SLAIN army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, has been hailed as a soldier who diligently worked for peace and justice as well as ensuring that Lesotho never got to experience “hyper militarisation” like South Sudan.
African Union (AU) Director of Political Affairs Khabele Matlosa praised Lt-Gen Mahao while delivering a memorial lecture in honour of the late army commander during the weekend in Maseru.
Dr Matlosa stressed that he was delivering the lecture in his personal capacity and not as an AU staffer.
Dr Matlosa said despite his passion for “violent sports” like taekwondo, Lt-Gen Mahao “was a humble soldier of peace” who believed in the democratic transfer of power through peaceful and transparent elections.
The late Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed army commander on 29 August 2014 after then and current Prime Minister Thabane fired the then army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli for insubordination.
Lt-Gen Kamoli challenged the dismissal and staged a coup attempt on 30 August 2014, kick-starting a chain of events that culminated in the snap elections of February 2015. These ushered in the seven-party coalition under Pakalitha Mosisili in place of Dr Thabane’s government.
The Mosisili administration reinstated Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing that his dismissal and Lt-Gen Mahao’s promotion were illegal. A notice in the Government Gazette in 2015 also announced the termination of Lt-Gen Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander and demoted him to his former rank of brigadier.
Lt-Gen Mahao challenged his demotion in the High Court but the case fell away after he was fatally shot on his way from his farm in Mokema, outside Maseru, in the presence of his two nephews on 25 June 2015. The killers were soldiers under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command.
And this weekend, Lt-Gen Mahao’s family, colleagues, friends and human rights defenders held a memorial lecture where they hailed him as a soldier who was committed to democracy.
The memorial lecture attracted the likes of Lesotho’s ambassador to Ireland, S’khulumi Ntsoale, and All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators Samuel Rapapa and Motlatsi Maqelepo.
Messrs Rapapa and Maqelepo are allies of the Lt-Gen Mahao’s elder brother, Professor Nqosa Mahao. Prof Mahao, the estranged ABC deputy leader, is locked in a struggle with ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for control of the ruling party.
The memorial lecture was a jovial affair with the late Lt-Gen Mahao’s widow, ‘Mamphanya, charming the guests with her moving rendition of British singer, Labi Siffre’s song — So Strong.
Part of the song states that “The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become; the further you take my rights away, the faster I will run. You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away. No matter ’cause there’s something inside so strong”.
“I know that I can make it though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong. You thought that my pride was gone, oh no. There’s something inside so strong.”
Such was Ms ‘Mamphanya’s delivery that she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand and they were soon singing along with her while Basotho National Party (BNP) stalwart, Moeketsi Hanyane, showed off his well-coordinated dance moves. Ms Mahao also took to the stage and recited a poem titled Revolution.
When he eventually took to the podium, Dr Matlosa praised Lt-Gen Mahao’s quest to achieve democracy. Dr Matlosa recalled a time when he communicated with Lt-Gen Mahao when the latter was on a sabbatical in South Sudan.
He said the late Lt-Gen Mahao was taken aback by the high levels of militarisation in South Sudan and it was his earnest wish that Lesotho stayed on the democratic path and never followed South Sudan’s example.
Titled “Lesotho governance reforms; a new or false dawn”, Dr Matlosa said the memorial lecture was meant to honour Lt-Gen Mahao’s illustrious life and demonstrate that his death was not in vain.
“Despite his passion for the violent sport of taekwondo, Maapara (Lt-Gen Mahao) was a humble soldier of peace, his amazing humility is shown in the acknowledgement section of his dissertation that was submitted to the University of Addis Ababa recently.
“Lt-Gen Mahao dedicated his dissertation ‘to the poor, vulnerable masses of the people of Lesotho who have suffered decades of political instability and lack self-fulfilment’. This was a clear indication that the latter was a humble man.
“I recall when he (Lt-Gen Mahao) was on sabbatical in South Sudan, we would engage often and during one of our conservations, he said an interesting story to me. He said that he had never seen a militarised state like South Sudan. He said he had never even seen so many generals in one country.
“The real message he was sharing with me was that with a population of 10 million people, South Sudan has a huge army of 197 000 active personnel and a paramedic force of 44 000. At 205 in total, South Sudan has one of the largest numbers of generals in Africa. I don’t know how many generals we have in our army.
“This is what Maapara was telling me about and he wished that Lesotho did not experience this type of what I can call hyper militarisation. Unfortunately he would himself become the victim of militarisation in our country,” Dr Matlosa said.
He said Lt-Gen Mahao despised Lesotho’s culture of violence especially during elections and that the latter firmly believed in the democratic transfer of power through peaceful and transparent elections.
“That is why I am saying he was a soldier of peace. He was not a soldier of war. We normally associate soldiers with war and guns but this was a different calibre of soldier, a soldier of peace and a soldier of justice.”
Development for Peace Education Coordinator, Sofonea Shale, began his speech by calling the audience to repeat after him “Long Live the spirit of Comrade Mahao”.
Mr Shale threw his clenched fist into the air in the manner of South Africa’s anti-apartheid heroes and heroines.
“We are gathered here tonight because the manner in which Comrade Mahao departed points directly to the manner in which our government institutions have become undemocratic and lawless. As civil society organisations we are encouraged that Comrade Mahao’s death was not in vain.
“In 1991, when the civil societies and churches wanted the country to dialogue and find means of closing the 1970s page (of impunity), politicians turned that proposal down. The same happened in 1995 when the civil society organisations and churches proposed that we must reform the government administration but we are glad that Comrade Mahao’s death has ushered us into an era where we are all talking about inclusive reforms,” Mr Shale said.
On his part, Father Tlali Phohlo delivered a touching speech, likening Lesotho’s situation to a man refused to be discouraged by people in his quest for peace and justice.
“This is the beginning of a fifth year since Comrade Mahao’s unfortunate death yet justice has not been served. Justice has not been served not only for him but for many. Many fought for justice. We witnessed true friends fighting for justice, it has been a long journey of justice yet justice has not been served because we walked with people who pretended to be agents of justice, stability and peace.
“Those are the same people who abandoned the course when they reached their own destinies. These are the same people who are now standing in the way of justice; people who have pretended to be friends of honesty gained power through dishonesty. People we thought were friends of peace and justice. This is where our nation is currently at,” Father Phohlo said.