MASERU — Makotoko Lerotholi, popularly known as Mashai (pictured), is dead.
Mashai, the chief suspect behind the April 22 2009 coup attempt against Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, died in a Pretoria hospital on Friday.
The cause of his death could not be immediately established as his relatives were tight-lipped about the details of his passing on.
One close relative of Mashai, who preferred not to be named, could only confirm the death without giving away any details.
Mashai’s long-time lawyer, Haae Phoofolo, also confirmed his client’s death.
But Phoofolo said he did not know about the exact cause of Mashai’s death.
However, the lawyer said it was common cause that Mashai had not been well since he was allegedly tortured by the police following his arrest after the 2007 attacks on the homes of several cabinet ministers.
The attacks on the ministers’ homes came in the wake of the disputed general elections in February that year.
Mashai was one of those arrested in connection with the attacks.
He later claimed that he had been brutally tortured while in police custody.
Mashai had subsequently escaped from police cells a few days after his June 2007 arrest.
Mashai hit the headlines again early this year after he was accused of leading a group of mercenaries who invaded and seized arms from Makoanyane Barracks before attacking State House in an apparent attempt to kill and overthrow Mosisili in the wee hours of April 22.
The attempt on Mosisili’s life failed after a spirited response from members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) on guard at State House on that day.
Mashai was then arrested in Pretoria on May 8 in connection with the attempted coup and the government had since instituted extradition proceedings against him.
South African courts had nevertheless released him from custody on bail. The government botched the extradition proceedings by not filing all the requisite papers in time.
“The family informed me of his death last night,” Phoofolo said yesterday.
“I do not have the details but it is common knowledge that Mashai has not been well since his torture.
“I understand that his family is yet to know of the cause of his death.”
The Lerotholi family declined to speak to the media.
The Sunday Express visited the bereaved family in Mohalalitoe, Maseru, yesterday but could not get any details from family members who declined to talk.
“We will not talk to newspapers,” declared one relative at the house.
Chief Mathealira Seeiso of Mokhotlong, where the Lerotholi family comes from, also refused to comment, saying only Mashai’s wife and brother could speak to the media.
The Sunday Express is nonetheless reliably informed that Mashai had been hospitalised for the past three weeks before his death on Friday.
Phoofolo said the last time he saw Mashai was on May 26 2009 when he went to visit him in Pretoria soon after his arrest.
He said Mashai was not well “physically, emotionally and mentally”.
“I could see he was not well,” Phoofolo said.
“He told me that he had not been well since his torture in 2007.”
Phoofolo said when Mashai heard that he was also wanted in Lesotho on new charges of trying to overthrow Mosisili, his client became even more depressed.
“He told me that he would never come to Lesotho alive,” Phoofolo said.
“He said he would only come to Lesotho when he is dead.
“It has now happened that he has died away from his home.”
Mashai had maintained his innocence against all charges levelled against him.
He had denied participating in both the 2007 attacks on ministers’ homes and this year’s attempted putsch against Mosisili.
After the 2007 attacks, Mashai was arrested by members of the LDF’s special commando unit wearing ski masks.
He was arrested together with two former soldiers, Motlalentoa Kopo and Thabo Thants’i, and businessman Elias Motlomelo.
The four men were held in secret and incommunicado.
Motlomelo is back in the country but the other two, who escaped with Mashai from police custody, are still at large.
He is survived by his wife and two children, a son and a daughter.
His exact age could not be ascertained but he was believed to be in his 50s.