A joint Father’s Day commemoration organised by distraught children of 16 soldiers detained in Maseru Maximum Security Prison for allegedly plotting to topple the army command, will go ahead today as scheduled.
The event starts with a ‘Fun Walk’ from Sethaleng Sa Mopapa to Maseru Club where a prayer session would be held followed by refreshments and a variety of recreational activities.
The children say the commemoration, scheduled to start at 9am, would not be called off despite the punishment their fathers have allegedly received from Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities over the event, which includes being temporarily denied food and their medication. Both the LDF and Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi have since denied these allegations.
In addition to the families of the imprisoned soldiers, the children and relatives of seven LDF members who were arrested alongside the detainees between May and June 2015 but were later released and placed under open arrest following protracted legal battles, are also expected to be part of today’s commemoration.
The family of the late former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, is also expected to attend today’s commemoration.
Lieutenant-General Mahao was fatally shot by the LDF on 25 June 2015 allegedly while resisting arrest for the same mutiny plot the 23 soldiers are being charged for before the Court Martial.
Members of civil society and opposition political parties are also expected to join the commemoration.
According to a statement released by the children on Friday, the event is for them to support each other and commemorate Father’s Day together.
The statement reads: “It is more than a year since some of the Lesotho Defence Force soldiers were arrested and charged with alleged mutiny.
“After the kidnapping of the soldiers, they were immediate court cases—habeas corpus application—made by the wives of the kidnapped soldiers.
“The soldiers appeared before the High Court giving details of their experiences while they were missing and their families searching for them.
“The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry was subsequently established to investigate the killing (of Lt-Gen Mahao) and allegations of the mutiny plot in an effort to secure peace and stability in the country.
“After completing its work, the Commission then made recommendations to the government of Lesotho.
“In this mist, we, the children of the detained soldiers, have come together to fight and raise awareness about the injustice in this country through the ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign.”
The campaign, the children say, include today’s ‘Fun Walk’ whose aim is “to support each other and commemorate Father’s Day for the second year without our fathers”.
Speaking with the Sunday Express yesterday, one of the children said they would not be stopped by “any threats” as they were not doing anything wrong.
“The commemoration is going ahead as planned. We are not going to be intimidated by the threats that our fathers have been receiving in detention.
“This event is meant to comfort every Mosotho who cannot celebrate Father’s Day with their fathers, so we will not be afraid to go ahead with it because we are not doing anything wrong or illegal,” she said.
She alleged their detained fathers had been warned that they would not live to see this year’s Father’s Day and their children would not return from the commemoration.
“These death threats are not going to deter us and neither will denying our fathers food because of this commemoration, which happened early this month.
“But what people should understand is that this commemoration has nothing to do with politics as is being alleged by some people in government.
“What we are simply doing is raise awareness of our situation to the world.
“This is the second year we are spending Father’s Day without our fathers, and the fun walk is really meant to raise awareness about our plight.”
She said they were expecting every Mosotho who supports their cause to show up for today’s event.
“Many people have been very supportive of our cause by purchasing our Breaking The Silence- branded T-shirts. We are selling this merchandise to raise funds and help some of our colleagues who are struggling to make ends meet because of the absence of our fathers. Part of the funds we are raising will go towards the payment of legal fees for our families,” she said.
“Other forms of support we have been receiving from the people are donations. We are very thankful for the support during this difficult time we are going through.”
The soldiers who are appearing before the Court Martial are Brigadier Mareka, Brigadier Poqa Motoa, Colonel Stemere, Colonel Kolisang, Major Makhetha, Captain Chaka, Second-Lieutenant Mohasi, Sergeant Mokhobo, Sergeant Semakale, Sergeant Lekhabunyane, Corporal Mokhoro, Corporal Letsilane, Corporal Lipoto, Corporal Manaka, Corporal Mohatlane, Corporal Chele, Corporal Motseko, Lance Corporal Jobo, Lance-Corporal Molefi, Lance-Corporal Makhooane, Private Pama, Private Bolofo and Private Ralitlemo.