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LDF, Khubetsoana residents fight over land

  • residents allege army is using terror tactics to forcibly occupy their fields

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has been accused of employing terror tactics to forcibly occupy land belonging to some Khubetsoana residents for the past three decades.

The 31 residents have since applied to the High Court to eject the army from the disputed fields in the Selakhapane area near the National Abattoir in Berea.

LDF Commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Mojalefa Letsoela, ministers Moshe Leoma (Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs) and Keketso Sello (Agriculture and Food Security), Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Police the Officer Commanding Mabote Charge Office, the Land Administration Authority and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are the first to seventh respondents respectively in the application filed last week.

In her founding affidavit, the first applicant, ‘Mamahlomola Ranoha, argues on behalf of her co-applicants that the army has “illegally or forcefully seized” and used their fields since 1983. Even the current army commander, Lt-Gen Letsoela, has ignored their pleas to get the fields back, Ms Ranoha states.

“We served a letter of demand to the respondents on 26 November 2021 but there is no response to date,” Ms Ranoha states in her founding affidavit.

“On 15 December 2021, army officers under the command of the first respondent (Letsoela) denied us access to our fields in Khubetsoana. We established that the first respondent had assigned the soldiers to guard the place and our contention is that this operational order was unlawful. This was a serious matter of abuse of power on the part of the state. We caused a correspondence to be served on the respondents, particularly the first respondent who received it on 18 February 2022 and it makes it clear that the army had been ploughing the fields for the benefit of politicians without our consent. The army has not responded to this letter and all the respondents did not care to reply to the allegations in the letter.

“The second to fourth respondents (Leoma, Sello, Molibeli and O/C Mabote) aided and abetted by the military, proceeded to take forcible possession of the property in Khubetsoana and we cannot access our fields because of their unscrumptious attitude.”

She also alleges that they reported the matter to the police. However, they were rebuffed by the latter who told them that the army was simply protecting government property. She insists that their fields were never acquired by the government at any point.

She further alleges that the army has a history of violence, hence they have illegally and forcibly grabbed their fields.

“Lesotho has a history in terms of which it is common cause that soldiers have been killing people to advance the interests of politicians. This serves not only to highlight the need to take action to prevent administrative injustice and abuse of human rights, but to ensure that the army is a subject to the constitution of the country.

“They are now in occupation of our land and I fear that unless an interdict is granted to protect the applicants’ land rights, soldiers are indirectly reclaiming their notorious behaviour which resurfaced under the rubric of what came to be known as ‘Team 20’. The activities of this team are so serious to an extent that they are a subject matter of criminal prosecution in the ‘high-profile’ cases pending before this court.

“The army controls considerable power and when they took over our land three decades ago, they did so under terror and civilian rule has continued this unfortunate legacy. The government co-operates with the army for purposes of political meddling with our fields and this is a continuing wrongdoing.

“There is no justification for the unlawful occupation of our land by the soldiers and I respectively submit that the applicants are entitled to interdictory relief and suitable enforcement of any order of court,” Ms Ranoha states.

She does not explain who Team 20 is. Presumably this is in reference to rogue soldiers who have been accused of impunity and gross human rights violations. Some of serving and former soldiers like former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, are currently on trial for various crimes including treason and murder.

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