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Govt under pressure to act against killer cops

  • Mokhothu, EU lead condemnation of police shooting of NUL student,
  • 18 200 sign petition for Majoro to “take action against police brutality on students”.

‘Marafaele Mohloboli/Tšoloane Mohlomi

NATIONAL anger continues to grow over the police’s cold-bloodied murder of a National University of Lesotho (NUL) student and the wounding of several others during Thursday’s student protests at the university campus in Roma.

Student Representative Committee (SRC) president, Tumo Tsanyane, yesterday said the deceased, Kopano Makutoane, (22), was a second year Environmental Health student.

Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu and the European Union (EU) are leading the choruses of condemnation of police brutality in the wake of Makutoane’s murder. The main governing All Basotho Convention (ABC) has also weighed in on the issue along with the opposition Basotho Action Party (BAP). Incidentally, BAP leader, Nqosa Mahao, was NUL vice chancellor until 2019 when he ventured into fulltime politics.

The latest episode of police brutality will certainly heap more burning coals on embattled Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli whose back is already against the wall over his failure to rein in his rogue subordinates.

A fortnight ago, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro wrote to Commissioner Molibeli, demanding that the police boss “show cause” why he should not be fired on various charges including the failure to address the scourge of police brutality. The police boss has launched applications in both the Constitutional Court and High Court to stop his dismissal.

But given the latest incident of police brutality, which has resulted in a student’s death, it will be difficult for him to make a solid case against Dr Majoro and everyone else who holds him responsible for the errant behaviour of police officers under his watch.

Such is the widespread anger over the police actions that some ordinary citizens have even created an online petition for justice to be served against the killer cops. The petition is under the hashtag #justicefornulstudents.

By yesterday, 18 200 had signed the petition which can be accessed on the following link: https://www.change.org/p/lesotho-govt-take-action-against-police-brutality-onstudents.

The police have a long history of brutality against students and the public in general.

This is not the first time they have killed a NUL student. Back in 2009, they shot and killed Matšeliso Marry Thulo, who was then a first-year Public Administration and Political Science student. She was gunned during student riots over allowances. The riots left 14 other students injured.

She was the daughter of then Lesotho Correctional Services Commissioner, Mojalefa Thulo.

At the time, the police even tried to deflect culpability for the incident, saying Ms Thulo had been killed in a stampede by students. They were however, exposed by a post-mortem report which showed that Ms Thulo had died from a “gunshot wound with perforation of lung and heart”.

The police have seemingly learnt nothing from their previous criminal actions and the ensuing widespread condemnation as evidenced by the latest killing of Makutoane.

They could not have chosen a more auspicious day to commit their dastardly acts. June 16, the day of Makutoane’s killing, is the International Day of the African Child. Lesotho and other African countries commemorate the day in honour of children and youths. The day is inspired by the events of 16 June 1976 when more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march against an unjust education system in the then Apartheid South Africa.

In the wake of clashes with the police, many students and others were killed and property destroyed.

While the black students were massacred by the then racist Apartheid government, Makutoane was killed by police officers operating in a democratic post-independence Lesotho. He was killed on a day when the country should have been advancing the rights and welfare of students and other youths in line with the ethos of the June 16 commemorations.

Narrating the gruesome Thursday incident in an interview with the Sunday Express, NUL SRC member, Matsoso Sefali, said Makutoane was shot several times as he had five wounds which appeared to have been from gunshots.

He said the strike was in response to a mobile phone call that NUL SRC president, Mr Tsanyane, received from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) director, Florina Rakeketsi, informing him that students would not be getting their full monthly allowances of M1100 each. Instead they would each be paid M450 because they would not be on campus after their examinations which had already began.

In reaction to the NMDS decision, students boycotted examinations and engaged in a mass protest outside the campus. Police were called in to disperse the crowds. They fired shots fatally wounding Makutoane and injuring at least seven other students.

“We have engaged in strikes before but there was something different and terrifying about the police reaction on Thursday,” Mr Sefali said.

“You could tell from the gunshots that those were not rubber bullets; live ammunition was used. Unfortunately, we lost one male student. He had five facial wounds which could have been caused by five shots to his face.

“Even before the protests, the SRC had engaged Development Planning minister Selibe Mochoboroane and NMDS director, Florina Rakeketsi. But our efforts were futile as they maintained their stance on cutting our allowances. However, after the mass action, we received communication that our monies would be paid in full. But did we have to lose a precious life for our government to hear us,” Mr Sefali added.

NUL SRC president, Mr Tsanyane, said, “Student protests are nothing new, but the manner in which they are always handled is questionable”.

“Police always use extreme force even when they can just use teargas to disperse protestors. The students were unarmed and harmless and yet this is how they are always treated. We are not going to take this lightly; we are going to sue the police for the pain and loss of lives.

“Police brutality is one of the most painful things in this country. It’s high time the police got their act together and stopped depriving people of their precious lives,” Mr Tsanyane said.

Senate Letsie, a student who took part in the protests, said it was appalling that instead of maintaining law and order, the police had pounced on vulnerable students and civilians.

“The Thursday incident is harrowing and it shows the police’s utter disregard for the lives and welfare of students and the public in general. We appeal to His Majesty, King Letsie III to take charge as a parent and condemn these police crimes so they never occur again,” Ms Letsie said.

Another student, Sello Setefane Khaila, also condemned police brutality.

“What’s worse about Thursday’s brutality is that after shooting a student dead, the police continued harassing students. They raided private residences around Roma, kicking and beating up whoever they found. They even assaulted a defenceless female student, bashing her head with the butt of a rifle,” Mr Khaila said.

The police command has since condemned Makutoane’s murder and acts of brutality against other students.

Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said investigations were underway and the rogue officers would be brought to book.

“The police is aware of the unfortunate and hurtful incidents at the National University of Lesotho during students’ protests on 16 June 2022, where there was a loss of life and some casualties,” Senior Supt Mopeli said in a weekend statement.

“The (police) management is ashamed and condemns these acts. We want to reassure the public that in-depth investigations have been launched to establish what really transpired so that action can be taken against the culprits,” Senior Supt Mopeli said.

It remains to be seen whether the so-called investigations will yield anything, or this particular incident will go the way of similar cases where the rogue officers have not been brought to book.

Meanwhile, this latest case of police brutality has attracted universal condemnation.

Leading the choruses of condemnation are Mr Mokhothu, the ABC and the EU.

Addressing a rally yesterday in Mafeteng, Mr Mokhothu, who is also Democratic Congress (DC) leader, said his party was “strongly against police brutality”.

“If people have broken the law, they should not be killed but taken to the courts for trial.

“A few days ago, police attacked protesting NUL students, killed one and injured others. We are totally against that; it is not right and it is a wound to our democracy for blood to be spilled like that.

“The mandate of the police is to protect property and lives, as well as to stop crime. It isn’t to kill. Does this mean that there were no other means that the police could have used to deal with the situation other than killing the student? When we came into government, the police had killed more than 70 people and we stopped that. Those who killed that student should be answerable for what they did,” Mr Mokhothu said.

ABC leader, Nkaku Kabi, expressed concern over the escalating cases of police brutality. Coincidentally, the NUL incident happened on the day Lesotho and other countries were commemorating 46th anniversary of the Soweto uprising when protesting South African youths were brutalised, shot and killed by the police and army, he said.

“The issue of police brutality is bad and it seems to be on the rise. The students were attacked by the police who are supposed to be their protectors. We should stand up against it (brutality). This country’s weapons should be used to protect and not kill our own people.

“We appeal to the authorities to ensure the culprits face the full wrath of the law. We extend our condolences to the bereaved families and NUL,” Mr Kabi said in a statement.

In a tweeted statement, the EU demanded action against the rogue officers.

The tweet states: “Saddened by the loss of lives at @nul_roma, that should be exclusively a sanctuary for learning. Clarity must be made on incidents and those found responsible must be held accountable”.

Former NUL vice chancellor, Nqosa Mahao, also expressed outrage over the incident. He tweeted: “As we convey our heartfelt condolences to the Makutoane family for their beloved son felled by a bullet in her prime, let all Basotho of goodwill rededicate to return our only heritage, Lesotho to the Rule of Law.

“They (police) know that however callous their deeds, they will be protected by a conscience-dead system. It is as if being a continental murder capital is a badge of honour! Ours has become a God forsaken country where wanton bloodletting no longer pricks (the) conscience”.

Development Planning Minister Mochoboroane, under whose purview NMDS falls, also condemned police brutality.

“As a ministry, we are ashamed of what happened and condemn the acts of brutality. We even sent a delegation to assess the situation. We sympathise with all those affected,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

Various other individuals and civil society organisations like the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) have also condemned police brutality and demanded action against the culprits.

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