MASERU – The second accomplice in the murder trial of former Motheo Funeral Service owner Tšeliso Manyeli, has explained to the court in detail about the planning and execution of her former boss’s murder on the instruction of the company’s director Thakane Lerotholi. The 47-year-old Lerotholi of Ha Teko in Maseru is the First Accused in the matter, and is believed to be the mastermind behind the murder of her business partner.
The Third Accused is Thabo Macheli, who has since fled. According to the Crown’s case it is suspected that on June 5, 2020, after 10:00pm Manyeli had just arrived at his St Michael’s home when while waiting for the garage door to open, three men appeared and shot at him multiple times before fleeing from the scene. He was rushed to a hospital at Ha Thetsane where he was confirmed dead from the gunshot wounds.
While Macheli and one Mosola are the suspected hired assassins, Lerotholi and the deceased were business partners whose working relationship soured when the suspect complained that Manyeli treated her like an employee and that she no longer received the benefits befitting an owner. Lerotholi then hired the hitmen to kill him, according to the Crown. Crown witness Matšeliso Lebabo (49) took the stand this week to explain all the minute details relating to the planning of Manyeli’s murder. She has become an accomplice in the case.
Under cross-examination Lebabo told the court: “Yes, I am an accomplice in the murder of Manyeli, however, this was per instructions by Lerotholi who wanted him dead following several incidences of assault by the deceased. “She felt she was being belittled by him in front of the staff at Motheo despite her being a partner…this is when she approached me with the request to find people that could assassinate Manyeli.”
Lebabo further explained that following Lerotholi’s instructions she eventually found a man by the name Katara Ntafo, who is also the Crown witness in this case. Lebabo said that she last met Ntafo on this matter at Tšenola, in Maseru, where she was with the First Accused, Lerotholi. However, the defence disputes this assertion, claiming that the witness is being dishonest because “she was alone and acting on her own accord when she met with Ntafo about killing the deceased.”
Lebabo elaborated further that around February 2020 she was expelled from work at Motheo for being late to work, however, due to the intervention of her lawyer she was later reinstated. She also states that at one point one Motheo employee, Tumelo Ntjana, came to her house with Lerotholi to further discuss this matter. The defense disputes this statement too. Lebabo explained to the court that the reason she handed herself to the police was because “there was no turning back and at this point, I just had to spill the beans on the planning and execution of the deceased.” She says she gave her statement to the police freely and that she was not under duress.
Her interrogators, she said, were Inspector Sehau, Inspector Setlae and Detective Sergeant Masopha. She continued: “After a prolonged dialogue between me and the three police officers, I was told that they could not let me go on the grounds that it looked like I was not ready to talk as yet hence one of them asked me to call any family member or friend to bring me food and a blanket because I would be staying the night at the precinct in jail.”
Giving his testimony earlier as an accomplice, Ntafo explained that he received a call from Lebabo who explained to him that Lerotholi wanted Manyeli dead. They then all met on this subject at parking bay of the Roman Catholic Mofumahali-oa-Tlholo Cathedral to discuss the issue further.
On that occasion Ntafo was given money to prepare for the arrival of the assassins and he later on met one of them by the name Santi. Santi, however, refused to continue with the mission after he was made aware of who the target was because he feared the ‘Terene’ gang was acquainted with. Upon disassociating himself with the mission, Santi died a mysterious death and his body was found at Matsieng.
He said he later on came across breaking news that Manyeli had been shot at his house in Roma but was surprised as to who had carried out the mission as he was the one assigned to carry it out. However, on the other hand, he was relieved because his intention was never to kill Manyeli but to spend the money that he was given to prepare for the assassination.
Lebabo continued in her statement to say, “I was given money by Lerotholi for transport to Tšakholo, in Mafeteng, to pay the assassins on multiple occasions, M25 000, M15 000 and later on M35 000.” She explains that even though she was personally transporting money, she was never given any to spend. However, upon hearing about Manyeli’s death she promised Ntafo M5 000 even though he had not carried out the intended work.
The defense again disputes Lebabo’s statement that she received money to pay for the assassination from Lerotholi because around the time she is claiming to have met her to pick the money Lerotholi was actually in Mokhotlong at Polihali at work. Lebabo suggests, though, that while it is true that Lerotholi was working there she did come to meet her on her off days.