Lance-Corporal Sello Lefoka on Friday gave a chilling account of how he was tortured by the military at Setibing Base in May this year.
The exiled soldier recounted the horror before the SADC inquiry currently underway in Thaba ‘Nchu, South Africa, and said he was lucky to have survived the ordeal.
Testifying on the second day of the commission’s hearings in South Africa, Lance-Corp Lefoka said he had been resting at home when four officers took him away to Setibing in Nazareth, just outside Maseru.
“I will tell my story using ranks the people involved were holding before the August 2015 promotions,” he said.
“It was between 12:30pm and 1pm on 30 May when Sergeant Makara, Captain Hashatsi, Second-Lieutenant Nyakane and Lance-Corporal ‘Moleli came to my residence at Makoanyane Barracks.
“I was on sick-leave due to chickenpox and still wearing pyjamas and my face covered with calamine lotion. Makara and Hashatsi knocked at my house and came in. I was in the sitting room, and they didn’t greet anybody. Hashatsi looked at me and said ‘re tlo o lata’ meaning we are here to fetch you. I didn’t ask why and since I knew Hashatsi had been arresting soldiers since mid-May this year, I understood that maybe it was my turn.”
Lance-Corp Lefoka said he was about to leave the house in pyjamas when his wife stopped him.
“I wanted to leave the house the way I was because I didn’t want to waste time but my wife asked me to change. It was around winter and a bit cold. I went to my bedroom and wore proper clothing. When I was about to leave, my wife came rushing with my medication and Hashatsi said, ‘Nna nka re o lebale ka lipilisi’, meaning I am advising you to forget about pills.”
He further told the commission he wanted to leave his mobile phone behind, but Hashatsi ordered him to take it with him.
“When I got outside the house, I realised that Hashatsi and Makara were with Nyakane and ‘Moleli, who were both armed with AK47 rifles. They were travelling in a white 4×4 truck. I was told to get into the vehicle; Nyakane was driving, Hashatsi sat on the front passenger’s seat, and I sat on the back seat with Makara and ‘Moleli. I was taken to the Ha Ratjomose Military Intelligence (MI) office.”
At the office, Lance-Corp Lefoka said nobody told him why he had been brought there.
“We found Lt-Col Phaila and Lt-Col Lekhooa outside the office. As a junior to them, I passed my military compliments but they did not respond. Makara escorted me into the MI office where I found Lance-Corporal Moepi. He immediately went out of the office after telling me to sit down. Lance-Corporal Tseka then entered the office with handcuffs. He then went outside and brought a chain which he cuffed my feet with. He went out again and brought a cloth which he used to blindfold me. He then assisted me to walk to the car outside because I was now cuffed and blindfolded.”
Lance-Corp Lefoka said he was taken to a car by Tseka.
“I sat next to a person I did not know. I heard footsteps and thought Tseka had gone away from the car. The person I found in the car asked who I was and I introduced myself. He told me he was Second-Lieutenant Mohasi and while we were talking, someone sat next to me on the other side. I sat between Mohapi and this other person I didn’t know,” Lance-Corp Lefoka told the commission.
The vehicle, he added, drove away and travelled for some time until it reached a place he did not know since he was blindfolded.
“When we got to this place, I felt it was Setibing Military Base, the place where I did my military training.
“Upon our arrival, Mohasi was asked to introduce himself. He said ‘I am Mohasi’ and they insulted him and told him to introduce himself by his rank. He complied. They took him away to a place I didn’t know because I was still blindfolded. They later asked me to introduce myself. I immediately introduced myself starting with my rank to avoid being insulted. They asked me why I had smeared myself with white lotion and I told them it was calamine.
“I didn’t recognise any of them but could hear they were more than two.”
According to Lance-Corp Lefoka, he was taken to a room and ordered to sit on the bed inside.
He continued: “I felt my feet being fastened to the bed, and I was kicked in the chest and asked if I knew where I was. I responded and told them I was at Setibing. They untied me and still blindfolded, took me to the stream. It was now in the evening and it was very cold now. They threw me into a very cold stream; the water was contaminated because it smelt very badly. I tried to breathe as my head surfaced but they would kick my head back underneath the water. I was kept in the water for more than 30 minutes, and they were insulting me all the time.”
After being taken out of the water, Lance-Corp Lefoka said he could not hold anything because he was feeling extremely cold.
“They ordered me to wear my shoes and when I struggled, they asked if the shoes were still mine. I was taken to a place where they fastened me along a steel pole. I was asked to reveal the names I use on facebook, the whatsapp groups I am a member of, if I was a politician-soldier and the pins and security codes of my mobile phones. I complied and they left me there.
“After many hours, I always assume it was after six hours, they came and unfastened me from the pole. They took me to a room and assisted me to lie on a bed. I was given a blanket but I could not use it as my hands were cuffed and my clothes wet. I think it was the next morning when I was taken out of the room and ordered to sit in the sun. I was then given bread and tea; it was then that I heard other people being ordered to eat. I knew then that I was not the only one going through the torture.”
After eating, Lance-Corp Lefoka said he and the others he couldn’t see, were taken to the stream.
“I was still blindfolded, but unshackled and given soap to bathe. We were also ordered to wash our clothes because they were smelling so much. We then wore wet underwear and boxer-shots, and were cuffed again. We were assisted to put our clothes on the line to dry. And then we were sitting in the sun while some soldiers were shooting close-by.
“Later that night, I was taken to a room and told to sit on a chair. They asked me if I knew Col Nkeli. I told them that I knew him. They told me that since I worked as a paramedic at Makoanyane Hospital, I always leaked information about Lt-Gen Kamoli’s visits when he was sick and I refuted the allegation.
“They suffocated me with a rubber tube several times. They asked me if I knew about the mutiny plot and when I said I didn’t, they suffocated me with a tube again. I was then asked if I communicated with Brigadier Poqa Motoa and Colonel Kolisang and I told them no. I was then told to lie on the floor facedown and my hands and feet were cuffed together on my back. I was suffocated with a tube again until I implicated Nkeli that indeed, we discussed Lt-Gen Kamoli’s hospital visits and mutiny plot. I did not know that Brigadier Motoa, Col Nkeli and Col Kolisang were already in Maximum Prison; I only heard about it later. After implicating Nkeli, I was unshackled and could hear screams coming from the other rooms. I believe they were screams of other soldiers being tortured.
“As they suffocated me I soiled myself and then told to lie on the bed without cleaning myself. The next day, I was taken to the stream to bathe and told that I was going back to Maseru because I had told them the truth. When we got to Ratjomose Barracks, the blindfold was removed by Makara and I also saw two colleagues I worked with at MMH. We were told to report to Ratjomose the next morning at 7:30 am and were all taken to our respective homes. My hands and feet were swollen but we were told not to report about what had happened to us by Hashatsi,” Lance Corporal Lefoka said.
“The following morning, I reported for work, and we were given back our cell-phones. We were told to go back home and go for medical assistance. I did and was given two-weeks sick leave. My wife took the note to my workplace, but it was not taken.
“When my wife told me about it, I decided to leave the country because I feared they might come for me again.”
The SADC Commission of Inquiry continues with its probe this week as it tries to investigate the fatal shooting of Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June this year. Lt-Gen Mahao was gunned down by the military allegedly while resisting arrest for being part of a plot to overthrow the LDF command.
The commission is being led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana and started its probe on 31 August.