- brands them rebels who could collapse the government
- says Letsoela cut from the same cloth as Kamoli
DEFENCE and National Security Minister Tefo Mapesela has launched a blistering attack on Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele and the three top security chiefs; Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Mojalefa Letsoela, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.
In a no holds barred interview, the outspoken minister accused the security chiefs of refusing to take lawful orders and engaging in actions that he said could collapse the current democratically elected government. He also accused them of “badmouthing” him to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The minister further accused the trio of divulging sensitive security information to other ministers thereby “compromising the security of the whole nation”. Mr Ntsekele particularly incurred the wrath of Mr Mapesela for allegedly working in cahoots with the trio and meddling in the defence and police ministries while allegedly “failing to effectively run his own water ministry”.
Mr Ntsekele has, on his part, denied any wrongdoing saying he was not interfering in the work of other ministries.
Mr Mapesela said by defying him, the three security chiefs had become “rebels” whose conduct could lead to the collapse of a democratically elected government.
Never one to shy away from a fight, the combative Mr Mapesela reserved much of his venom for Lt-Gen Letsoela who he said was “cut from the same cloth as (the murder accused former army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali) Kamoli”.
He nonetheless warned that he would not sit idly by and watch Lt-Gen Letsoela and fellow security chiefs become a law unto themselves “as was the case” during the former seven parties governing coalition that was headed by Pakalitha Mosisili. He said during that time Lt-Gen Kamoli was allowed to have his way, effectively becoming the de facto Prime Minister, and unleashing a reign of terror against any perceived enemies. Mr Mapesela warned that “one of these good days” Lt-Gen Letsoela and his colleagues would have to singularly account for their actions including what he described as Lt-Gen Letsoela’s stubborn refusal to heed his (Mr Mapesela’s) directive to rid the army of personnel and other vestiges of the Kamoli era.
Mr Mapesela alleged that last Tuesday Lt-Gen Letsoela, Commissioner Molibeli and Mr Ralenkoane ganged up and conspired to badmouth him to Dr Thabane at the latter’s Qhobosheaneng offices in Maseru.
He refused to detail how the trio had badmouthed him to the premier.
Mr Mapesela spoke to the Lesotho Times in the aftermath of a leaked telephone conversation between him and Assistant Commissioner of Police, Beleme Lebajoa. The telephone conversation was leaked last Thursday.
In the audio, Mr Mapesela accuses Commissioner Molibeli, Lt-Gen Letsoela and spy boss Ralenkoane of refusing to take lawful orders from him. Mr Mapesela accused the trio of being “naughty”, ganging up against him and badmouthing him to Prime Minister Thabane.
Mr Mapesela also alleges in the audio that senior army officer, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi, has been holding secret conversations with fugitive former NSS Director, Tumo Lekhooa, effectively posing a security threat to the country. Mr Lekhooa fled to South Africa in 2017 to avoid possible arrest over rights violations during the Kamoli era, among other things.
Brigadier Ntoi was the army spokesperson under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command. He is currently with the military intelligence.
Assistant Commissioner Lebajoa promised to contact this publication at a later stage and this publication undertakes to publish his side of the story regarding the leaked audio when he eventually contacts us.
Mr Mapesela said the audio was authentic and accused Assistant Commissioner Lebajoa of leaking it. The minister said the senior police officer had been prevailed to record the telephone conversation as part of a plot to compromise him.
“How did you get hold of that audio where I was talking to Lebajoa on the phone? If you think that whatever I said in that audio is a secret, I will tell you that it is not a secret…I will repeat the same words in that very audio to you again,” Mr Mapesela said, emphasizing that he was unphased by the leaking of his conversation with Assistant Commissioner Lebajoa.
He said he would not be scared and deterred from doing his work. It had to be understood that the NSS, the police and the army were all accountable to the civilian authority in a democratic dispensation, he insisted.
He said the civilian authority (the government) was mandated by law to use the security forces for the maintenance of order, security and stability of the country and not to let them abuse their powers to engage in human rights violations.
“Now that they (security chiefs) are no longer taking lawful others from civilians who have been given the mandate (to govern) by the voters through the general elections, they are behaving like they are the sole authority in this country and it shows that something is wrong. If Lebajoa thinks he has compromised me by leaking the audio to the public, he should think twice because I stand by what I said.
“I have told them before and I will still say it even now. I am a civilian authority legally given authority over the security agencies in this country and if he (Assistant Commissioner Lebajoa) thought he was compromising me, he is just wasting his time because that is my position and that is my stand. When a soldier that is answerable to me refuses to take lawful orders because they are armed, that means we are now under military rule and no longer in a democratic country,” Mr Mapesela said.
He accused Commissioner Molibeli of defying him over the latter’s decision to continue granting permits to the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led faction of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) to hold rallies.
Mr Mapesela said the Mahao faction had continued to receive police permits to hold rallies even after an 8 May 2019 judgement by Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase which nullified the ABC’s 1-2 February 2019 elective conference. Prof Mahao was elected deputy leader of the ABC at that conference. However, he and the rest of the new national executive committee (NEC) elected at that conference have not been allowed to assume office by the old NEC of which Mr Mapesela is spokesperson.
Justice Mahase had ruled against the new NEC in an application filed by the unheralded trio of ABC members, Motseki Lefera, ’Matumisang Ntiisa and Martha Makhohlisa. Justice Mahase also ruled that the old NEC remain in office on an interim basis for a year to work on amending the ABC constitution to provide for the holding of NEC elections, not provided for in the party’s present supreme law.
Mr Mapesela said the police should have stopped issuing permits to the Mahao faction in light of this judgment because the latter “did not have any legal basis to hold rallies in the name of the ABC.” However, he said his order to that effect had been defied by Commissioner Molibeli.
“I called Ntate Molibeli to tell him that the court ruled in our favour and we are now the interim national executive committee of the ABC even though the majority voted against us. Therefore the police should not be giving these people (the Mahao faction) permits to hold rallies. There is a court order in place. In the past when the court had not pronounced itself, it was a stalemate and the police did not know what to do but now there is only one national executive committee in place.
“We are saying to the commissioner that as the NEC, we don’t know those people (Mahao faction), we are not responsible for their rallies and we are asking him (Commissioner Molibeli) not to destroy our party by giving them permits. That was my stand with Molibeli when we argued over this matter and he refused to take orders from me. Why are they (police) not listening to the courts?
“Giving these people (Mahao faction) permits is simply promoting anarchy. You are literally promoting rebellious acts in the party because we have been given interim power to run the party and when we use those powers as the NEC, the police disobey us by refusing to respect a court order that we are trying to enforce…that is wholly unacceptable.”
He said the rival faction had the right to seek recourse in the courts if they felt aggrieved by Justice Mahase’s verdict. But as things stood, they should not be allowed to hold rallies under the ABC banner because the interim NEC did not recognise or grant them the authority to do so.
He also accused Lt-Gen Letsoela of disobedience by refusing to fire army officers allegedly linked to criminal acts during the tenure of Lt-Gen Kamoli.
“This one (Lt-Gen Letsoela) is now showing me the Kamoli signs. I can see that they are in the same WhatsApp group. I can repeat it: Letsoela and Kamoli are in the same WhatsApp group.
“I now realise that this one (Lt-Gen Letsoela) was admiring the actions of Kamoli when he (Kamoli) was his boss and ordering him (Letsoela) to ensure that every soldier is found guilty by the court martial,” Mr Mapesela said in reference to the soldiers who were accused of mutinying against the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli.
Lt-Gen Letsoela was the President of the court martial under the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli when the suspected mutineers were prosecuted. The soldiers were subsequently freed after the previous Pakalitha Mosisili led coalition lost the June 2017 elections and Dr Thabane returned to power.
Mr Mapesela said as long as he was in charge of the Defence ministry, Lt-Gen Letsoela and the army would not be allowed to be a law unto themselves.
“We cannot allow a similar situation to that of Ntate Mosisili’s government where Kamoli was virtually a prime minister and he was allowed to kill people as he pleased. I will not allow anarchy when I am a minister.
“I have told them (security chiefs) not to take unlawful orders from anyone because one of the good days they will account for their actions on their own. Fortunately, I have never issued unlawful orders and I will not do it,” Mr Mapesela said.
He singled out Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi as one of the senior army officers who should be retired from the force by Lt-Gen Letsoela.
“It is true that I told the army commander to expel the likes of Ntoi from the army because those people are rebels, they are Kamoli’s lapdogs and I have said it and I will still say it again. They stand accused of involvement in political killings and I am not happy that they are still part of the institution that I am overseeing. As a minister, I cannot have that. I have told him (Lt-Gen Letsoela) to stop protecting these people and instead take action against them.
“He (Lt-Gen Letsoela) is overprotecting the Kamoli lapdogs that persecuted and killed people. Instead of charging them, we are keeping them in the army. Why are they not being prosecuted? Just like the ones that are being prosecuted now, they should also have their day in court.”
Mr Mapesela said that the presence of “rogue soldiers” in the army compromised the implementation of the security sector reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). He said retiring the “rogue soldiers” or firing them would ensure smooth and transparent investigations into their alleged roles in human rights violations during the tenure of the previous government.
“How are you going to reform the army with people like Ntoi? Why am I being ignored when I raise these issues? I am being disrespected.
“In fact all the investigations that are currently underway would be transparent when they (rogue soldiers) are no longer in office. Their continued presence in the army is compromising those investigations and that is my position.
“How do you expect the investigations to be transparent and ensure that court cases are completed without any hindrance if you continue to harbour those people who were part of the team that was used by Kamoli? The law allows us to retire people early. I am only operating within the laws of this country when I ask that they be retired.
“I am saying that those people should be given their pensions and go home and this is within the law.
“The LDF Act stipulates that if it is no longer in the best interests of the army to retain a certain officer, they should be retired and paid their terminal benefits. I have never said people should be arrested. I said those people should be paid their terminal benefits and go home in peace. I did not say they should be arrested or something be done to them except that they should be retired…,” Mr Mapesela said.
He further accused Lt-Gen Letsoela of disclosing the contents of a confidential meeting they held regarding the future of Brigadier Ntoi and others in the army to the very same officers who were the subject of the meeting. Telling the concerned officers about the meeting had compromised his security and this was a clear indication that the army commander was not taking security issues seriously, the minister claimed.
“My security is being compromised but I do not care. I am a politician and I have the authority to control these institutions so I do not care. I told Letsoela to his face that I do not care. If there are people with a soft spot for him (Lt-Gen Letsoela) who gives him easy access to the prime minister, I do not care,” Mr Mapesela said.
He said all the three security chiefs were refusing to take lawful orders because they were used to taking unlawful orders from other politicians and expected him to be like them.
“They are disobeying me, all of them. No one is taking orders from me, even the commander (Lt-Gen Letsoela) is refusing to take orders from me. The NSS director was just dragged into this whole mess because he does not really give me problems. But these two (Lt-Gen Letsoela and Commissioner Molibeli) are rebelling against me.”
He further accused the trio of divulging sensitive security information to different ministers to gain favour and ensure that those ministers put them in Dr Thabane’s “good books”.
Mr Mapesela said he was unhappy that the security chiefs had the ear of Mr Ntsekele whom he accused of meddling in the affairs of his (Mr Mapesela’s) ministry. Mr Mapesela and Mr Ntsekele are senior members of the ABC. Mr Mapesela is the spokesperson while Mr Ntsekele is the secretary general of the old NEC which Judge Mahase said should remain in office in an interim capacity.
“The secretary general (Mr Ntsekele) is failing to run his Water ministry and he is meddling in my ministry because I have my own concerns and I want to clean up my own ministry. They (security chiefs) are sneaking out to tell him about what is happening in my ministry. That’s wrong.
“They (security chiefs) take security issues lightly but security matters are very sensitive and must be dealt with cautiously. But having someone moving from one minister to another telling them about security issues is simply compromising the security and stability of this country. I have been appointed minister and they should therefore report to me and obey my lawful orders.”
Yesterday, Mr Ntsekele denied any wrong-doing, saying he had not meddled in any way in the affairs of the security agencies. He also said the claims that he exercised undue influence on the prime minister were “merely allegations” without any basis.
Mr Ralenkoane and Lt-Gen Letsoela promised to call back when comment was sought from them.
LDF Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Mashili Mashili subsequently issued a response on behalf of Lt-Gen Letsoela, asking for the army boss to be “recused in as far as this issue is concerned”.
“As a matter of principle, the command, control and coordination of the Lesotho Defence Force lies with the commander while the administration of the Ministry of Defence is there for policy making. For this matter, in line with the hierarchy of the command structure, the commander doesn’t have powers to respond to what the minister has said in this regard. The LDF Public Affairs Office would appreciate if the commander is recused in as far as this issue is concerned,” Lieutenant Colonel Mashili said.
Commissioner Molibeli could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print.