FOREIGN Affairs Minister Tlohang Sekhamane has waded into the row over the title of former army chief, Maaparankoe Mahao, saying he was a brigadier and not lieutenant-general when he was killed in June last year.
Addressing a press briefing this past week, Mr Sekhamane said Lt-Gen Mahao’s title was among the major contentious issues causing the standoff between the government and the opposition.
Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander on 29 August 2014 after Lt-Gen Kamoli was dismissed by former premier Thomas Thabane for alleged insubordination. However, Lt-Gen Kamoli rejected the dismissal challenging its legitimacy.
After Dr Thabane relinquished power in the wake of the 28 February 2015 snap elections, the seven-party coalition government led by Dr Mosisili reinstated Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing that his dismissal and Lt-Gen Mahao’s promotion were illegal. Lt Gen Kamoli was reinstated in a Government Gazette dated 21 May 2015 with another gazette issued on the same day terminating Lt-Gen Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander.
Lt-Gen Mahao challenged his demotion in the High Court with the case not seeing the light of day after he was killed on 25 June 2015 by his LDF colleagues.
So serious was the issue of Lt-Gen Mahao’s title, Mr Sekhamane noted, that even a principal chief tried to disrupt the Senate’s sitting as Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili referred to Lt-Gen Mahao as brigadier while tabling the SADC Commission of Inquiry report last Mondya.
“Each time the honorable prime minister referred to Mahao as brigadier, the principal chief would disrupt him with a loud and perceptible voice saying ‘Lieutenant-General Mahao,’ Mr Sekhamane said.
“The truth of the matter and common knowledge is that Mahao was titled brigadier and not lieutenant-general as some prefer to call him. Even in SADC’s official documents, including the terms of reference, he is referred to as brigadier and not Lt-Gen Mahao.
“SADC is an independent organisation and is believed to be neutral. This is the position in the SADC region. Mahao died a brigadier and not lieutenant-general.”
Echoing the sentiments, Dr Mosisili’s spokesperson Motumi Ralejoe said the local media should “know better” since they were always dealing with the issue.
“As the media you should know better. This matter has been explained so many times. There was an appointing gazette for Mahao as lieutenant-general and another reversing that move. This issue has been clearly dealt with,” Mr Ralejoe said.
A radio presenter who preferred anonymity said the former army chief’s title was always a conundrum during her programmes.
“If we refer to him as brigadier in any of our programmes, opposition supporters will quickly complain bitterly and accuse us of being inclined towards congress parties,” she said.
“The same goes for the government and its supporters. They also label us as nationalists and biased reporters. I’m sure even teachers don’t know what to tell their students when referring to Ntate Mahao.”
Commenting on Mr Sekhamane’s statements, Mahao family spokesperson, Lehloenya Mahao said his brother’s challenge of Dr Mosisili’s demotion was still before the courts.
“We are not dealing with this matter based of our interests as the Mahao family. This is a matter still pending in the courts of law and we shall leave it at that,” he said.
“We have heard on several occasions the prime minister saying that the case in which Maaparankoe was suing his office over his dismissal was closed because he is dead. That is not true at all.
“When Maaparankoe was served with a letter to show cause why he should not be fired as LDF commander and be demoted to the rank of brigadier, he decided to sue arguing that if the government didn’t want to work with him, they should dismiss him and not demote him.
Mr Mahao added: “Maaparankoe said he was not appointed by Thabane but by the government, and he did not want to be part of the power struggle between Thabane and Mosisili. We therefore maintain the same legal argument as the deceased.
“This is the reason why we are not hasty in dealing with this issue and that of his benefits. It’s because we await the court’s decisions and are expecting his benefits to commensurate with the title he died with pending the court’s decision. The courts shall decide on Mahao’s title.”