New twist to SADC probe
Opposition leaders demand overhaul of probe team and its terms of reference
Opposition leaders have written to SADC Facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa demanding an overhaul of the Commission of Inquiry probing the country’s instability and an expansion of its mandate.
According to a letter endorsed by All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and their Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) counterpart Keketso Rantšo dated 22 July 2015, the hearings of the Commission should be open to the public and the findings prosecuted in Lesotho.
The 12-member Commission, which was established by a special summit of the SADC Double Troika held in Pretoria early this month, arrived in the country last week and is headed by Botswana judge Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi.
Prompted by the murder of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao, the summit tasked the Commission to establish the circumstances surrounding the killing which was roundly condemned both at home and outside the country for its callousness.
Brigadier Mahao, who had been demoted as LDF commander almost a month before after government argued his promotion in August 2014 had not followed due process, was gunned down on 25 June 2015 by LDF members who had come to arrest him at his Mokema home for allegedly being the mastermind behind a foiled plot to remove the army command.
After the murder was increasingly threatening to spark anarchy in the country, SADC moved quickly to establish the Justice Phumaphi-led Commission to not only investigate circumstances the killing but also review the LDF’s investigations into the alleged mutiny plot. The review was expected to cover the “alleged kidnap of former soldiers and killing of members of opposition political parties” by the LDF.
The probe team was also mandated to investigate “the legality and manner of the removal of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as head of the LDF in August 2014 and his reappointment in May this year”.
SADC also mandated the Commission to investigate “allegations by opposition parties and civil society that Lt Gen Kamoli’s reappointment had resulted in divisions in the LDF and led to political and security instability in Lesotho”.
Lt Gen Kamoli was fired on 29 August 2014 by then premier and Commander-in-Chief Dr Thabane for alleged insubordination and replaced by Lt Gen Mahao who was a brigadier and facing a court martial for “behaviour unbecoming of an army officer”, at the time.
However, Dr Mosisili on 9 July 2015 wrote to Mr Ramaphosa asking him to widen the scope of the Commission by probing Dr Thabane for allegedly increasing police salaries “without cabinet approval”, and indefinitely suspending Lesotho Correctional Service Commissioner Napo Sefali.
The Democratic Congress (DC) leader also requested the SADC Commission to “investigate the LDF operation of 30 August 2014, in which Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko lost his life…Serious allegations of a coup attempt have been touted around events of that early morning operation by the LDF and we feel that advantage should be taken of the Commission to investigate that incident which, as you will no doubt recall, led to Prime Minister Thabane fleeing to South Africa.”
After agreeing to this request Ramaphosa also added to the Commission’s mandate by instructing it to also look into the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of Dr Thabane’s partner Liabiloe Ramoholi and her neighbour ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane and the Ha Abia residence of Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana.
Mr Ramaphosa further instructed the Commission to look into the appointment of the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Kananelo Mosito by Dr Thabane in January this year. The legality of Justice Mosito’s appointment has since been challenged by the Attorney General in the courts, who has since lost the case.
However, with members of the Commission yet to begin their probe which was initially expected to take 60 days, the ABC, BNP and RCL are now demanding an overhaul which is likely to delay the investigation or stop it completely should Mr Ramaphosa and the SADC leadership not accept the parties’ demands.
Reads the opposition letter: “We wish to firstly extend our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for the excellent work undertaken by the recent SADC fact-finding mission to Lesotho. As a result of the findings of the mission, the matter of security in Lesotho was quickly dealt with by the SADC Double Troika at its meeting of 3 July 2015.
“We are aware that at the Double Troika summit on 3 July 2015, the terms of reference for the Lesotho Judicial Commission of Inquiry were proposed.
“Subsequent to this, on the 9th July 2015, the Lesotho government, through Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, requested modifications to the terms of reference. We understand that these proposed modifications were deemed acceptable and that you subsequently instructed the SADC Executive Secretary (Stergomena Lawrence Tax) to incorporate the prime minister’s suggestions as well as additional items you raised.
“We applaud the prime minister’s inputs and welcome them as a genuine effort to establish the truth and therefore, create a basis for real peace and stability in Lesotho.
“However, in addition to your and the prime minister’s inputs, we request that the following issues also be incorporated in the commission’s terms of reference:
- On 29 August 2014, the then Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane appointed Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao to the command of the Lesotho Defence Force. Without the knowledge of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence or the Commander, the LDF undertook an operation on Lesotho soil.
- In the months prior to August 2014, the police subpoenaed a number of soldiers in connection with a murder investigation in Mafeteng. Despite meetings at senior level between the police, the army and the government, the LDF refused to allow the police to question the suspects and continues to impede the police investigations.
- Murder of Ms Lisebo Tang and attempted murder of one Mr Jane. This couple was shot by members of the LDF while in a vehicle parked in the vicinity of the home of Lt Gen Kamoli in Ha Leqele (last year). The army refuses to cooperate in the murder and attempted murder investigations.
- Following his dismissal from cabinet (in October 2014), Mr Selibe Mochoboroane continued, with the assistance of the LDF, to occupy his government office and residence, as well as to utilise government vehicles. “When the Prime Minister appointed another minister in that department, the army, through the use of force, refused the legally appointed incumbent access to the office.
- A large number of LDF members are presently in hiding in South Africa fearing abductions and torture at the hands of the LDF on account of the so-called mutiny investigation. Conditions must be created to allow for their safe return in order to make inputs into the work of the Commission.
- Lawyers representing soldiers suspected of mutiny are being subjected to harassment in court and with threats and blatant intimidation by members of the LDF. Similarly, members of the press reporting on these actions are being subjected to intimidation by the army.”
The opposition leaders then ask the probe team, which is currently comprised of foreign experts, to include Basotho and the hearing conducted in public for the sake of transparency.
The opposition leaders write: “In addition, we are requesting that the hearings of the Commission be open to the public and that the Commission be established in such a manner that its findings can be prosecuted in the courts of law of Lesotho.
“We feel it is imperative that the composition of the Commission includes Lesotho nationals who have a deep and proper understanding of the key issues at play in the country.
“These people should have no affiliation to government or political parties, most preferably members of Non-Governmental Organiaations (NGOs) or the clergy.
“Lastly, we want to draw your attention to the on-going arrests of soldiers as part of the mutiny investigations as and the continuing intimidation of members of the public by the army.
“It is also essential that the Commission begins its work as soon as possible.”
Repeated efforts by the Sunday Express to speak with the three leaders who fled to South Africa in May this year claiming they had been alerted of a plot to assassinate them by the LDF, were fruitless yesterday.
However, BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe said the opposition was only trying to ensure the probe was as transparent and exhaustive as possible by its demands.
On the other hand, RCL Secretary General ‘Mamolula Ntabe said the leaders’ letter was also to ensure the opposition was not side-lined during the SADC probe.
Mr Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa, was not answering his mobile phone each time the Sunday Express called him yesterday to enquire if the South African Deputy President had received the opposition leaders’ letter.