Kamoli stands his ground
Army commander goes toe-to-toe with SADC commission
Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli says he never refused to vacate office after being fired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, but stayed on because there was never a “show cause notice or any document to that effect” to formalise the expulsion.
“Your Lordship, I never received any document. In legal terms, it is called the show-cause notice, showing cause why my principal felt I was no longer suitable for the position. I did not receive that,” Lt General Kamoli said.
“Apart from that, I never received an instrument operationalising the legal notice seeking to remove me, as I did receive when I was appointed commander.”
Appearing before the SADC Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Friday, and speaking publicly for the first time about his decision to ignore a legal gazette removing him from office dated 29 August 2014, Lt Gen Kamoli insisted he did not defy any order to leave the LDF and was surprised that during the Commission’s proceedings, as previous witnesses were being interviewed, “I heard here and there, this issue of Lt Gen Kamoli refusing to vacate office”.
The LDF commander was accompanied by an entourage of LDF officials including Advocate General Colonel Bulane Sechele, who was the first witness to appear before the Commission a fortnight ago.
The Commission is being led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana and also comprises military and legal experts from several Southern African Development Community (SADC) states.
General Kamoli had chosen to publicly address only two of the Commission’s terms of reference—those dealing with “the legality and manner of the removal of Lt Gen Kamoli as head of LDF in 2014 and his reappointment in 2015” and “investigating allegations by opposition parties and civil society stakeholders that Lt Gen Kamoli’s reappointment had resulted in divisions in the LDF and led to political and security instability”.
The army chief also brought up the issue of his age during Friday’s hearing.
“The fact that I had not reached my compulsory retirement age, one would think if one is removed from office, one would receive, in the first place, a show-cause notice why one should vacate office, and a letter thereof to operationalise the legal notice,” General Kamoli said.
At this stage Justice Phumaphi intervened, telling him the Commission had been shown a gazette endorsed by His Majesty the King “that terminated your commission”.
“Can you deal with that?” Justice Phumaphi prodded.
“Yes, I did see it (the gazette) at a later stage. But still, the instrument that operationalised that gazette did not come to me. In that case, I had no document to approach the court with if I had issues about being removed or expelled from office,” Lt Gen Kamoli said.
“And things were happening very fast during those days. And when this information came, it was on a Saturday when the courts are closed.
“Then because there was a SADC Facilitation Mission already on the ground, we had various meetings with them, resulting in the Maseru Security Accord (MSA), through which security leaders were sent on leave-of-absence outside the country.”
Lt Gen Kamoli was fired by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and replaced with the now-late Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, via a legal notice dated 29 August 2014 endorsed by His Majesty King Letsie III.
Then in the early hours of 30 August 2014, the military attacked and took over three key Maseru police stations.
That same morning, the residence of Brigadier Mahao in Koalabata was also attacked, with one of his dogs being shot and killed.
Thereafter, Dr Thabane, Brigadier Mahao, former sports minister Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane, former labour minister Keketso Rantšo, former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana and several senior government officials fled to South Africa amid allegations of an attempted coup.
Dr Thabane and his allies accused Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader Mothetjoa Metsing, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, of engineering the attempted coup with the aid of the military.
Lt Gen Kamoli remained LDF commander, with Brigadier Mahao never assuming office until he was formally demoted in May this year by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who had assumed power after forming a coalition government with six other political parties following the 28 February 2015 snap elections.
Lt Gen Kamoli told the Commission what transpired on the day he heard of his dismissal.
“My Lordship, sometime after midday on 30 August (a Saturday), there was a delegation of the SADC Organ comprising mainly of South Africans. They called saying they wanted to see me. I said yes, come and see me. They came to my office and found me. They told me that my Prime Minister then, had left the country saying I was toppling the government.
“I asked which Prime Minister were they talking about because behind my desk in my office, there were still three portraits there—those of the King, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and myself.
“I asked them, do you know him? They said yes. I asked them again, who is this person in the photo on the wall behind me? They said Dr Thabane. Then I said, he’s still in charge. They then went their way and I had my lunch.
“Then when I was still having lunch, my military assistant told me they had heard over one of the radio stations, one man who is confusing this country, saying that I was no more the commander. It was on a Saturday.
“Then after the meal, one of the visitors who had come earlier and I had exchanged numbers with, called to tell me she had also heard over the radio that I had been removed from office. I said yes, you are the second person to give me this information.
“Then she asked, what are you going to do? I then I asked her, what if it were you? In actual fact, in South Africa, how are people removed from office, over radios? Then she said no and I said OK.”
Justice Phumaphi then asked Lt Gen Kamoli the name of the man who announced his expulsion over the radio and he said it was Dr Thabane’s spokesperson Thabo Thakalekoala.
“His name is Thakalekoala. I don’t know if I am correct but he is the man who worked at the former PM’s office giving out information; where he was the publicity officer, I am not sure,” General Kamoli said.
“He was working for the PM? Was he the one who made the announcement? Did you hear him or were you told?” Justice Phumaphi asked.
“Yes. He’s the one who made the announcement over the radio. I was told by other people, as I have already told you about the two people who alerted me,” Lt Gen Kamoli said.
The army commander also sought to address what he called “the issue that I disobeyed orders from the Commander-in-Chief”.
“My Lord, there’s also this issue, of Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli disobeying the orders of the Commander-in-Chief (His Majesty King Letsie III). I think I should give some clarity on that issue.
“In 2014, I was directly answerable to the Minister of Defence, Dr Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, the then prime minister. The issue that I refused to obey the orders of the Commander-in-Chief is false.
“There’s nowhere in our statutes where you will find that. It’s unlike South Africa where the laws state clearly that the Commander-in-Chief is the President of the country. It is not the case in this country.
“I don’t report to His Majesty the King. I report to the Prime Minister. But I could hear some time when you were asking some of the witnesses here, getting so hard on them that this commander defied the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, as if there was a day that I was sitting one-on-one with him, discussing military issues. That is not the case in this country.
“The only occasions I meet His Majesty is only when he calls Council of State meetings, where we don’t meet one-on-one but as a committee. Secondly, we meet during the King’s birthday celebration, where I receive him at the parade and accompany him to inspect it. Again, I meet him when he either leaves or enters the country at the airport, where again he inspects the parade. Those are the only occasions I meet with the King.”
Asked by Commissioner Tshepo Mokgotsi from Botswana to explain his working relationship with Dr Thabane, the army boss said amid deafening laughter from the gallery: “If he were to enter this room right now, he would come to me and give me a hug.
“Even today, I can assure you that if he were to enter this place today, he would just come straight to me and hug me.”
Responding to the laughter in the room, General Kamoli said: “I am telling this Commission the truth, my Lord, I am not joking. I told this to (SA) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa when he was facilitating here in Lesotho. I told him that if the former PM was to come here alone, you would see a different man from what you have been told.
“Fortunately on 24 October 2014, when we were signing the Maseru Security Accord at the Lesotho Sun Hotel, it was I, the late Brigadier Mahao, Commissioner Tšooana and Deputy Prime Minister Metsing. Deputy President Ramaphosa came through the door with PM Thabane. The former PM came straight to and I saluted him. And he said to me ‘Hey, General! Don’t hide so long’. Then even before responding to what he had said, I looked at Deputy President Ramaphosa. You know what the deputy president said? He said: ‘Ah, Basotho! I told you, this country of yours is very small. I knew you’d come together!’
“Even now, if he were to come here now, you’d see a different story from what you have been told or what he has been made to say. Because when he’s alone, he cannot say those things that he has been made to say.
“I respect him, he’s my father. He was my PM, I respect the elderly.”
Commissioner Mokgotsi continued his questioning: “So, General, what you say is there was never a fallout?”
General Kamoli: “No, there wasn’t, not even on a single day. You know, whenever I was in his office, he would say to me, ‘General, I am so lucky to have a general like you. Fortunately I served almost every government that Lesotho has ever had, from the English, Dr Leabua Jonathan who was scared of the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), so he was not that comfortable. Then it was Major General Metsing Lekhanya, who somewhere somehow got disturbed by his own army. Then it was Ramaema and then Dr Mokhehle and later Dr Pakalitha Mosisili. He was also disturbed by terrorists since 2007 up until he was nearly killed at his home in 2009.
“But as for me, Motsoahae Thabane, I’m very comfortable to have a commander like you. He was always giving me a hundred-percent plus.”
But Commissioner Mokgotsi did not appear convinced by the response, and said as much.
“Ok, General. Whenever we are given an assignment like this, we try to find all the information to understand what is happening. From what we have gathered, it’s like Thabane fears you. Even just this past weekend, I heard statements like in the media ‘I can’t go there to be killed by Kamoli and his men’. Why does Thabane fear you so much?” Commissioner Mokgotsi asked.
General Kamoli: “My Honourable Commissioner, this kind of question is very difficult. But I can tell you that the media here is very polarised. They report things that are not factual. I don’t know why the former PM has to be scared of me like that, when we have never fallen-out.”
“But, Sir, can’t you actually establish why this fear, with your intelligence? What are the real issues here? Don’t you even, up to now, know why he fears you?” Commissioner Mokgotsi quizzed further.
“The former PM himself does not fear me. There are people around him who fear me because they know what they have done. So they have just made him a face; an international face that they present to the outside world, that the former PM is being persecuted by Kamoli.
“The old man, with due respect, doesn’t have that. He’s being told what to say by people who use him as their international face,” Lt General Kamoli reiterated.
“Who would you say these people are, who are feeding Thabane with all the lies?” the commissioner wanted to know.
General Kamoli: “My Honourable Commissioner, like I requested to give some information in-camera, I think this is one of those that I will address in private.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing is scheduled to appear before the commission tomorrow and Tuesday.
“Yes, the DPM is appearing before the commission on Monday and Tuesday,” said his legal representative, Advocate Salemane Phafane KC.
Advocate Phafane and Advocate Motiea Teele have been instructed by the office of the Attorney-General, to represent all state organs and officials throughout the Commission’s proceedings.