CELEBRANTS at a Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace (CCJP) mass for soldiers who were detained on allegations of plotting to overthrow former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, were this week moved to tears by the harrowing tales of torture that were recounted by the soldiers.
Led by Reverend Father Gabriel Lehloka, the church service was held at Mofumahali-oa-Tlholo Mission in Maseru on Monday.
Twenty-two soldiers were arrested and detained at the Maseru Maximum Prison in 2015 for their alleged involvement in the plot while 23 others fled the country.
The soldiers were alleged to have been part of mutineers that included former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao.
Lt Gen Mahao was gunned down in June 2015 by soldiers, with the army saying he was resisting arrest for orchestrating the mutiny plot against the army command- a claim which was disputed by his family who insisted that the soldiers shot him in cold blood.
The 22 soldiers have since been put on open arrest while those who had fled have since returned in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections which brought in the four party coalition that is headed by All Basotho Convention leader, Thomas Thabane.
The new government replaced the seven parties’ regime that was headed by Democratic Congress leader, Pakalitha Mosisili. The government has also moved to halt the court martial of the soldiers, brought back those who were exile as part of efforts give them justice and healing.
The CCPJ said it was necessary to pray for the soldiers’ reunion with their families, communities and the nation with expectations that they would heal quickly from their traumatic experience.
The service also highlighted the importance of having the mutiny case finalised to enable the soldiers to be reintegrated back into the LDF.
A somber atmosphere engulfed the proceedings when Brigadier Phoqa Motoa-one of the 22 soldiers who were detained- narrated chilling details of torture.
Some members of the congregation broke down into tears as Brig Motoa narrated how he spent 51 days in solitary confinement and was tortured in Setibing in 2015.
“I would like to thank God in a very special way for walking with us during those trying times,” Brig Motoa said.
“I was taken to Setibing handcuffed and my legs shackled on a very cold day in June 2015. They covered my head before immersing me in very cold water,” Brig Motoa said, adding that it was through the grace of God that they survived their ordeal.
“God helped us to withstand the terrible situation.”
He said that everything including newspapers, radios and TVs were taken away from them but their captors left them the Bible which turned out to be their greatest hope.
“It was the word of God that kept us alive and sane. While the torture intensified each day, the word of God strengthened us,” Brig Motoa said, adding they were subjected to all kinds of threats including life imprisonment.
Brig Motoa said they were released from the cells for only five minutes during which they continued to be verbally abused. They were only given five minutes per day to see their families.
“It was a tough situation and we are thankful for all the support we got from our spouses, families, the civil society, churches and all the people who prayed and rendered their support at a time when we could not do much to help ourselves.
“On behalf of the soldiers, we also pray that we will be able to truly forgive those who caused us a lot of pain and suffering to our families.”
Brigadier Motoa said while the current government has relaxed their bail conditions, it was important that all legal instruments disbanding the court martial were implemented to ensure their freedom and also facilitate their reintegration into the army.
“We never plotted to kill anyone. People who were killing others know themselves,” Brig Motoa said.
Meanwhile, Public Service Minister, Thesele Maseribane, said it would be difficult for him to forgive those who inflicted pain on him, the soldiers and other people.
Chief Maseribane, Dr Thabane and Labour and Employment Minister, Keketso Rantšo, spent two years in exile citing information that the army wanted to assassinate them.
“There is time for everything in life and I pray for God to give us peace but as much as I love peace, it is going to be very hard for me to forgive. Please pray that God softens my heart. I am deeply affected and hurt by what happened,” Chief Maseribane said.
He said Rtd Lt-Gen Kamoli should be thankful that he was not called to testify in his bail hearing two weeks ago as he would have revealed darkest secrets about him to further frustrate his bail application.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is facing a murder charge in relation to the death of Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at Police Headquarters in August 2014, during his tenure as the commander of the LDF.
He also faces 14 counts of attempted murder in relation to the bombing incidents that occurred at the houses of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane and one, Ms ‘Mamoletsane Moletsane in January 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli’s lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati sought in vain to have Chief Maseribane, Dr Thabane and Police and Public Safety Principal Secretary, Khothatso Tšooana, testify as hostile witnesses in his client’s bail application, which was denied by High Court Judge Justice Teboho Moiloa on 21 November this year.