MASERU – ’Mathabo Morojele*, 65, rushes inside her rondavel at the sound of her ringing cellphone.
She has been on the edge for the past month and a half.
Her first-born son Thabo*, 41, has been in and out of court in a long-drawn-out case which seems to have lasted for eternity.
Thabo and his four co-accused face serious charges of inciting violence which earlier in the year saw villagers near Kao mine demonstrating over a raft of grievances.
The demonstrations turned violent and left five people dead, with several others injured.
The accused group alleges serious brutality at the hands of the police but, without money, hiring a competent lawyer remains a pipe dream.
A few Good Samaritans in Maseru are however busy pushing for justice through some rights NGOs, but for ’Mathabo back in the village, there is no clear update except through occasional cellphone or whattsup messages around weekends when Ntate Chakela, a human rights advocate, finds time from his busy schedule to update her and allay her worries.
With six school going grandchildren under her care, she has little chance of leaving the brood on its own to visit Thabo who has been in remand prison in Maseru for months.
Lesotho, like most countries in the region, has all the necessary institutions to provide the requisite checks on excesses by police and other agencies.
Among others, these mechanisms include, a Constitution which guarantees and protects fundamental freedoms and rights, the office of the ombudsman, the auditor-general, a directorate on economic offenses, a police complaints authority, the public accounts committee in parliament several NGOs; such as the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), Lesotho Council of NGOs, Women in Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), among others.
In practice, justice delivery is not necessarily better off due to a number of complexities which impede smooth execution of the noble cause.
Lesotho’s Constitution protects a number of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to life, personal liberty and freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It also contains a requirement that arrested persons be brought before court within 48 hours of their arrest.
Section 22 affords aggrieved individuals the opportunity to approach the High Court for redress in the event that their rights have been violated or are under threat and the High Court is empowered to make “such orders, issue such processes and give such directions as it may consider appropriate” for the purpose of enforcing or securing the enforcement of the rights under threat.
Chapters XII and XIII of the Constitution concerning the Ombudsman and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), respectively, also contain provisions that have implications for police accountability.
The responsibility for the maintenance of law and order lies with the police, which is established under the Constitution and falls under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Public Safety while the Commissioner of Police has the overall command of the LMPS.
Since 1998, the Government has undertaken a number of police reform initiatives.
These have included the introduction of independent policing oversight mechanisms, revision of the police training syllabus to include human rights, and training new police recruits on the UN Convention Against Torture.
The service is currently being restructured to improve its effectiveness.
However, in its country report on Lesotho for 2005, the US Department of State observed that while the Government generally observed human rights, there were reports of violations of human rights by state security organs, including torture and excessive use of force against detained persons.
The LMPS Act of 1988 (Police Act) provides for a number of oversight mechanisms including a supposedly independent Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
However, the PCA has not lived up to expectation and the current police minister recently expressed her dissatisfaction with the authority and publicly said the authorities were even considering its disbandment.
Problems with the police violating citizens’ rights are not peculiar to Lesotho.
Experts suggest this is pervasive throughout Africa where the way modern policing was introduced to serve colonial interests is singled out as the root of an inhumane policing culture.
Colonialism created authoritarian tendencies in the police force.
“Modern organised police forces in Africa were the creation of colonial rulers from the mid-nineteen centuries. The forces were established to enforce law and maintain order so that the colonisers could dominate the colonised with either minimum resistance from the colonised or through effective repression,” according to Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga in Police Oversight in Africa.
Not much changed regarding the DNA of police forces after independence.
“As opposition to post-colonial authoritarian rule intensified, the rulers also strengthened their grip on the armed forces and other security agencies. Leaders of these institutions owe their tenure to the head of the government”.
In Lesotho, recorded police excesses date back decades ago.
For example, it has been 51 years since the Thaba-Bosiu massacre of December 27, 1966, less than three months after Lesotho gained full independence from Britain.
Upon arrival in Thaba-Bosiu on that fateful Tuesday, police found thousands of people already assembled awaiting the arrival of King Moshoeshoe II and ordered the people to disperse.
When they did not disperse, shots were fired and within a few minutes, 10 people had been killed while several others were seriously wounded according to Lesotho 1970: An African Coup Under the Microscope, a book written by the late Makalo Khaketla who was then, one of the King’s Privy Councillors.
Because of Basotho’s poor attention to history, the Thaba-Bosiu riot remains no more than a trivial chapter in the archives of history.
In recent years, numerous incidents of police heavy handedness have set alarm bells ringing among civic groups and citizens in general.
Below are some of the recorded cases of police involvement in abuse of citizens:
Private Mokotoane was shot and killed by a policeman in Ha Leqele, Maseru in 2013, Sergeant Mahlala was shot and killed execution style by Berea police in Kolonyama, Leribe also in 2013 while Lance Corporal Matšela was shot and killed by a police officer in Thaba-Tseka in 2014.
In 2010, in Tlokoeng, Mokhotlong, three suspects from Matsoku were said to have been detained and tortured to death. In the same year, one Tekane Tekane was allegedly shot and killed by a team of policemen.
In December 2011, in Thabang, Mokhotlong, police shot and killed ’Mankhasi Tsatsi and Sempe Motleleng.
In July 2017, Thelingoane ’Mota was shot and killed by known police officers in Koro-Koro, Maseru.
In November 2017, 70-year-old Mosiuoa Raleababa died in Maputsoe in police detention.
In November 2005, Lance Sergeant ’Mota allegedly shot and killed a member of a security company in Mafeteng.
In 2003, police under the command of the then SSP Kholokholo now DCP Monaheng mowed down several factory workers with live ammunition in which about five dead.
In 2004, Tekesele Shai commonly known as “Makhoathi” was shot and killed by police in Koro-Koro, Maseru.
According to TRC, on August 31, 2017, officers from the Mofoka Police Station tortured members of the community in Ha Mofoka.
“They were made to lie down and were severely beaten. One of them was allegedly shot by the same police and was later found dead with part of his face missing. The victims and families of those affected reported these violations to Flight One Police Station (the Maseru rural police headquarters) and later to the PCA,” a TRC statement read.
Instead of addressing the alleged misconduct of police officers who were involved in that operation, TRC said Flight One Police opted to “intimidate the victims at their homes until one of the victims skipped the country.”
It also accused the PCA of doing “nothing substantial save to take statements of the victims”.
The TRC also brought another torture incident that occurred this past year to the attention of the police minister.
“Nthabiseng Penane, aged 24, was suspected of stealing a cellular phone belonging to a Chinese national. She was severely tortured by both the Chinese and the police who were effecting the arrest.
“Nthabiseng was arrested on Friday, February 2 and only released from police custody the following Monday, February 5 without appearing before court.”
During her three-day detention, she was allegedly tortured and denied access to her antiretroviral drugs.
Police impunity has become so commonplace that, in the proper role of law enforcement has been fossilised under layers of abuse.
Tsikoane Peshoane, head of TRC put it succinctly in a letter of complaint to police minister Mampho Mokhele earlier this year.
“In all the above incidents of torture, ill-treatment and deprivations of life, perpetrators are well known but had not been held accountable either through prosecution or internal police disciplinary mechanisms,” wrote Peshoane.
Together with Amnesty International, TRC expressed similar fears regarding the disappearance of ’Makarabo Mojakhomo earlier this year.
“The organisations fear that Mojakhomo might have been subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and enforced disappearance by the LMPS.
“She was last seen by her family at the police headquarters on May 30, 2018,” the statement read.
Mojakhomo is now based in South Africa.
Given this scenario, people like ’Mathabo, mere villagers without the financial means to hire competent legal representation are rendered even more vulnerable.
Other watchdog entities like the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have also risen to the occasion in efforts to safeguard the rights of Lesotho citizens.
The PAC, especially the current one chaired by Selibe Mochoboroane, has raised the necessary dust and made the right noises to deter abuse of funds in various government sectors.
Such commendable efforts at holding managers of public funds accountable ultimately provide a safety measure in protecting citizens’ right to benefit from taxpayers’ funds.
However, despite such well-intended efforts by organisations like PAC, in practise there are other hurdles that militate against realising full accountability.
For instance, Public Eye in May 2018 reported that members of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport’s tender panel could be held personally liable for escalating costs of construction of a new Senate building if findings of a discarded 2014 report are implemented.
This was recommended by the Public Accounts Committee in 2014 in its report titled Report of the Public Accounts Committee on Its Investigation on the Construction of the Senate Building.
“If there is an increase in the presently recommended tender price, such a price escalation should be fully recovered from the members of the tender panel who took the decision to go for re-tendering,” read the report.
The initial recommended tender price was around M85 million but this has since escalated to around M140 million, at 65 percent increase.
The report, however, never saw the light of the day as it was withdrawn in May 2014, a month before parliament was prorogued on June 10.
When parliament is prorogued, all business in the House including Bills in progress, come to an end, are disposed of and could traditionally, not be taken to the next parliamentary session. Everything has to be started all over again.
Consequently, the High Court ruled in May 2016 that it “cannot be asked to work on the basis of a report that was withdrawn and was never made available in the public sphere”.
It ruled that the report “was never published”. It is clear that unstable governments in recent years have also hampered the smooth operations of mechanisms for accountability.
Another noteworthy role in the area of accountability and ultimately on efforts to foster citizens’ rights is that of the Directorate on Crime and Economic Offences (DCEO).
The DCEO has been very active in Lesotho in recent years, posing a handy deterrent for abuse of funds among public officers, which ultimately has a bearing on people’s rights.
Sadly, while the DCEO has made all the right noises in the media, it has not delivered satisfactorily when it comes to pursuing cases of alleged corruption to the logical end of prosecution.
Speaking at a civil society workshop on corruption in August 2018, its director general, Advocate Borotho Matsoso said DCEO cannot fight graft alone but needed the support of many other stakeholders.
Matsoso announced at the workshop that he had written to the minister of finance requesting that the institution engage 15 extra investigators to help reduce the workload and investigate new cases.
“The main problem faced by DCEO is lack of resources,” he said adding that the institution has not been able to reach its full potential mainly because of a lack of resources.
Civil society organisations, such as the Development for Peace Education (DPE), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), the TRC and the Christian Council for Lesotho (CCL) were among the organisations present.
Matsoso said corruption remains endemic in the public service and is caused by loopholes in the systems such as lack of proper means to monitor administration of services.
He cited instances of the widely spoken old age pension fund and the Lesotho Consular to Durban who was hard to investigate because she was the only accountable person in that office.
The auditor-general year in and year out chronicles instances of clear financial mismanagement, owing often to poor accounting systems but it seems nothing is done to address such bleeding of public coffers.
If one puts all these together, a disturbing picture emerges; Lesotho is not short of mechanisms to hold public officers to account but it lacks the wherewithal to complete a lot of good work done by several entities.
While this drawback remains, ordinary people like Thabo and his mother ’Mathabo in the village will continue to bear the brunt of injustice without feasible redress.