JUNE 25 this year marked exactly five years since the assassination of Lt General Maaparankoe Mahao by men who had sworn to protect His Majesty’s nation but instead turned their allegiance into criminality. In the five years since this heinous incident occurred in broad daylight at Ha-Lekete, Mokema, we have gathered a lot more insight into the psyche of some of those who were at the helm of government administration even beyond its collapse in June 2017 — ironically the same month on which this state-sponsored act of terrorism had occurred two years earlier.
The noise that has been paraded about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) provides a perspective that helps us understand the true meaning of an evil state and the wanton abuse of its machinery by some of the elected public representatives. In the ensuing period, Maaparankoe’s family and friends — partnering in amazing solidarity with the Ramahloko and Khetheng families in particular — have turned into persistent activists for legal justice due to the sloth-paced nature of Lesotho’s justice system.
Let us provide a short background into how TRCs usually come about using examples from two different contexts and continents. Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler between 1933 and 1945, was the German state which went on to implode following defeat (which many considered as the liberation of Europe) in the Second World War in 1945.
The regime is perhaps most notorious for the genocide it committed against some six million European Jews who were subjected to choking gas chambers and succumbed to the most gruesome deaths. From 1945 to 1946, the Nuremberg Trials (named after the German city of Nuremberg) were held to prosecute the generals who were at the forefront of the Nazi atrocities and to act as a TRC to record historical accounts and provide some healing to set off the slow process of reconciliation.
What is key here is that Nazi Germany was a state with its attendant structures, systems and policies. The atrocities that occurred were therefore sanctioned by the state, even if some may have been a result of individuals stretching the boundaries of their freedom to do as they wished.
The second example comes from right next door. Apartheid in South Africa was officially institutionalised in 1948 although racial abuses and injustices against the majority black population had been perpetrated long before the National Party government formalised apartheid. This officialisation meant that apartheid became a government-led system with its policies just like the Nazi system although the settings and actual policies were different. In both cases, a TRC was viewed as a catalyst to reconciliation and dismantling unjust practices propagated by the respective states.
The two examples cited above rebut the sustained attempts by suspected criminals in Lesotho to feed the public with skewed history and information that a TRC would be ideal for our context. For starters, the killings of people such as Mokheseng Ramahloko, Maaparankoe Mahao, Mokalekale Khetheng and Mohau Qobete were not a result of an institutionalised government system (even though the state was openly complicit) but acts of criminals whose only place is the court room and not the comfort lounge of a hearings facility with free lunch and other unnecessary luxuries.
If these suspected murderers are determined to tell the truth about the deaths of the above-listed men and others whose lives were snuffed out as if on a wild game hunting expedition, then the courts of law offer them the opportunity to speak and clear their bloated conscience. As one of my colleagues in the Faculty of Law recently wrote in another local newspaper, some of Lesotho’s career politicians are in actual fact “career criminals” who deserve nothing but a tough judicial system and total removal from society.
Another colleague in the Faculty of Social Sciences suggested that the TRC that has been touted about in Lesotho would not serve its purpose as those who fight for it are suspects who want to attend the hearings while in positions of power. The TRC agenda has been pushed alongside its cousin called Government of National Unity (GNU).
The two together would create a complete mockery at a time when Lesotho needs nothing else but thorough cleansing of its political scene to engender a more accountable and growth-oriented species. Bad politicians have held this country to ransom for far too long and must no longer be allowed anywhere near state power even at the level of municipalities.
Another key reason why setting up a TRC would lack credibility is because none of the aggrieved families have ever come close to suggesting it. It therefore calls for a closer look at those who are peddling the idea; they are clearly consumed by guilt and want a more lenient route out of the mess they have created. They want a gentler kind of cross-examination whose purpose is not to establish the real truth and scale of wrong-doing to eventually determine the appropriate sentencing, but to administer a watered-down version of justice.
Once alleged perpetrators suddenly become preachers of reconciliation, then something is horribly wrong. Beggars can never be choosers; these people have no right to tell the nation how truths must be told. Similarly, they have no right to determine when they can be prosecuted; with or without the current National Reforms. The wheels of justice cannot be ground to a halt because suspects are ‘busy’; only the courts of law should keep them busy while the Correctional Services prepare the cells to accommodate them.
Skilled mind readers and psychologists are not required to interpret what these suspects have in mind; it’s fairly obvious. The fact that even these National Reforms are being mistakenly cited as providing safety from prosecution demonstrates the true intent of those who are attempting to hide from the ambit of justice and rape it at will.
Somehow politicians have the knack to lie even in situations where their untruths can’t stand the test against public knowledge and information. Some wrongfully suggest their immunity from prosecution is due to the so-called Clause 10 which has been found to be unconstitutional by Lesotho’s Constitutional Court. Can someone explain to me how the minds of such politicians operate? What all the speakers at Lt General Mahao’s fifth commemoration on Saturday 27 June sought is justice for his killing, and adherence to the principles of good governance which he espoused while some among his colleagues bent under the yoke of pressure to dance to the tune of unscrupulous politicians. As some people have suggested, it is highly unlikely that members of the army ever approach politicians to offer the treasonous services that have regularly disturbed Lesotho’s peace, but it’s the other way round.
A country that has been allowed — through years of misrule — to slip into a lawless ghetto will take huge effort and will-power to dig out of its predicament. Voices which counter Lesotho’s rebirth following years of mismanagement will also straddle the different media platforms to maintain the status quo of impunity and a criminalised state.
There’s every reason to be worried when young people within parties such as Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) advocate for deviation from the path of legal justice and instead want the law to look the other way where some of their own have questions to answer. These youths would rather have a whole country sink from the heavy weight of its gettorisation when they should be making accountability their mantra.
If they fight for a better administered country, the long-term benefits could arrest the rampant unemployment and idling that stare them in the face every day. How short-sighted could one be? If young people nurture this type of warped thinking within themselves, then Lesotho’s political future is in very bad hands. The cancer in our politics will only generate more poisonous growth and engulf the entire country in a blanket of irreversible rot and anarchy. Those who point the middle finger at the law must never be cheered.
In conclusion, Basotho must never lose sight of the mission to rid their country of bad politicians whose only legacy is destruction of once respected institutions and obstructing the country’s progress. It is time to look up to government as a responsible and accountable entity as opposed to a haven where criminals hibernate and multiply in the comfort of state privileges. That public trust must be earned, and Maaparankoe’s ultimate sacrifice would not have been in vain.
Mahao Mahao, PhD, is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho