MASERU — There was a time when he was arguably the most notorious man in Lesotho.
He was a senior police officer who had turned rogue.
In an act of mutiny Phakiso Molise, a second lieutenant at that time, in 1994 led a police strike that was so serious that it had to be quelled by the army.
Then in 1995 Molise engaged in his most blatant act of mutiny against the police force.
A strike by teachers was threatening to spiral out of control.
It had been going on for weeks and was on the verge of turning violent.
As fate would have it, the police bosses turned to Molise to lead a police operation to quell the strike.
Instead of clamping down on the striking teachers, Molise did the improbable — he convinced other police officers to join the strike in solidarity.
What followed thereafter was an act of rebellion that saw Molise and his group of rioters laying siege on Maseru Central Charge Office for a day.
And when the mutineers were eventually captured they had fatally shot three police officers.
Molise fled to South Africa but he was later captured and brought back to Lesotho.
He was imprisoned for 15 years in 1997.
He however denies taking part in the killing of the three police officers.
Six years later Molise made national headlines again when he escaped while being taken to hospital.
He was recaptured in South Africa and sent back home to complete his sentence.
At that time it was widely believed that Molise was influenced by the opposition Basotho National Party to destabilise the Basutoland Congress Party-led government.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same Molise we met for lunch recently.
He comes across as a humble-looking man and he says he has changed.
Molise was released from prison three months ago.
He says he is a “misunderstood man”.
His name, he says calmly while sipping his drink, has been “soiled” by people who claim to understand him.
Most of the things that people say about him are malicious lies or based on hearsay, he says.
For instance, Molise says, he was never part of the group of people that shot the three police officers at Maseru Central Charge Office.
Molise is desperate for people to understand that whatever he did — the police strike, supporting the teachers’ strike and the mutiny — was all in the spirit of “fighting for a just cause”.
“I was merely responding to the needs of the people,” he says.
The battle, Molise says, was never about politics but the people.
All those that seek to associate him with any political party are wrong, he says.
“I was merely helping address the concerns of the people, especially the police I was working with,” Molise says.
“That is why even now when I have just been released from prison I do not want to have anything to do with party politics.
“I was a policeman who worked without any political influence.
“Even now you can go to Maseru Central Charge Office and observe how the police work.
“You will not see anything you can associate with party politics but if the police have concerns they will address them.”
Molise says the 1995 mutiny was not meant to shed blood but to get a point across to the powers-that-be that the police were not happy.
To justify this he says after the fight at the charge office he rushed to the royal palace to seek audience with King Letsie III.
“After failing to talk to the king, I handed over my weapons to the police at the palace and walked out of there,” he explains.
“I could have kept my guns with me but giving them away to the police was a sign that I did not want bloodshed.”
Even the allegations that he escaped from prison are false, he claims.
Instead Molise says he was abducted.
“I never escaped from prison because I understood that I had to complete my sentence fully,” Molise says.
“I was abducted”.
Many may find this hard to believe but Molise is adamant that this is precisely what happened in 2003 on the day he was reported to have escaped.
He however does not want go into detail about his alleged “abduction” because he says the case is still pending in court.
“Commenting about it now will jeopardise my defence,” he says.
Molise says prison changed him and the time he spent there made him a better man.
That change, he claims, came two years before his release.
He says after spending years with “hardcore” criminals and watching some of them return to prison soon after their release he realised that something “had gone wrong with our society”.
Now Molise says he is working hard to help people change their attitudes towards “virtue and faithfulness”.
In 2008 he started a programme to help people change their behaviour.
“I want to continue with the programme outside the prison walls,” he says.
“Basotho have become a wicked society that needs change.
“People fail to live according to what they have been taught at school or in their churches.”