…who are the rest of the conspirators in Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder and where are the foreign judges to try suspects?
THE family of the slain army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, yesterday demanded answers from the government in relation to the long-drawn out process of trying the suspects in his 2015 assassination.
Although the family welcomed the arrest of eight soldiers who are suspects in Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder, they however demanded to know why it was taking so long for the government to secure foreign judges to try the case as it was “too hot” for local judges.
They also demanded to be informed of the identity of the owners of the three vehicles that were used in the army operation to assassinate Lt-Gen Mahao.
The family made the demands during yesterday’s military send-off for Lt-Gen Mahao in Mokema which was attended by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki, senior government officials, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Oversight Committee Chairperson Matias Bertino Matondo and SADC Secretariat Representative Brigadier General Michael Mukokomani.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela and Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli also attended the ceremony along with members of parliament and hundreds of other mourners.
The ceremony was held two weeks after the government posthumously reinstated Lt-Gen Mahao to his former position as commander of the LDF and at the rank of Lt-Gen.
The reinstatement was confirmed in last month’s government gazette that also nullified the May 2015 appointment of Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli as LDF commander by the Pakalitha Mosisili-led former seven parties’ government. Lt-Gen Kamoli retired on 1 December 2016.
Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed as LDF commander on 29 August 2014 after then and current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired Rtd Lt-Gen Kamoli for alleged insubordination.
However, Rtd Lt-Gen Kamoli rejected the dismissal challenging its legitimacy and proceeded to launch a coup attempt on 30 August 2014. The coup attempt kick-started a chain of events that culminated in the snap elections of February 2015 which ushered in the former seven parties’ coalition in place of Dr Thabane’s first government.
Upon assuming power, the Mosisili-led seven-party coalition reinstated Rtd Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing that his dismissal and Lt-Gen Mahao’s promotion were illegal.
Rtd Lt Gen Kamoli was reinstated in a government gazette dated 22 May 2015. Another gazette that was issued on the same day announced the termination of Lt-Gen Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander and demoted him to his earlier rank as a Brigadier.
Lt-Gen Mahao challenged his demotion in the High Court and the case collapsed after he was assassinated on 25 June 2015 by his LDF colleagues.
However, the Thomas Thabane administration posthumously reinstated him to his former position two weeks ago and also resolved to give him a military send-off which was held yesterday.
Addressing the gathering yesterday, Lt-Gen Mahao’s brother, Professor Nqosa Mahao, began by taking the government to task for saying that Lt-Gen Mahao was the commander until 22 May 2015 when the Dr Mosisili’s regime reinstated Lt-Gen Kamoli as the commander.
“Lt-Gen Mahao was the army commander until 25 June 2015 at 14:45hours when he was murdered by the army officers. This should be corrected,” Prof Mahao said.
Prof Mahao then demanded answers from the government in relation to Lt-Gen Mahao’s 25 June 2015 assassination.
“The family is thankful that the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli worked very hard and arrested soldiers who killed Lt-Gen Mahao and they are in custody awaiting trial. But where are the conspirators of this operation Ntate? Where are the vehicles that were used during this operation? Who do they belong to,” Prof Mahao asked.
He said the nation wanted all the conspirators in the 25 June operation to be tried in the courts of law along with eight soldiers who had already been arrested in connection with the murder.
The eight soldiers are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane; Captain Haleo Makara; Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi; Sergeant Motsamai Fako; Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli; Corporal Motšoane Machai; Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Prof Mahao said he was surprised that government had still not engaged foreign judges to preside over Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder case because it was “too hot” for the local judges. He said the foreign judges were still not in the country even after the government first told them of the plan to engage them in February this year.
“If there is a problem (with engaging foreign judges), this government has the majority of seats in parliament and it should use that to its advantage to set up a special tribunal to deal with these cases. Use your powers to ensure that justice is served in this case,” Prof Mahao said.
On his part, Mr Moleleki said Lt-Gen Mahao was a sacrificial lamb whose death shocked everyone.
His said everyone who was angered by his death worked hard to overthrow the Pakalitha Mosisili-led former government in the 3 June 2017 snap national elections.
Mr Moleleki said the current four-party coalition would work hard to avoid the wrath that the electorate directed at the past government.
“The past government misdirected itself when it thought that the right to govern, control the army and a right to life was only for certain individuals of certain surnames, clans and political affiliations.
“We are here today to do right by the late Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, not because he is holier than us but because as a soldier he died by his vows and never rebelled at the time the leaders of this country had made it fashionable for soldiers to rebel,” Mr Moleleki said.
On his part, Dr Matondo said that the military send-off was long overdue and it was befitting for someone of the stature of the late Lt-Gen Mahao.
“Our deepest hope is that this ceremony organised to honour this great soldier and a dear son of Lesotho will also translate into a call for a genuine reconciliation and repentance so that a healing process can start.
“It would inspire us at SAMPIL if the six months we spent here have ensured that Lesotho will say ‘never again to disregard for the rule of law and violations of human rights’. Now is the time for all of us, in the memory of Lt-Gen Mahao, to commit to the peace process not only in words but in deeds,” Dr Matondo said.
The SADC Prevention Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), also known as the SADC Standby Force, was deployed to Lesotho on 2 December 2017. The standby force is comprised of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts.
The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent rogue LDF soldiers from destabilising Dr Thabane’s coalition as it went about implementing SADC recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the Kingdom.
The reforms include holding rogue LDF members accountable for their past atrocities and helping mould the LDF into a professional force via some targeted re-training.
The standby force would also help in the investigation of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi as well as the earlier killing of Lt-Gen Mahao, among other tasks.
Dr Matondo further encouraged all members of the security agencies, particularly the LDF to take the lead in maintaining the spirit of tolerance, reconciliation and respect for human rights.
After the speeches, the LDF led the gathering to Lt-Gen Mahao’s graveyard where they placed the national flag.
This was followed by prayers for Lt-Gen Mahao’s soul to rest in eternal peace before the LDF took over and ordered two minutes of silence in honour of Lt-Gen Mahao.
Thereafter military music was played for a few minutes before the army shot into the air three times and paused as a sign of respect for Lt-Gen Mahao. The ceremony concluded with the removal of the flag from the grave.