Unsolved murder

Victims to get justice

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The family of Brigadier Matjota Ramotšekhoane has welcomed the proposed establishment of a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) to ascertain the truth of what happened during past conflicts as a basis for healing and reconciliation of the nation.

The establishment of a TJC was proposed last week by the head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Facilitation Team to Lesotho, retired South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

Ramotšekhoane died in custody on March 8, 1986, following the military coup which took place earlier the same year on January 20. The coup was led by army commander Major General Metsing Lekhanya who died in January 20, this year.

The coup resulted in commotion in the barracks leading to the deaths of two top military commanders who were loyal to the then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan’s administration, according to Frank Tšotetsi Makoro.

In his research paper titled: A policy analysis of the consequences of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project for rural communities in Lesotho: A case-study of communities affected by the construction of the Katse and Mohale dams, Makoro said one of the two commanders was Ramotšekhoane, who was second-in-command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

“Brigadier General Matjota Ramotšekhoane, who was second in command to late Major General Metsing Lekhanya died in military detention on the 8th March 1986, thirty-five years ago, after the military coup,” his son Tanki Ramotšekhoane told Public Eye this week.

He said 35 years on, they still want justice to be done since the fight against impunity is long-term.

“We have heard that Justice Dikgang Moseneke is proposing the establishment of the Transitional Justice Commission. We welcome such a commission as we believe it will make a difference and give us a platform to tell the nation what we know happened to our father,” he said.

“We are ready to make submissions to the commission if invited to do so once it has been established,” he added.

Ramotšekhoane, according to Makoro, was a potential threat to Lekhanya and the regime suspected that he would be leading the protest against the coup leaders as he appeared sympathetic to Jonathan’s rule.

“He was announced dead in custody a day after he was arrested by the military, who claimed he had suffered a heart attack, a natural death,” Makoro wrote in his research paper published in November 2014.

Another top military official accused of mutiny against the coup was Colonel Sehlabo Sehlabo, Makoro said.

“Sehlabo was based at the Makoanyane barracks, where the major armoury was located and at the time commanded a battalion of the commandos who handled superior arms,” he said.

Sehlabo also reportedly died of a heart attack while in custody.

“These two officials were amongst Jonathan loyalists and they both died in custody. After their deaths, military rule was strengthened in Lesotho,” Makoro said.

In July 2016, Makoro made a presentation at the symposium on Human Aspects of Information Security and Assurance (HAISA).

He said Ramotšekhoane was one of the few soldiers in the upper echelons of the Lesotho Paramilitary Force in the 1980’s to resist the temptation of being “pocketed in political encroachment led by foreign and opposing forces to the administration of Jonathan who was close to ending two decades in power as the Prime Minister of Lesotho”.

He said: “He chose to remain loyal to the administration of Jonathan by refusing to be drawn into any form of political power grabbing.”

According to Makoro, who was a soldier in 1986, a few days before the coup Ramotšekhoane said: “I am a soldier and my main task is to defend the citizenry and the constitution of this country. Let me clarify my stand; I take no part in political mayhem and I cannot even in the future”.

“His resistance however”, Makoro stated, “led him and one of his close allies Colonel Sehlabo to end up in hiding and subsequently being arrested by their colleagues who declared both men having been died of heart attack while in custody for mutiny, when the military was torn into confusion of greed for power”.

He further told the symposium that Ramotšekhoane wanted soldiers to keep their roles and resist any form of temptation to be involved in party politics or ambition to rule.

The brigadier general was one of the policy formulators who discouraged interaction between the members of the armed forces and the executive, Makoro noted.

He said in the wake of January 1986 military coup, he had met Ramotšekhoane at the Officers’ Mess.

“… and I remember him asking me, ‘What is happening at the Air base?’ I had no information at all that that weekend would be the last week of Chief Leabua Jonathan as the Prime Minister of Lesotho,” he said.

He added: “On the Friday of that week when the Prime Minister was overthrown I flew him with Major Shoaepane Majara to his Kolonyama home only to fetch him three days later when we were alerted of his fall from power.”

 

Makoro said his surprise with the sudden fall of Jonathan led him to question the formation of the military council which did not include Ramotšekhoane despite him being the deputy army commander but no further information was given apart from that he was declared missing.

“We later on heard that the Brigadier was found hiding in Mokhotlong district and was dragged to join Colonel Sehlabo in custody who was already under arrest by the military police at that time.

“A few days later we were informed of their deaths by a South African daily newspaper as a result of heart failures. It became puzzling to me as I analyzed the sequence of similar heart attacks that occurred to both top military officials without a clear police report,” he said.

Ramotšekhoane family believes his father was tortured in military police custody.

In May 1992, Amnesty International released a statement calling upon the government of Lesotho to initiate impartial and independent investigations and to bring those responsible for the deaths of deaths of Ramotšekhoane and Sehlabo, among others, to justice.

“Brigadier BM Ramotšekhoane, Colonel Sehlabo Sehlabo and Sergeant Tjane died in police custody in March 1986. The two had been senior officers before the military coup of January 1986,” Amnesty International said.

It indicated that inquests into the deaths of Ramotšekhoane and Sehlabo were concluded in January 1987.

“Brigadier Ramotšekhoane was found to have died from respiratory failure as a result of cerebral trauma caused by blows to the head while he was in custody. Colonel Sehlabo died from secondary septicemia resulting from infection to burns inflicted while he was in custody,” it said.

The inquest did not identify the officers responsible for the prisoners’ ill-treatment, according to Amnesty International.

It said no inquest was held into Sergeant Tjane’s death.

“In August 1987 the families of Brigadier Ramotšekhoane and Colonel Sehlabo brought actions for damages against the authorities. The following month the ruling Military Council issued an Order indemnifying the crown for all acts committed between January 1986 and January 1988 in defense of national security.

“There has apparently been no further investigation into these deaths and no action against those responsible,” Amnesty International said.

 

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