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Nthane, Thabane trials top judicial agenda

Mohalenyane Phakela

MURDER-ACCUSED business mogul Tšeliso Nthane of Nthane Brothers Pty (Ltd)’s much delayed trial is expected to finally get underway from 14 to 18 March 2022.
His trial and that of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane are among 35 criminal cases that the High Court is looking to dispose of between now and 29 April 2022.
So determined is the High Court to begin clearing the huge 4000-plus backlog of cases that former Judge Semapo Peete has been called out of retirement.
According to a notice issued by the judiciary on Friday, Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane will tomorrow swear in Justice Peete and Advocate Tsabo Matooane to beef up the number of High Court judges as it moves to reduce the huge backlog of criminal cases.
The Nthane trial has been on the backburner for the past three years. The business mogul shot and killed his then 51-year-old truck driver, Kopang Mohapi, on 10 January 2019.
Mr Mohapi had been involved in a road accident at the Moteng Pass about 171 kilometres from Maseru while transporting construction machinery to Polihali in Mokhotlong for the Nthane Brothers company which had just been awarded a M235 million road construction tender for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
After the shooting, Mr Nthane handed himself over to the Butha-Buthe police station where a murder charge was preferred against him. Justice Sakoane, who was then an ordinary High Court judge, presided over Mr Nthane’s bail application in January 2019 and released him on M5000 bail. His bail conditions were that he reports to the Butha-Buthe police on set dates, he refrains from interfering with Crown witnesses and stands trial to finality.
But since then, the trial has inexplicably failed to take off.  The shortage of judges is often cited for the delays in concluding numerous cases even those regarded as straight forward cases. There are currently only nine judges, namely, Justices Sakoane, Tšeliso Monapathi, ‘Maseforo Mahase, Molefi Makara, Moroke Mokhesi and Keketso Moahloli, Polo Banyane, Realeboha Mathata and Fumane Khabo.
Apart from the Nthane case, another pending high-profile murder trial is that of former Prime Minister Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah.
The Thabanes are set to be tried from 8 to 10 March 2022 for the 14 June 2017 murder of Mr Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo.
According to the charge sheet, the former first couple is accused alongside Famo gangsters; Seabata “Lieta” Sello, Macheli “Lebese” Koeshe, and Molefi “Mokata” Matima.
The late Famo musician and gangster, Rethabile ‘Mosotho Chakela’ Mokete, had been among the suspects before his death on 5 January 2021. It is highly unlikely that Sello, Koeshe and Matima will attend the trial as they have been hiding in South Africa ever since they were linked to the crime. ‘Maesaiah has already been charged for the murder and is currently out on M10 000 bail.
Mr Thabane has not been officially charged. He appeared at the High Court for a pre-trial interview on 30 November 2021 where he was told that he would be joined to the case and asked to plead when the murder trial begins on 8 March 2022.
A pre-trial interview is a preliminary step meant to prepare the groundwork towards the actual trial.  Its aim is to ensure that any hurdles towards the trial are cleared.
The lengthy delays in trying numerous criminal cases appear to have prompted the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – led by Justice Sakoane – to recommend the appointment of Justice Peete and Adv Matooane as temporary judges with effect from tomorrow.
In its notice on Friday, the judiciary said, “the High Court has planned to hear 35 criminal cases from 7 February to 29 April 2022, with the aim of reducing the backlog of criminal cases”.
“Through the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, His Majesty, King Letsie III has acknowledged the appointment of two temporary judges, those being Justices Semapo Peete and Tsabo Matooane.
“On 7 February 2022 at 9am, Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane will swear in these two judges at the High Court in Maseru for them to be able to start work,” the notice states.
Meanwhile a court roll published by the judiciary over the weekend indicates that in addition to the Nthane and Thabane trials, the High Court intends to hear another 33 criminal cases.
Among them is the case of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs Minister Lehlohonolo Moramotse’s son, Thabo Moramotse. The latter is expected to stand trial for the murder of his brother’s wife, Martha Kota-Moramotse, in June 2016.
He is accused alongside Tekane Tekane and Pako Sekhonyana. The trio is out on bail but Thabo fled the country. This prompted the High Court to issue a warrant for his arrest in September 2020. The trial has been set for 7 to 11 March 2022.
Another prominent case is that of former army commander, Tlali Kamoli’s three bodyguards who stand accused of the 9 May 2014 murder of Lisebo Tang, the attempted murder of her companion Tšepo Jane, damaging the latter’s vehicle as well as defeating the ends of justice.
The three soldiers are Tjekane Sebolai, Selone Ratšiu and Kopano Matsoso.
They allegedly committed the crimes on the night of 9 May 2014 when they were guarding the Ha-Leqele, Maseru residence of then army commander, Lieutenant General Kamoli. Mr Jane had parked his vehicle next to Lt-Gen Kamoli’s residence when the soldiers shot at it, killing Ms Tang and injuring him.
Their case had been part-heard by Botswana judge, Kabelo Lebotse, before his resignation from the Lesotho High Court bench in May 2020 allegedly over “inadequate remuneration, lack of medical aid cover and non-provision of essential tools of trade”.
Justice Lebotse was one of three judges who had been recruited by the judiciary to preside over the high-profile trials of politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies. His countryman, Justice Onkemetse Tshosa, also resigned in August 2021, leaving Zimbabwean Charles Hungwe as the only foreign judge presiding over the high-profile trials. Some local judges, including Justice Sakoane, have since been roped in to preside over some of the trials.
The three soldiers’ trial will be run from 7 to 11 March 2022. Private Matsoso had been acquitted by Justice Lebotse due to lack of evidence against him in March 2020. However, the judiciary has indicated that he will be back in the dock when the case resumes in March. It is not clear what new evidence has come to light for him to be rejoined to the case.

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