riddled with bullets. Kamoli, Mahao and Khothatso Tšooana, then Commissioner of Police were later sent outside the country on special leave by the SADC Facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa as he tried to resolve the security crisis.
Kamoli returned home before his two colleagues. This was after Thabane lost the election which was held in February 2015 and was ousted from power by Mosisili. Mahao and Tšooana arrived later. Mosisili reinstated Kamoli to the position of LDF commander in May 2015 and backdated the reinstatement to August 2014 when Thabane fired him. Mosisili also reversed Mahao’s appointment, saying Kamoli’s dismissal and Mahao’s appointment were illegal. About a month later, Mahao was killed.
But Kamoli has blamed the death of Mahao on the “unfortunate decision” to expel him in August 2014. He said if he was not “suspended from full duty” and posted outside Lesotho, Mahao “could not have possibly met his untimely death”. The claims were made in papers filed in the High Court last year when Kamoli was seeking release on bail from prison. He submitted to the court that he had “no involvement at all in any matter that had to do with the demise” of Mahao, and further claimed that “if it was expedient that Mahao ought to have been arrested”, he could have arrested him “singlehandedly”.