…how former army commander was killed as his nephews watched in horror
He was leaving his farm in Mokema when three four-wheel-drive vehicles trapped him.
One of the 4x4s was blocking him from the front, the other at the back while the third had been parked alongside his own truck.
Realising who was in those vehicles, Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao switched off the engine of his car and raised his hands in surrender. Suddenly there was a burst of gunfire from one of the vehicles and the former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander slumped on the steering wheel with blood soaking his shirtfront.
This is how two relatives travelling with Brigadier Mahao (47) described the manner in which the former army boss met his death on Thursday at around 3pm—a stone’s throw away from his farm in Mokema.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has since admitted being responsible for the shooting of Brigadier Mahao, who was appointed Lieutenant General and LDF Commander on 29 August 2014 before his unceremonious demotion last month. Government argued his appointment had not followed due process hence the demotion from Lt Gen to Brigadier and removal as LDF Commander.
According to the LDF, Brigadier Mahao was killed during an on-going operation to probe suspected mutiny in the army.
However, according to his brother Lehloenya Mahao, the “assassination” was an eventuality the family had long expected.
Mr Mahao, who is also the family’s spokesperson in the tragedy, on Friday narrated to the Sunday Express what “really” transpired on the day in question.
“According to Maaparankoe’s two nephews who were with him during the attack, three 4×4 vehicles blocked the road and my brother had to immediately stop his truck. One vehicle blocked them in front, the other was on the driver’s side and the other at the back.
“Since he was the one driving at the time, Maaparankoe realised that the people who had blocked him were soldiers and he immediately raised his hands in surrender.
“The nephews said they then heard gunshots and some men immediately rushed from the vehicle which was parked alongside Maaparankoe’s.
“The nephews said the men didn’t say anything to Maaparankoe as they came to take him away from his car and put him into one of their vehicles. Two of the vehicles then left the scene, and the nephews say he was still breathing at the time they took him away. They said the other vehicle remained behind with a few soldiers and stayed for more than an hour with them.
“There are things that those soldiers said to the nephews during this time but I won’t get into details of that now. But according to the two nephews, the soldiers took some leaves and tried to clean up the blood on the ground near Maaparankoe’s truck. The blood oozed out of the chest wounds he sustained when he was shot.
“The attackers also took away Maaparankoe’s two mobile phones and his gun; the phones have not been returned as we speak,” Mr Mahao said.
Mr Mahao, who was visibly angry, further said it was unfortunate that Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing had claimed that the former commander was resisting arrest when he was shot and that there was an exchange of gunfire.
“It is nonsensical for the government to mislead us and the nation that Maaparankoe was resisting arrest when he was shot yet he was actually surrendering and had raised his hands to show that he was not resisting arrest. There was no communication between him and his attackers, so how could he have resisted arrest? These people simply shot him and never gave him a chance to do anything. They easily took him away from the truck because he was already injured. There was never an exchange of gunfire because he didn’t shoot back at his attackers,” Mr Mahao said.
Maaparankoe’s other brother, Qamako, also told the Sunday Express that while the family was grieving, “the whole Bafokeng tribe and Mahao family are proud that Maaparankoe died a hero”.
“Despite the trauma of losing someone you love, the Bafokeng tribe and Mahao family are indeed proud that Maaparankoe was a real soldier and died a hero.
“We have to admit that even though we never wanted him to die, we saw it coming; we knew he would be attacked and killed. I don’t want to go into the details of how we established that he would be killed one day by his colleagues in the army but yes, we knew.
“But the family is proud that he was a principled soldier who didn’t only respect the country’s constitution but also the rule of law and democracy.
“Maaparankoe signed the Maseru Security Accord (in October 2014) which later made him leave his beloved country and family for about five months— he did not resist.
“He came back home only to be fired by the newly elected coalition government— he didn’t resist.
“He was accused of planning a mutiny which is surprising because the dates mentioned on the charge sheets of the soldiers who were arrested for the same alleged mutiny fall within the time he was LDF Commander. One would ask if Maaparankoe could be so stupid to plan a mutiny against himself.
“I am proud that my brother was never a rebel but a real soldier who cared so much about his country,” Mr Mahao said, adding a post-mortem on the body would be done tomorrow.
“We will allow the police to do the post-mortem but we will also hire our own pathologist,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Express has established that Brigadier Mahao had been advised to skip the country three weeks ago by his “military intelligence friends” allegedly because there was a plot to assassinate him. However, he is said to have refused to flee the country and insisted that it was better to die in his home country and among his own people than running away.
True to his word, Brigadier Mahao did not run and died a few metres from the farm he was so proud of—and among his people whose outpouring of grief and support has shown that here was a true son of the soil truly loved for his humility and dedication to the country of his birth.
Timeline of events
- Born in 1968 at Paray Hospital in Thaba-Tseka district—the sixth child of Mphanya and ‘Manqosa.
- Attended Mokema Primary School from 1976 to 1982 and then proceeded to St Joseph High School where he completed his Cambridge Oversees School Certificate (COSC) in 1987.
- Graduated from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) with a law degree in 1994.
- Obtained a Master’s Degree in Managing Peace and Security in Africa at the Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2012.
- Attended several military courses in Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.
- Started his work experience as a volunteer for Community, Legal, Resource and Advice Centre in Maseru. He practised with S Mphutlane & Co. Law Firm after graduation in 1994.
- Joined the LDF in 1996.
- Appointed LDF Special Forces boss in 2002 and held the position until 2007. He held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the time.
- He was subsequently appointed Brigadier and then Lt Gen and LDF Commander on 29 August 2014.
- Survives assassination attempt on 30 August 2014 when unknown gunmen attacked his home. He hid in the outside toilet until the gunmen had gone.
- On 21 May 2015, he was removed as head of the LDF and demoted from Lt Gen to Brigadier after government argued his appointment and promotion had been illegally made by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
- Married to ‘Malechesa Matela (now ‘Mamphanya Mahao) on 28 February 1998. The couple was blessed with three sons: Mphanya now 16 years of age, Lehloenya (12) and Setlokoane (Six).
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