LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, has asked the High Court to dismiss an application by a female army officer to bar him from convening a court martial to try her for misconduct. Lt-Gen Letsoela argues that the officer, Corporal Motheba Makoae, allegedly committed a military offence and therefore a court martial, rather than a civilian court, is best placed to try her.
The LDF boss also argued that in any event, Corporal Makoae’s application is no longer urgent as it has been overtaken by events in that she has already appeared before the court martial which postponed her case until such a time that she is medically fit to stand trial. Corporal Makoae, who is pregnant, faces charges of misconduct after she allegedly accused senior army officers of engaging in improper relations with subordinate female officers.
Corporal Makoae is alleged to have said that LDF generals had a habit of “turning female clerical staff into their wives” and as a result the female officers no longer cared about their work. She did not name the LDF generals who engaged in the improper relations with subordinate female officers.
The allegations against Corporal Makoae are contained in her court application to have Lt-Gen Letsoela barred from convening the court martial to try her for misconduct.
Among other charges, Lt-Gen Letsoela wants the court martial to try Corporal Makoae over her alleged claims that one Captain Griffiths, a female clerical officer, had “turned the office of the Chief of Defence Staff into her own and the reason for her behaviour was probably that the LDF Generals often turn their clerical staff into their wives hence the clerks tend not to care about their work”.
Corporal Makoae also stands accused of disobeying a lawful command given to her at a meeting held by Major-Gen Matobakele on 14 March 2019. It is said that she disobeyed instructions to work directly with one Private Jonase and teach the latter clerical duties.
Corporal Makoae is also accused of unlawfully and intentionally uttering disparaging words to Major-Gen Matobakele, insinuating that Private Jonase had been hand-picked to work in the Deputy Commander’s office because of the short dress she had worn to work.
Corporal Makoae was initially sent for a summary trial on the misconduct charges but Lt-Gen Letsoela signed an order for a court martial to be convened to try her on 28 May 2019.
Lt-Gen Letsoela appointed Lt-Colonel Damane as Court Martial President while Major Lekoatsa, Captain Letsie, Lt Ranyenye and Second Lt Mosiuoa were appointed as members of the court martial. Major Masehle was appointed as Judge Advocate.
However, Corporal Makoae, who has already appeared before the court martial on 24 September 2019, is challenging the convening of the court martial in a High Court application that will be heard on 15 October 2019. She filed her court papers on 23 September 2019.
Lt Gen Letsoela, Court Martial President, Court Martial Judge Advocate, the Prosecuting Authority, the Minister of Defence and National Security and the Attorney General are cited as first to sixth respondents in the matter.
Corporal Makoae argues that Lt-Gen Letsoela should never have convened the court martial because the responsibility to do so lies with the Defence minister and not the LDF boss.
Lt-Gen Letsoela has however, hit back saying Corporal Makoae is not even urgent as she took her time and only filed her High Court application on 23 September 2019 even though she had been notified about on 5 September 2019 that a court martial would try her on 24 and 25 September 2019.
“She (Corporal Makoae) decided not to approach this Honourable Court until the 23rd of September 2019 when she filed this application with a short notice to the respondents. Therefore this indicates that it is a self-created urgency,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said in his answering affidavit filed on 3rd October 2019.
He said in any event the court martial proceeded on 24 September 2019 and this rendered Corporal Makoae’s irrelevant as it had already been overtaken by events.
“On the 24th September 2019 before the application was moved, the court martial proceeded and the court martial postponed the matter sine die (indefinitely) to enable the applicant (Corporal Makoae) to give birth until she is fit to stand a trial.
“If the court were to find that the application was urgent it ceased to be urgent because by the time this application was moved urgency was taken over by events as court proceeded. It is denied that this matter is urgent.”
Lt-Gen Letsoela also argued that the court did not have any jurisdiction to entertain the matter at this stage because it fell within the scope of the court martial.
He also denied Corporal Makoae’s claims that he had usurped the powers by convening the court martial, saying the minister had delegated those powers to him. He said the military courts exercised their powers without any interference from anyone in command and that civil courts had no jurisdiction to try the applicant for military offences.
“I must again aver that the minister has delegated the powers to convene the court martial to me, upon completion of the proceedings the record will be forwarded to the honourable minister for confirmation.
“It is denied that the appointment of a Judge Advocate (JA) brings any conflict of interest due to his subordinate rank to the Deputy Commander (Major-Gen Matobakele). The JA’s role in the court martial is to advise the court on points of law as he is a legal professional… The JA is an adviser of the court and did not make any ruling.
“It is admitted that Major General Matobakele is my deputy. It is however, denied that there would be institutional bias. This assertion is baseless…Wherefore it is prayed that this application be dismissed with costs,” Lt-Gen Letsoela states in his affidavit.