Police commissioner Molibeli speaks on alleged arrest
- says not in army custody despite widespread rumours
Pascalinah Kabi/Limpho Sello
POLICE Commissioner Holomo Molibeli has denied allegations that he is in army custody alongside his deputy Paseka Mokete and assistant commissioner Beleme Lebajoa.
Lesotho had been awash with information that the trio had been arrested in the army’s early Saturday morning swoop of Maseru after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, in a televised address, had appealed to the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to deal severely with all those he claimed were destabilizing his government. After the prime minister’s address the army had heavily deployed around Maseru. Dr Thabane’s critics had equated the deployment to a coup de ’tat, not to overthrow an existing government, but to keep it in power in light of impending efforts by the premier’s own party and the opposition to remove him through a legal no confidence vote.
The prime minister has repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to fire Commissioner Molibeli after the top cop charged him with the murder of his ex-wife Lipolelo Thabane. The murder is said to have been aimed at paving way for the premier’s younger wife, ‘Maesaiah, to take over as First Lady. Lipolelo had won in court the rights to be First Lady.
Commissioner Molibeli has won all his court cases against the premier including a fresh one on Friday in which Dr Thabane issued him with a new suspension order.
As a last resort, and after losing another case in which he illegally prorogued parliament, the premier is said to have ordered the arrest of Commissioner Molibeli and his assistants by the army and to have them charged with treason. He is said to have ordered that they be kept in army custody until he had replaced them. Such detention would deprive them of any opportunity of going to court.
But Commissioner Molibeli told the Sunday Express last night that despite the widespread rumours, he had not been arrested by the army. He also said he was unaware of the heavy military deployment around Maseru and at the police headquarters as he had not been informed about it and had been out of town.
Apparently, the army had surrounded the police headquarters early Saturday morning with heavy tanks. Even though Maseru had generally experienced reduced traffic under the lockdown to contain Covid-1, the capital’s streets became virtually empty after the army’s deployment Saturday.
For much of yesterday, Commissioner Molibeli, DCP Mokete and ACP Lebajoa’s mobile phones rang unanswered fuelling speculation that rumours of their arrest were indeed true.
At some point two different male voices answered the mobile phones of DCP Mokete and ACP Lebajoa. The person who answered DCP Mokete’s phone said that he (Mokete) was not able to talk to this publication because he was in a meeting while the one who answered ACP Lebajoa’s phone said, “the owner of the phone is unable to come to the phone”.
Later yesterday afternoon, Commissioner Molibeli eventually answered his phone and denied that he and his colleagues had been arrested by the army. He nonetheless said he was aware of the rumours of his arrest but did not know where they were emanating from.
“I am well and there is nothing wrong,” Commissioner Molibeli told the Sunday Express.
“No one was arrested. I was not arrested. I wasn’t called in for questioning (by the army). I am walking freely here (in Maseru) and I don’t know where those reports (of arrest) came from. I am from Butha-Buthe now,” he said.
Asked why the LDF had deployed heavily around the police’s general headquarters, Commissioner Molibeli simply said he was not aware of the development.
“So, there were armoured vehicles there….?” he instead asked.
“Let me call them and find out. These (LDF) people did not report such a big development to me. They didn’t say anything. These people may have caused trouble and they have not said anything to me.”
In light of all the developments yesterday, particularly the heavy presence of the army, the Sunday Express could not independently confirm whether Commissioner Molibeli was speaking out of his own volition or under pressure from his alleged captors at the time of going to print. Some sources even claimed that South African President and SADC facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa, would today send his envoys to Lesotho to find out what had necessitated the army deployment. However, these reports could not be verified as President Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, was not reachable on her mobile phone yesterday.
However, All Basotho Convention (ABC) spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa said Commissioner Molibeli had informed him that he had not been arrested. Mr Masoetsa said he had spoken to the police boss hours after the allegations of his arrest surfaced.
“That is not true. Those people have not been arrested. I talked to Holomo and he told me that he was going into a meeting with Mokete and Lebajoa,” Mr Masoetsa told this publication.
He also rubbished allegations that some senior ABC officials were working with the police to destabilize Dr Thabane’s government, resulting in yesterday’s events. The ABC is split through the middle between those who support Dr Thabane’s estranged deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, and the premier himself. Mr Masoetsa is aligned to the Mahao faction.
Commissioner Molibeli has charged Dr Thabane and his current wife ‘Maesaiah with the June 2017 murder of his then estranged wife, Lipolelo. ‘Maesaiah is now on M1000 bail over the murder after he appeared in court on 5 February 2020 while Dr Thabane refused to answer to the charges in the magistrates’ court last month. He instead said he would petition the Constitutional Court for an order to stop the courts from charging him of any crimes, claiming they are precluded from doing so as long as he remains prime minister. But Dr Thabane has not filed that application, raising eyebrows that he is simply bent on frustrating processes to go on trial.
In another televised address earlier this month, Dr Thabane had accused his enemies, including his own party’s officials, of trying to topple him. He said then he had already instructed army commander Lt-Gen Letsoela to arrest his opponents in accordance with the Martial Law of 1999 and Lesotho’s constitution. But yesterday’s deployment was led by military police because Dr Thabane is said to be distrustful of Lt-Gen Letsoela whom he wants to fire because he is not loyal enough.
Dr Thabane returned to power in the June 2017 elections with a four-party coalition (comprising of the ABC, BNP, Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL). That coalition now faces collapse after his own party’s national executive committee (NEC) inked a deal with the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) and other smaller parties to form a new government.
There has been disharmony in Dr Thabane’s government as the premier has been accused of relinquishing power to his young wife, ‘Maesaiah, who is widely believed to be the power behind the premier. ‘Maesaiah’s abrasive style of harassing and humiliating state officials in public has not gone down well with many who have now rebelled against the soon to be 81-year-old Dr Thabane.
In the wake of the murder allegations against him and his current young wife, Dr Thabane had promised to step down at the end of July 2020. That is now in doubt in light of the prime minister’s several latest actions including his bid to form a new coalition with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and public statements by some of his loyal cabinet ministers that he is going nowhere.
Dr Thabane’s ABC’s NEC has forged a deal with the main opposition DC to replace him. That deal seems likely to succeed hence the premier’s latest desperate actions, his critics say.