MASERU – Although details still remain sketchy, police believe that the four suspects arrested this week for the murder of popular radio presenter, Ralikonelo Joki are also responsible for killing an official of the National Assembly, Mothibe Mothibe, who was gunned down execution-style in Mokema, on the outskirts of Maseru, on May 20.
Mothibe was travelling in his vehicle in the company of a female companion, Thomello Ntsane, when their assailants pounced on them. Ntsane also perished from several gunshot wounds in the attack. While it still remains unclear why Mothibe, an academic, was killed police suspect the hit was related to the unrelenting famo music wars that has since claimed scores of victims both in Lesotho and South Africa in the past 30 years or so.
The four suspects who are in police custody are believed to be the hired guns who allegedly shot dead Joki, better known as Leqhashasha, on the night of May 15 after his radio show at Tšenolo FM. The suspects include Sootho Liphoto, 35, of Mokema, Koro-Koro, Maseru; Mothuthusi “Setsetse” Tlelase, 31, also from Mokema; and Kamo Phakoe, 31, of Jordane, Ha Rapokolana, Maseru. The fourth unnamed suspect who did not appear in the police wanted alert is believed to be an instructor at a local initiation school.
The quartet’s arrest follows the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli’s pronouncement during last Friday’s passing out parade of police recruits at the Police Training College (PTC) that they knew the identity of Joki’s killers, adding that a manhunt for them was underway.
Over the past years, a number of local journalists have either been shot or intimidated, with some fleeing the country over their reports. The former editor of Lesotho Times, Lloyd Mutungamiri, was shot and injured in July 2016 over an article he published about the then commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. Four soldiers who face charges of the attempted murder of the Zimbabwe-born editor in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court await their trial in remand prison.
Lesotho imposed a nighttime curfew after Joki’s assassination, restricting movement between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. The Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs, and Police, Lebona Lephema, announced after the reporter’s killing that the curfew was meant to ensure and restore order amid escalating criminal activities in the country. According to a police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, the four suspects in police custody were arrested at the Maseru Border Post as they entered the country from South Africa, where they had been in hiding.
The arrest, Mopeli said, was made in the early hours of Wednesday morning after police were tipped off that the suspects would be returning to Lesotho. He could, however, not be drawn to divulge more details about the arrest except to state that they have the right people in their custody. “Police are currently interrogating the suspects and pursuing other avenues of investigation. But at this moment, we cannot say whether or not more arrests are expected.
“More arrests could only be determined by the direction our investigations will lead us from here,” he said. Mopeli had earlier announced that Tlelase and Sootho, along with an unidentified driver of a getaway vehicle, were also wanted for Mothibe’s murder. Meanwhile, the director general of the National Security Service (NSS), Pheello Ralenkoane, had taken a swipe at the leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Machesetsa Mofomobe, and the Democratic Congress (DC) youth leader, Moeketsi Shale, accusing them of being behind Joki’s murder.
Ralenkoane, thereafter tried to seize the two leaders’ mobile phones, claiming these would help in his investigations. While Shale surrendered his phone to the NSS, Mofomobe contested the move saying, among others, the secret service had no business investigating criminal acts. In support of his move, Ralenkoane filed an application in court to justify the seizure, but the court later declared his stand unlawful.
Mofomobe has in retaliation taken Ralenkoane to court on charges of defamation, and is demanding M5 million for defamation.