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Accident victim’s tale of agony

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Caswell Tlali

 MASERU – It’s a story of agony and what could be a web of deception and shocking betrayal.

It’s a story of a man whose life was shattered and whose quest for justice has dragged on for 17 years.

On January 21 1994, Paul Mphakalasi knocked off from his workplace at Ha ‘Nelese where he worked as a motor mechanic.

As he was walking home he was hit by a speeding car.

That accident changed his life forever.

Crippled and bed-ridden, Mphakalasi could not continue to work.

Apart from struggling to fend for his family, Mphakalasi also had to deal with mounting medical bills.

After the accident he was taken to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital which referred him to Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein where he was treated for a fractured tibia and torn ligaments on the knee joints.

He also received orthopedic surgery, a special operation to treat broken bones.

And for 18 months he underwent physiotherapy as doctors battled to get his life back to normal.

Yet even after that treatment and 17 years on, Mphakalasi still cannot walk properly and says the pain in his legs is “unbearable”.

The car that hit Mphakalasi was being driven by Thabiso Moetsane, a librarian with the National University of Lesotho.

And for some time he believed that Moetsane owned the car.

A medical report on his condition said he was expected to be permanently disabled.

“Even today I can’t walk properly and sometimes, especially when it is cold, my legs are very painful,” Mphakalasi says.

His wife, ’Mats’epang Mphakalasi, says soon after Mphakalasi was discharged from Pelonomi Hospital in 1994 a regular customer at the workshop he was working visited them at their rented house in Ha-’Nelese.

The man, who had become a friend to Mphakalasi because of their working relationship, told the family he could take them to a lawyer who was experienced in making claims for accident victims.

The man, whose name ’Mats’epang recalls only as Shelile, told them that the lawyer would claim funds from the Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) to cover their medical costs and additional compensation for his disability suffered in the accident.

“At the time, we were not aware that road accident victims could claim money from the insurance company,” ’Mats’epang says.

“We were relieved to find that there was such a provision.”

Shelile took them to IT Sethathi Chambers where they met Advocate Hopolang Nathane.

’Mats’epang claims Nathane gave them forms to fill but strongly advised them against filling in the date on which they were lodging the claim.

’Mats’epang says Nathane told them he would charge them M2 000 for his service.

But since they were broke they asked him to proceed with the claim on condition that he would deduct his legal fees when the LNIG paid their claim.

Nathane agreed, ’Mats’epang alleges.

They gave him all the papers he needed, including a document from Pelonomi Hospital which detailed the extent of Mphakalasi’s injuries.

This document, she says, was crucial because it contained information that would help ascertain how much compensation could be claimed from the LNIG basing on the degree of disability the road accident victim had.

She says the authorities at Pelonomi Hospital had told her to keep the document safely as “it was very important”.

“We gave this document to Ntate Nathane in trust as our lawyer who was going to claim the funds for us,” ’Mats’epang says.

Months passed but Nathane did not give them an update on their claim.

When they went to his office they were shocked to hear that he had moved, she says.

They searched for him for days in Maseru and when they finally found him, he told them bad news.

He said he had not filed their claim, ’Mats’epang says.

Nathane allegedly told them that he could not lodge their claim unless they paid him.

He said even if they paid then it would not make a difference because the claim had lapsed, ’Mats’epang says.

At the same time, the criminal case against Moetsane, the driver who hit Mphakalasi, was not progressing in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court.

Perplexed, the couple went to various government and independent offices to seek help.

They first approached the police’s public relations office where they talked to policeman TS Mohale but their case was not taken any further.

They then went to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences but their case was never investigated.

They approached the police’s fraud unit which they say also turned a blind eye to the case.

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The Ombudsman could not investigate IT Sethathi Chambers because he had no jurisdiction over the law firm.

’Mats’epang says the Ministry of Justice allegedly sent them from pillar to post until they gave up.

The Legal Aid department, a government department that provides legal services to people who cannot afford lawyers, told them to go to the LNIG.

The LNIG said their time to claim had lapsed.

But one junior traffic cop was interested in their case.

To their shock, the police officer is said to have told them that the car that hit Mphakalasi allegedly belonged to IT Sethathi Chambers, the law firm that Nathane was working for when they approached him for his services.

Unhappy that Nathane had allegedly not disclosed anything about the car’s supposed ownership, the couple approached OK Tau Thabane Chambers and paid M350 as consultation fees.

But their new law firm later pulled out of the case.

Another law firm, ’Mathabo McCloy & Associates, allegedly declined to take their case saying they worked closely with Nathane.

’Mats’epang says they then went to the Magistrate’s Court with intention to sue Nathane.

At the court another surprise awaited them.

“We met the man who introduced us to Nathane and we discovered that he was a prosecutor,” ’Mats’epang says.

“We only knew him as a regular customer at my husband’s motor repairs workshop but upon discovering that he was a lawyer we suspected that he had sold us out to Nathane.”

The prosecutor, identified only as Shelile, allegedly said they should not sue Nathane because he was going to solve their problems.

But their problem was never solved.

’Mats’epang says they took their file from Nathane but they discovered that the medical report from Pelonomi Hospital was missing.

Nathane said he knew nothing about the document as he had “never touched the file since 1994 when they consulted” him.

’Mats’epang wrote to the Law Society of Lesotho complaining about Nathane.

The Law Society, in a letter dated May 7 2010, told ’Mats’epang that she and her husband should have paid Nathane M2 000 before he could lodge their claim.

“Eight years passed without you going back to Mr Nathane,” reads part of the letter.

“We have established that there was no agreement between you and Mr Nathane to take up your matter without having paid the money.”

The Law Society told them that Nathane had done nothing wrong and therefore did not deserve to be censured.

Dissatisfied, the couple approached the Law Society’s secretary general, Ts’eliso Mokoko, and the executive director, Relebeletse Kanetsi, who offered them M500 for travel to Pelonomi Hospital to search for the duplicate of the medical report.

’Mats’epang refused the cheque.

Kanetsi told the Sunday Express that the cheque that they offered the couple was part of the society’s social responsibility programme.

Kanetsi says the cheque was not meant to compensate the couple but to help them in their quest for justice. 

“Mr Nathane is unable to produce their missing document and we felt it fit to pay them M500 to search for its duplicate in Bloemfontein,” she says.

Nathane says he never “touched” their file ever since they consulted him.

He also denies that the car that hit Mphakalasi belonged to IT Sethathi Chambers.

“I heard it for the first time from them that the car belonged to our chambers,” Nathane says.

“It does not belong to us.”

’Mats’epang and her husband are now planning to sue Nathane but they cannot afford a lawyer. 

“Justice has not been done in my case,” she says.

Until they find a lawyer, their woes continue.

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