LocalNews

 Business mogul Nthane shoots driver dead

…hospitalised under heavy police guard ahead of murder charges

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

BUSINESS mogul Tšeliso Nthane of Nthane Brothers Pty (Ltd) is under heavy police guard at the Butha-Buthe government hospital as he awaits murder charges for shooting and killing one of his employees in ‘Moteng in the Butha-Buthe district on Thursday.

Mr Nthane was hospitalised with hypertension in the aftermath of the shooting incident which has sent shockwaves around the country.

According to a police report, Mr Nthane whose businesses spans the construction, property development and other sectors, shot and killed his 51-year-old truck driver, Kopang Mohapi of Qacha’s Nek. This after Mr Mohapi had been involved in a road accident at the Moteng Pass, about 171 kilometres from Maseru, while transporting construction machinery to Polihali in Mokhotlong for the Nthane Brothers company which was recently awarded a massive road construction tender for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

Mr Mohapi’s truck overturned, throwing off various construction machinery which blocked the road, making it impassable to other vehicles. Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said upon learning of the accident, Mr Nthane and some of his employees drove from Maseru to the accident scene to assist in removing the machinery from the road and transporting it to Polihali.

“According to eye witnesses, while the employees were working on lifting the machine back onto the truck, their boss (Mr Nthane) called Mr Mohapi to talk to him in private. After a short while, they heard a gunshot and saw the driver fall down,” Supt Mopeli said.

Supt Mopeli said Mr Nthane then rushed the stricken Mr Mohapi to the Butha-Buthe government hospital where he was pronounced dead. Mr Nthane then handed himself over to the Butha-Buthe police where a murder case was opened. Supt Mopeli said further investigations into the matter are ongoing and court dates are yet to be set.  Meanwhile, Mr Nthane remains under police custody.

Sources close to the developments told the Sunday Express that Mr Nthane was “very distraught by the shooting incident” and fell ill shortly afterwards. He had since been hospitalised for hypertension under police guard at the Butha-Buthe hospital.

“He (Mr Nthane) was so shocked when he heard that the man had died. He had been hopeful that the driver would survive after receiving medical assistance,” one source said.

In a telephone interview with the Sunday Express on Friday, the deceased’s eldest son, Mashome Mohapi, said the family was shocked by the sudden death of their father.

Mr Mashome said he learned through social media posts on Thursday that his father had been killed.

Mr Mashome said Nthane Brothers company representatives visited the family in Qacha’s Nek at midnight on Thursday to report the death of their father. He however, said they did not give full details of what actually transpired between Mr Nthane and his father that led to the shooting.

“We are shocked by the death of my father. We are still awaiting a clear explanation of what happened that led to my father’ fatal shooting. My mother has not taken this well. She is in disbelief. We all are,” Mr Mashome said. He added the family had not set the date for the funeral of Mr Mohapi who is survived by his wife and two children.

Mr Mohapi sustained a gunshot wound on the left side of his lower abdomen and was later pronounced dead after Mr Nthane rushed him to the Butha-Buthe government hospital.

Mr Nthane subsequently handed himself over to the Butha-Buthe police where a murder case was opened. He was, afterwards, admitted at the Butha-Buthe hospital for hypertension.

Sunday Express crew visited the accident scene yesterday but found it wholly cleared. The machinery had been removed from the accident scene and transported to the construction site in Polihali. There was no one in sight but the accident spot told a tale of what had happened and the struggle that had taken place to clear the scene.

The roadside was extensively dug up, destroying vegetation and unearthing huge rocks. The road gutters and pavement were broken in some places and sand had been sprinkled to cover big spots of oil spillages in the middle of the road.

A truck driver from another construction company said the past three days had been messy at the accident scene.  A lot of work had to be put in to reload the machinery onto the truck.

The driver who uses the road regularly to transport construction machinery to and from mines and construction sites in Butha-Buthe and Mokhotlong attested to the fact that the ‘Moteng Pass was one of the most dangerous roads in the country.

“Accidents happen here all the time. Sometimes lives are lost when public transport vehicles are involved. This accident was not that bad given fatalities that have occurred before. Yes, it could have been frustrating to lift that machine back on the truck because it was big and looked heavy. But that did not warrant the shooting of the driver. It is shocking that a man was killed just because he had an accident,” the driver said.

He said the incident also presented a real insight into the harsh conditions under which truck drivers work.

“I cannot speculate on the relations between this man (Mr Mohapi) and his boss (Mr Nthane) but most of us work under inhuman conditions. We are overworked and do not get enough time to rest. Accidents like this are likely to happen when one does not get enough rest. Our bosses are not appreciative of the work we do. They are very disrespectful to us,” he said.

Thereafter, the Sunday Express crew visited the Butha-Buthe government hospital, some 60 km south of the accident and shooting scene and found a heavily armed police officer guarding the male ward where Mr Nthane was admitted.

This publication was told that it could not enter the ward as it was already past the hospital’s visiting times. One hospital staffer said it was “work as normal” except for the “intimidating” armed police officer.

“It is not often that you see a police officer with a big gun in the wards so it is intimidating for us. Other patients have been notified about the police presence so they understand the situation,” the staffer said.

Another source said Mr Nthane was being closely monitored and his condition was stable. The source said Mr Nthane was initially discharged on Friday afternoon but had to be re-admitted that same evening when his condition deteriorated.

Meanwhile, it was business as usual at the two hotels owned by Nthane Brothers in Hlotse, Leribe district, and in Teyateyaneng, Berea district. This was despite calls by some people on social media for a boycott of Nthane Brothers’ businesses to protest Mr Mohapi’s killing.

One client at the Leribe hotel, Lineo Machaea, said it was premature to draw conclusions on the shooting incident.

“Only Ntate Nthane and the driver know what happened between them that led to the shooting. I do not condone the killing of a man but we should all wait until we hear the whole story. We are all human, we make mistakes,” Ms Machaea said.

A Berea man who identified himself only as Thabo said what happened to Mr Nthane could have happened to anyone. Mr Thabo said it was sad how people were “throwing stones” at Mr Nthane and were instantly forgetting the impact he has had on many people’s lives.

“I am sorry for the bereaved family. Nothing that can be done will ever replace what they have lost. I also feel so sorry for Mr Nthane. He could have acted out of rage. It happens to the best of us. It is sad how people have concluded that the killing was intentional. Many are throwing stones at him forgetting the impact he has had on many lives. He has employed so many people in Lesotho,” Mr Thabo said.

The ‘Moteng Pass is notorious for accidents.

Motorists, particularly drivers of heavy vehicles, have to be extra alert to negotiate the precarious steep twists and turns on the road that link Butha-Buthe with Mokhotlong.

Many terrifying accidents have occurred on the ‘Moteng Pass which stretches for at least 10 km. In December 2017, eight people perished on the road after a minibus driver lost control of the vehicle due to break failure.

Mr Nthane recently won a M235 million tender to build a road which stretches from Mapholaneng to the Khubelu River where the LHWP’s Phase II dam – Polihali – is going to be constructed next year.

For the latest road tender, the Nthane Brothers who have won several government tenders over the years, entered into a joint venture with Sinohydro SA – a company with close ties with Chinese-owned Sinohydro Corporation.

Sinohydro Corporation, which was established in China as a state-owned hydropower project contractor during the 1950s, joined forces with Nthane Brothers to successfully bid for the 16-kilometre road priced at M235 million.

The Nthane Brothers have a 60 percent shareholding in the joint venture.

 

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