Retired cop compares policing then and now

Irene Seme

Qacha’s Nek – “A police officer should always keep their oath by being honest. When given a tipp-off, they should keep their source secret and not reveal it.” These are the principles that guide Thabo Mongali, a former police officer who served the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) for 30 years before he retired.

Mongali, 68, began serving the LMPS in 1980 at the age of 26. Looking back to the days and how he became a police officer, he recalls his father didn’t want him to be a police officer so he decided to go behind his back when he was applying and he was admitted. He said his father disliked the fact that it was at the time of terrorism and people would be killed in those days. “I think his fear was because I am the only boy among the four girls. When leaving home I had to come up with a plan to tell him where I was going. So I told him I was going to study at the then Primary Teachers College as opposed to the known Police Training College (PTC),” Mongali laughs.

He said his father only got to know the truth when he wrote a letter home informing him that he was actually at the Police Training College. “At the time there was nothing he could do except to support me because he knew I had always wanted to be a police officer and help to stop crime,” Mongali says with a chuckle. Mongali says what led him to wanting to be a police officer is the fact that when he was growing up the only crime that his home district of Qacha’s Nek was notorious for was livestock theft between Matatiele and Qacha’s Nek.

“It is only lately that we are beginning to experience other crimes such as Gender Based Violence (GBV) and murder. Not that I scale crimes as if any crime is better but the killings are accelerating at an alarming rate,” Mongali said with a sad voice. “While growing up in Lebakeng, I would see police officers chasing after thieves and looking at them I foresaw my future. Again, while I was in high school at Eagle’s Peak police officers used to pay us visits and tell us about the importance of police and their duty and I felt it was what I want to do,” he says with a smile.

He adds that the police service has deteriorated badly compared to back in the days when police used to conduct beat patrols to curb crimes. He explains that beat patrolling means that police have to be visible in the streets in order to limit criminal activities. “There are community policing forums, but without the support of police officers they cannot do much because when they receive a tip-off they don’t attend on time or do not go there at all,” Mongali notes with a tinge of sadness.

“Without a beat patrol, crimes heighten because criminals realise that they can do as they please with nothing to deter them. People get killed in towns and villages but police fail to get such information which is a sign that police have to follow up on information and build harmonious relations with the community so that they can easily get tip-offs,” Mongali advises. As he speaks about the police service, Mongali looks worried and further notes that of late he has heard police saying they cannot take action against crime because they are not on duty.

“According to my knowledge a police officer is always on duty. You cannot as a police officer overlook crime and say you are not on duty. When a police officer is carrying a gun it is not supposed to be visible; no one should know where it is,” he says.

As a former CID officer during his time in service, Mongali said him and his colleagues used to dig deep on a tip off until they found the necessary information. “We would follow a tip-off until we found something tangible and bring to book those liable for the crime. We were not lazy at all but what I see now is that police have become too lazy to take action and they reveal sources so people will not co-operate with them,” Mongali notes.

During his service, Mongali says he dealt with a number of simple or easy criminal cases which he never really struggled to crack and catch the perpetrators. However there is one case which to this date make him feel hopeless when he recalls it. “The hardest case I have ever had to do was that of the murder of an elderly woman who was living alone in Kubung, Quthing. Even though I have retired until today I still feel that case was the hardest. Not only because my colleagues and I failed to deal with it but because there was no link of information at all,” he says touching his forehead deep in thought.

From 1980 he went for training and in 1981 he began his first duty in Mohale’s Hoek where he served for 12 years. He was then transferred to Quthing in 1993 and later relocated to Qacha’s Nek in 1997. In 2002 Mongali was reassigned back to Mohale’s Hoek for a year before he was moved to Leribe district in 2003 where he served until 2006 when he was reassigned to Qacha’s Nek where he served until 2010 when he retired.

His advice to youngsters is to avoid use of alcohol and drugs. He also advises parents not to take alcohol in the presence of children because they would copy what they do thinking it is a good way of life.

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