AN appalling slap in our faces for all our efforts to find protection and justice for that young girl.
This is former Social Development minister, ‘Matebatso Doti’s damning verdict on southern region Chief Magistrate Manyathela Kolobe’s controversial 25 July 2019 order to free rape-accused former minister Mootsi Lehata.
Mr Lehata served in the Law and Constitutional Affairs portfolio under the previous seven parties’ coalition of then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili which reigned from March 2015 to June 2017.
He was arrested in June 2018 on charges of raping a 17 year old orphan in January 2018 and he was released on a M500 bail the following month. As a result of the rape, the girl fell pregnant and gave birth in October last year.
But instead of standing trial for the alleged offence, Mr Lehata successfully negotiated a controversial deal to evade trial. On 25 July 2019, charges against Mr Lehata were dropped after he struck a deal with the court to build a house for his victim and the child and also pay her a monthly fee of M1000 as maintenance for the minor child. The deal was endorsed by southern region Chief Magistrate Manyathela Kolobe.
The deal to withdraw the rape charges against Mr Lehata has attracted the ire of legal experts including University of Limpopo public law professor, Hoolo Nyane, who described it as improper and irregular.
Human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist, Lineo Tsikoane, has also lambasted the state for allowing Mr Lehata to go unpunished for the alleged offence. Advocate Tsikoane said “Lesotho was gradually becoming the rape capital of the world” as the state was allowing those with money to get away with crimes while failing vulnerable women in the process.
And this week, Ms Doti, who worked hard to ensure the offence was not swept under the carpet allegedly by relatives of the orphaned minor, described the release of Mr Lehata as “a slap on our faces for all our efforts to find protection and justice for that young girl”.
Ms Doti also said that Mr Lehata’s release was proof that the justice system in the country was compromised.
“I was so sad when I read that he (Mr Lehata) had been released,” Ms Doti said, adding, “I am still sad even today”.
“Letting him go like that is like a slap on our faces for all our efforts to find protection and justice for that young girl. I was so angry when I heard that he had been released but I had to accept it because I am no longer in cabinet and there was nothing I could do about it.”
The Lithabaneng legislator, who recently escaped death after being stabbed five times in her home by eight unknown assailants, said Mr Lehata’s controversial release had left her with a deep sense of hopelessness and she no longer cared if her assailants were arrested because she had lost confidence in the justice system.
“Our justice system has collapsed. To them (courts) there is no difference between a serious and a laughing matter. I told one of the well-wishers who came to see me (after the attack) that I did not care whether or not they arrested my attackers because I already know that our justice system has problems.
“There is a serious problem with our justice system. I would not be surprised if my attackers are not arrested or if they are easily let off the hook. I really do not care anymore and I am just happy to be alive,” Ms Doti said.
Eight unknown men broke into Ms Doti’s Maseru home in the early hours of 26 July 2019 and stabbed her five times on her left arm before running off with firearms and M4 500 they had withdrawn from one of her accounts at an automated teller machine (ATM).
Ms Doti has since been discharged from hospital and is nursing her stab wounds at home. The assailants are still at large. Ms Doti however, said the attack and the release of Mr Lehata would not deter her from advocating for the protection and human rights of vulnerable sections of the society.
“If anything, my ordeal has refuelled my fire to advocate for the protection of human and women’s rights now more than ever. It is only sad that my impact will not be as significant as it was when I was in cabinet.
“But I plan to use all available platforms like parliament to speak for the rights of everyone who finds themselves on the receiving end of injustices,” Ms Doti said.