MASERU — The crown says it has successfully proven its case against three individuals who are being charged with the murder of Astoria Bakery managing director Thabo Phohleli. Phohleli was fatally shot at Phuthiatsana River on September 5, 2010 after he was abducted at gunpoint at his home in Ha Tsolo in Maseru. Five individuals, Tello Mabusela, Seabata Ramohajane, Mareka Nthejane, Thabiso Sephula and Thabang Kotelo, were initially charged with Phohleli’s murder. Kotelo later turned star witness. Nthejane was however acquitted and discharged after the High Court admitted there was no “evidence that accused committed the offences charged or any other offence of which he might be convicted”.
Mabusela, Ramohajane and Sephula are also being charged with the murder of Thabang Malikoe and ’Malerato Maphathe. They are facing seven counts which include murder, robbery, attempted murder, violating the Arms and Ammunition Act and breaching the Internal Security Act 1966. In his closing submissions, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Leaba Thetsane, said the crown had “successfully discharged its onus and the accused persons herein ought to be found guilty as follows: Tello Mabusela to be found guilty of all charges covered by the indictment”. The crown said Seabata Ramohajane, who is Accused Two, should also be found guilty of robbery and murder. Thetsane urged the court to find Sephula “guilty of all charges covered by the indictment”.
The DPP said the deceased was managing director of Astoria Bakery and Sunbake Bakery, while one of the accused, Nthejane, was the human resources manager. He said sometime in 2010, Astoria Bakery was to transfer its business activities to a company called Sunbake (Pty). Thetsane said it was explained to the workers that those who would be retained under the new set-up would not receive any severance pay as their contracts of service would be continuing. Only those who would resign would get the severance packages. “This state of affairs generated some dissatisfaction especially amongst the employees who had been with the old company for a considerable length of time, (Sephula) being one of such,” Thetsane said. “This category of employees felt cheated by the company. The deceased became a victim of hatred by the group which felt the company was cheating them. The feeling was that the deceased brazenly elected to withhold their severance pay.”
The DPP said a conspiracy was then initiated by Sephula who then solicited support from other workers “to kill the managing director on account of his intransigence to release their pay”.
He added that there was also evidence that one of the company’s employees, Puseletso Mabusela, had during the same period, been dismissed for alleged misconduct. A criminal charge had also been laid against her by Phohleli. Puseletso and Tebello Mabusela are related, Thetsane said. On September 5, 2010, Phohleli was kidnapped from his house and brutally murdered near Phuthiatsana River.
“The deceased did not die of natural causes. The post-mortem report is res ipsa loquitor (the thing speaks for itself) on this aspect,” Thetsane said. “The motive for the killing of the deceased was dissatisfaction with severance pay by a certain group of employees, Sephula being one of such employees and the dismissal of (Mabusela) and the resultant laying of criminal charges against her.”
He added that Sephula had initially admitted to crown witnesses “having initially been involved in hiring an assassin to kill the deceased, who failed to carry out the job albeit a sum of M2 000 had already been paid”.
“Sephula further admitted and/or confessed to having been responsible for securing Mabusela to eliminate Thabang Malikoe who was supposed to have done the job of killing the deceased, Phohleli, but had failed to perform it and it was Mabusela who did the job,” he said. “The inference is inescapable that Sephula knew from the onset about the involvement of Mabusela and his cohorts in the killing of Thabo Phohleli.” On the killing of Malikoe and Maphathe, the crown said “the inference is inescapable that Mabusela, in whose possession the murder weapon was found, was responsible for the killing of the deceased”. “That in the absence of any plausible explanation how he came by the murder weapon the inference that he was responsible for the death of the two deceased persons is not only inescapable but conclusive,” Thetsane said.
“Mabusela had no answer to such strong prima facie evidence against him.” The case, which is before Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo, was postponed to Wednesday to enable the defence to file their submissions.