LLOYD Mutungamiri, the editor of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express newspapers, who survived a brutal assassination attempt at his home in Upper Thamae last weekend has undergone surgery to remove a bullet and bullet fragments in his body.
Mr Mutungamiri is now in a stable condition, doctors said.
The bullet lodged near Mr Mutungamiri’s lower left ear area and other fragments have been removed and sent for ballistic tests under the auspices of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
However, it will be a long time before Mr Mutungamiri fully recovers, and likely to take up to three months before he starts eating any solid food. He is currently surviving on fluids administered orally and intravenously.
Mr Mutungamiri’s surgery was conducted at a hospital in South Africa where he is currently held. His face remains badly swollen.
Human rights and press freedom groups from around the world this week united in condemning the hit on Mr Mutungamiri and urged the Lesotho government to launch an independent and impartial probe into the shooting.
Even though he still struggles to speak, Mr Mutungamiri was this week able to provide details of the attack on him and to sketch a diagram of how the incident unfolded, depicting the methodology of his attackers.
Mr Mutungamiri’s first-hand version rules out any possibility that the attempt to kill him could have been an ordinary robbery as nothing was robbed from him.
The attack preceded a tough few weeks during which politician Bokang Ramatsella has been on the offensive against the Lesotho Times, the Sunday Express and its publisher Mr Basildon Peta. On Thursday, a few days after the hit on Mr Mutungamiri, Mr Ramatsella stated on Tsenolo FM that Mr Peta’s safety is not assured if he ever returns to Lesotho. Despite his inflammatory statements, mainly on Tsenolo FM, no action has thus far been taken against Mr Ramatsella.
Mr Mutungamiri’s shooting was the culmination of a tough week for him and his company during which he, and reporter Keiso Mohloboli, were summoned to Mabote Police Station for interrogation over a story in which the Lesotho Times had reported about negotiations for an exit strategy for army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli in line with a recommendation by a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) resolution that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) head be removed from his post. They were also quizzed over a satirical column in the Lesotho Times that goes by the moniker Scrutator which had claimed a joke about a mock cabinet invasion by the army commander to exemplify his power.
As publisher and CEO of the Lesotho Times, Mr Peta has since been charged with defamation and crimen injuria over the column.
Mr Peta described the worldwide response against Mr Mutungamiri’s assassination as humbling.
“We are humbled by the response and support of the international community against this dastardly act. Hopefully, it should sent a clear signal to the plotters of this attack that such actions will not go unnoticed,” he said.
“Before plotting to kill a journalist, these people should think of the damage their actions will cause to the country. Journalists the world-over have a well organised solidarity system in which an injury to one is considered an injury to the entire profession. Because journalists are the instruments of communication, the targeting of journalists invariably result in bad harmful publicity.”
Mr Mutungamiri was able to provide a firsthand account of the attempted assassination on him.
As per his usual routine, Mr Mutungamiri left this newspaper’s offices in Thetsane around 11:35 pm on Saturday after having finished editing the Sunday Express, the sister newspaper to the Lesotho Times.
As he approached his house, Mr Mutungamiri said he saw two men standing by a corner near his house. As the area is fairly busy due to a drinking outlet and tuck-shop in the vicinity of his home, Mr Mutungamiri said he wasn’t initially bothered by their presence as he had seen people milling around the area during late night hours.
He then stopped his car behind the gate in a parallel position, in readiness to turn right into the yard after manually opening that gate. Once he had stopped near the gate but before getting out of the vehicle, the two men passed by his car one on the left and the other on the right side glancing at him as they walked past. With the benefit of hindsight, Mr Mutungamiri said he thought this was for them to verify whether it was indeed him in the vehicle as he did not normally use the vehicle he was driving that day.
He said he still did not read much into their movements as he thought they were walking towards either the drinking outlet or tuck-shop near his residence. He alighted from his vehicle and opened the main gate.
After getting back into his car to manoeuvre the car right into the yard, all hell then broke loose. The men, whom he had just seen walking past him had turned back. As he tried to turn his car right into the parking, the one man had passed him and taken a position to his right. The other one moved in front and they started firing.
The first bullet fired from the man on the right shattered the driver’s window hitting him on the face and shattering his right jaw before moving to stop in the left ear-lob. Another one hit his palm as he raised his hand in a desperate attempt to shield his face. He then slumped forward onto the steering wheel. The assailants fired more bullets at the car. The shots fired by the assailant in front of the vehicle failed to reach Mr Mutungamiri as they bounced off the bullet-proof wind screen. Meanwhile his automatic vehicle accelerated into the yard, ramming into the other car parked in front.
He had bought the vehicle in question from a security consultant who was leaving Lesotho and unbeknown to Mr Mutungamiri, the windscreen was bullet proof and this factor was to be one of his main saving graces.
His wife and children who were still awake and had heard Mr Mutungamiri opening the gate while preparing to welcome him, started crying for help upon hearing the sound of gunshots. But they were too scared to get out, only doing so a few minutes after the gunshots had ended.
“When I first saw him, I thought he had died,” said Mrs Mutungamiri. “He appeared motionless and blood was all over, and teeth scattered in the vehicle.”
She called for help and rushed him to Maseru Private Hospital, where after initial treatment to stop excessive bleeding, they were whisked by ambulance to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
Mr Mutungamiri was subsequently referred to a hospital in South Africa where specialist reconstructive surgery has since been performed on him.