Army in court over Mahao
Major Bulane Andrew Sechele on Friday told Justice Semapo Peete that former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Maaparankoe Mahao was shot by LDF members in Mokema the previous day.
Major Sechele had been asked by Justice Peete circumstances which led to the death of Brigadier Mahao (47) at his home in Mokema about 30 kilometres south-east of Maseru.
Brigadier Mahao’s wife, ‘Mamphanya, and his brother Lehloenya, had made an urgent application in the High Court on Thursday seeking an order directing the LDF to produce the late soldier’s body in court.
Justice Peete granted the request on Thursday at around 8pm and ordered the respondents to ensure the body was brought before the court on Friday between 9am and 10am.
The respondents were Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, LDF Military Intelligence (MI) Director Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, and Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe.
However, when the directive had not been complied with, Justice Peete ordered Lt Gen Kamoli, Lt Col Lekhooa and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Acting Commissioner Keketso Monaheng to appear in court “in person” at 3pm that day regarding the matter.
It was after this directive that Major Sechele turned up in court at the appointed time. Asked why Lt Gen Kamoli, Lt Col Lekhooa and Acting Police Commissioner Monaheng were not in court, Advocate Rapelang Motsieloa—who is representing the respondents in the case—said: “But I explained in chambers that the commander could not be here and that he entrusted Major Sechele to explain everything. That is why Major Sechele is before the court now.”
Called into the witness box, Major Sechele explained that the LDF was conducting a special operation after it uncovered a mutiny plot by some of its members.
Major Sechele told the packed courtroom: “I work in the LDF Legal Department, but as far as this matter is concerned, I am the Operation Commander. I hold a Master’s Degree in Law from the University of Cape Town .
“My role in the LDF entails giving advice to the commander as well as prosecuting cases in the Court Martial as well as other duties.
“As far as this case is concerned like I said, my responsibilities include overseeing matters pertaining to arrests and investigations in relation to the alleged mutiny within the Lesotho Defence Force.”
Major Sechele further explained: “It is worth mentioning that since 14 May 2015, we have been making arrests and investigations into allegations of mutiny within the Lesotho Defence Force.
“Our operation is in line with the Lesotho Defence Force Act of 1996, Section 86 thereof.
“The investigations have revealed that amongst others, Brigadier Mahao…. and I will refer to him as Brigadier Mahao…”
He could not finish the statement as the judge interjected: “Lieutenant General Mahao! In fact, I have recorded him as Lieutenant General Mahao here.”
It was at this stage that Advocate Motsieloa asked the judge: “May I lead him my Lord?”
With some noise coming from the gallery after Major Sechele had responded “and I will refer to him as a Brigadier,” Advocate Tebalo Potsane, who was representing the Mahao family, asked the judge: “May we approach the bench my Lord?”
The Mahao family’s lawyers, Advocates Potsane and Lerato Makholela and Crown Counsel Advocate Motsieloa, as well as High Court Assistant Registrar Staford Sharite then went close to the judge and spoke quietly.
Soon after, the court proceedings continued and became a question-and-answer session.
“As I’ve pointed out, we are not a Court Martial. Is it common cause that Mr Mahao is late?” asked Justice Peete.
“I confirm that my Lord,” Major Sechele responded.
“And you don’t dispute that he died at a shootout in Mokema?” the judge continued.
“I don’t dispute that my Lord,” the major answered.
“Which specific area in Mokema?” Justice Peete persisted.
“I don’t know the specific place, but I know the general area is Mokema,” he said.
“And you were among this group of people which confronted Mr Mahao that day?” Justice Peete pressed on.
“In terms of operational rules, I cannot disclose that my lord. But I confirm that he died from bullet injuries he sustained during the shootout in Mokema,” Major Sechele said.
“Where is Mahao now?” the judge asked.
“To the best of my knowledge, he is in the hands of the police,” the lawyer said.
“Your team did not take him to the mortuary?” the judge asked again.
“No! After he had been injured, he was hurried to Makoanyane Military Hospital. But later that day, he was declared deceased. And as a matter of practice, it was declared a police case at that stage,” Major Sechele told the court.
“As a matter of law, do the police deal with homicide cases?” the judge wanted know.
Major Sechele: “I confirm that my Lord.”
Justice Peete then summed-up the case: “I think counsel agree that we are now walking a tight rope because we should not overstep into the territory of the Court Martial.
“But we have established that the deceased died from gunshot wounds he sustained in Mokema on 25 June 2015. The injuries were caused by the operation team and the deceased was taken to hospital where he was declared dead and now the matter has become a police case.
“The merits or demerits of the shooting will be a matter for the Court Martial.”
But Advocate Potsane immediately rose and addressed the judge: “I don’t think we should specifically speak about the Court Martial at this stage. I think we can safely say the matter is now for another court. But this is for the family and its legal representatives to decide.”
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