Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi has told the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry that although he was not directly responsible for the reinstatement of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, “I trust and enjoy working with him 100 percent”.
“As the minister responsible for defence, I am very comfortable with Lt Gen. Tlali Kamoli. He is a very good man to work with, quite knowledgeable and very experienced actually,” Mr Mokhosi said.
Mr Mokhosi was responding to a question asked by his lawyer, Advocate Salemane Phafane (King’s Counsel) if he was comfortable working with the controversial LDF boss who was fired in August 2014 by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane—only to reject the dismissal, arguing it was illegal.
Adv Phafane had asked: “This reinstatement of Lt Gen Kamoli, Minister, which is alleged by the opposition to have brought all sorts of problems…how do you view it? As the minister he is answerable to, are you comfortable with him? Is he helpful? Is he steering the army in the right direction?”
The question, prompted by one of the Commission’s terms of reference that it should investigate claims by opposition political party leaders that Lt Gen Kamoli’s reinstatement in May this year, had resulted in divisions in the army.
Dr Thabane fired Lt Gen Kamoli and replaced him with the now late Maaparankoe Mahao. Brigadier Mahao was murdered by the military on 25 June this year, for allegedly resisting arrest after he was fingered in a foiled mutiny plot against the army top brass.
However, after the 28 February 2015 elections, new Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili demoted Brigadier Mahao, and backdated Lt Gen Kamoli’s re-appointment to August 2014, also arguing his expulsion had been unlawful.
On the other hand, commission chairperson Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana did not seem to be too impressed by Mr Mokhosi’s response on Friday last week.
“What do you make of the fact that Kamoli ignored His Majesty’s command as it were? That he decided he was not budging?” Justice Phumaphi asked the minister.
“Well, allow me really to say, bring him to the commission one day and hear what he has to say. I cannot answer for him. But working with him now, I am really comfortable,” Mr Mokhosi told the Botswana High Court judge.
Advocate Phafane chipped in: “The newspapers say the prime minister (PM) said he trusts Kamoli. Do you?”
Mr Mokhosi: “I do. I trust him 100 percent.”
Justice Phumaphi also expressed interest in establishing what role Mr Mokhosi played in the reinstatement of the LDF commander.
“Did you have a role to play in the reappointment of Lt Gen Kamoli?” Justice Phumaphi asked.
“Not necessarily so since that is a decision made by the PM. But as the relevant minister, the PM will definitely transmit that information to me.”
Justice Phumaphi: “I noted that his appointment was backdated to 2014. Were you surprised by this?”
Mokhosi: “I have to say it’s not a matter I really deliberated much on. I just accepted what the PM did.”
Justice Phumaphi: “Do you know what that appointment did, because the former PM had removed him and replaced him with Lt Gen Mahao? What it means is that if his appointment was backdated, Lesotho had two de jure army commanders from last year. Isn’t this strange, that two army commanders can be in charge of the same army at the same time?
Mokhosi: “Well, I didn’t think of that My Lord, since I’ve already said that was the decision of the PM.”
It was at this juncture that Mr Mokhosi’s legal counsel, Advocate Salemane Phafane interjected, asking Mr Mokhosi whether Lt Gen Kamoli’s removal was regarded as “a nullity as he was never removed from office”.
“I was part of the previous government. Although the removal of Lt Gen Kamoli was there on paper, practically it was never implemented. It didn’t happen,” Mr Mokhosi said.
Justice Phumaphi then asked the minister: “We hear Lt Gen Kamoli refused to budge, refused to move out of office. If it was a nullity, the only way for it to be declared as such was by a court of law. You don’t take the law into your own hands and say it’s a nullity.
“That appointment was made by the former PM, who was still prime minister at the time according to your own law and still had the right to make recommendations to His Majesty to appoint. And, His Majesty approved. The removal was made by His Majesty, by the way.”
On the Commission’s term of reference addressing the kidnapping of former LDF members by the military, Mr Mokhosi said it was “mere allegations that the military was kidnapping former members of the LDF. It’s totally wrong, it’s a false statement,” Mr Mokhosi said.
“There have never been any kidnappings and there were no former members of the LDF who were kidnapped then and now. The only people who were legally arrested as per the judgment of the High Court of Lesotho were members of the LDF who are still serving the force.
“The High Court of Lesotho has ruled that those arrests were legal when there was suspicion by their family members, that those soldiers had been kidnapped.”
However, Justice Phumaphi then warned Mr Mokhosi that the term of reference in question said “kidnappings of former members of the LDF”, but that it did not say whether or not the military was carrying out the kidnappings.
“When it says that and you say there’s nothing like that, my question is, how are you able to know there’s nothing like that?” asked Justice Phumaphi.
“I understand my Lord. But I am answering this question taking into account that it talks about the ministry where I’m involved. Otherwise, if there are kidnappings made by other people outside my ministry, definitely my Lord I’d not know.”
Justice Phumaphi asked again: “What if they are kidnapped by your soldiers and you do not know, they don’t tell you? There was a report made to you, that there’s a mutiny that had been discovered. Your permission was sought to investigate, you were directly involved in this instance. What if your soldiers kidnapped people without informing you? Would you know?”
“I wouldn’t know but I’d take it that it would be a public matter. But as far as I’m concerned, nothing like that has ever surfaced anywhere in Lesotho, in the media,” Mr Mokhosi said.
But Justice Phumaphi ploughed on: “I am asking this question in anticipation that if somebody was to come here and say he or she was kidnapped by soldiers, would you deny that?”
To this, a seemingly defeated Mr Mokhosi quickly said: “I surrender My Lord. But as far as I’m aware, the alleged kidnappings have not happened.”
Adv Phafane posed yet another question, asking Mr Mokhosi if there were serving members of the LDF who, to his knowledge, had been kidnapped.
“There are no current or serving members of the LDF who have been kidnapped but there are members of the military who have been lawfully arrested,” Mr Mokhosi said, adding there were 23 members of the army in detention for allegedly plotting to overthrow the LDF command.
On the question of the alleged killings of members of the opposition by the army, Mr Mokhosi was adamant that “there are no killings of members of the opposition by government, particularly by the army”.