A sickening justice system
THERE is something deeply sickening about the administration of the criminal justice system in Lesotho. Just consider this scenario as reported elsewhere in this newspaper Murder Most Foul!
One Lebohang Nkuebe brutally murders his live-in partner, ‘Mathabang Radiile, by knifing her around her neck and body. He then subjects Ms Radiile’s four month old infant granddaughter to the most inhuman torture by spraying a toxic acid all over her body. He stuffs a cloth inside the infant’s mouth to disable her from crying and from being heard. He then abandons the hapless infant and lives the house to go and run his errands to try and cover up his actions by claiming that he was not at home when the murder happens. Nkuebe knows fully well there is no one else to be at home soon after he has already killed the infant’s grandmother. The infant’s mother is at work and will only return much later in the afternoon. Nkuebe abandons the infant only to return much later to shout for help as if the incident happened while he was away. He calls the infant’s mother and tells her to rush home from work as an “intruder” has killed her mother (Ms Radiile) and harmed her daughter.
The infant’s mother, Mpo, and other neighbours rush home to witness the despicable incident and to rescue the suffocated baby. As Nkuebe tries to narrate what happened, irate neighbours and relatives nearby take his account with a drum of salt. It simply makes no sense. Some angry neighbours subsequently try to attack him in retaliation and he flees. Nkuebe is subsequently called to the police where he confesses to his crime and narrates how he did it. What he confesses to is consistent with the crime scene. At his first remand hearing, Nkuebe refrains from asking for bail because he fears for his safety if released. He has a change of heart and then asks for bail at the next remand. It is duly granted with no qualms from the police. Nkuebe then moves on with his life and spends a jolly Christmas at his other home. The traumatized family, which has lost a mother and might as well lose a child, immediately learns from friends, who have seen the killer moving around in town, that he is indeed back on the streets, just a couple of weeks after committing his dastardly acts. While the Radiile family mourns, the killer spends his time on social media. They try to establish how he could have been granted bail so soon after committing such a dastardly act and before he has been charged with the second crime of burning a little infant but they are thrown from pillar to post.
Ms Radiile’s crime is to have fallen in love with this murderer. She is a successful businesswoman by the standards of her community and has successfully raised her family. She has given Nkuebe a home and a decent living. She devotes herself to him. She gives him a job. Only if she knew she was helping a devil. She is knifed to death by the very same man he loves after refusing to give him money he wanted to go and consort with other women. Distasteful as they are, we have decided to publish the graphic images of the charred body of the four month old infant to show the gravity of this matter. Yet the man responsible for these heinous crimes is already gallivanting around town. The investigating officer in the case, one Sergeant Kubutu Kubutu proudly pronounces in an interview with this newspaper that “We did not oppose it (bail) because we did not have valid grounds to oppose it.” Really Ntante Kubutu. We raise our alarm and revulsion at this startling remark, not as an indictment against Sergent Kubutu as a person, but the whole rotten system he represents. Should there be any wonder why criminal cases of violence against women and children are ever escalating? Should there be any wonder why the country has seen an upsurge of murder cases in recent years. Surely when those responsible for enforcing criminal laws adopt such a cavalier attitude towards those who commit such serious offences, then the entire criminal justice edifice in Lesotho has not only crumbled, but it has become a virtual circus.
To illustrate this point, despite the fact that this baby was severely burnt on 14 November 2017, there is nothing on her condition in the file at Mabote Police Station. No one has bothered to go and record statements of the witnesses at the scene as soon as Nkuebe had called them. No one has bother to record statement of doctors that have examined and operated on the baby. No one has sought to establish the exact extent of the injuries of the baby for evidential purposes in court. All is left to the same traumatised family to ensure the compilation of medical reports of their infant and hand them over to the police at their offices. If this is not disgustingly shameful, we wonder what else is. In civilised jurisdictions, police officers and prosecutors don’t stampede to achieve bail for gruesome murderers. They seek justice by ensuring that offenders don’t get the easy greenlight to be back on the streets after committing serious offences. In South Africa for instance, murder is classified as a schedule 5 offence, alongside other offences like attempted murder, rape and the assault of a child under the age of 16 while premeditated murder is a schedule 6 offence. Both schedules 5 & 6 make it difficult for the persons charged under them to get bail. In both schedules bail is not granted without a judicial inquiry to establish whether it’s in the best interests of justice that bail be granted. The accused person would have to lead evidence and bring witnesses to prove that they are a good candidate for bail. Similarly the leads evidence to oppose bail. In these offences a judge determines whether or not to grant bail after this serious inquiry during which evidence is led. In terms of the Schedule 6 offence of pre-meditated murder, it is even more onerous to get bail as an accused must prove exceptional circumstances. No so much in Lesotho where serious offences are treated with such cavalier attitudes that it all makes a mockery of justice. There are definite reasons why committers of serious offences should not get bail so easily. Some murderers have been released on bail only to commit more murders to eliminate evidence, further traumatizing the victim families. An effective criminal justice system must of necessity warn criminals that if they are caught and there is credible evidence against then, it won’t be easy for them to get bail. In addition to getting convicted and punished.
But Lesotho is something else. You can go and kill today, and the next few days you are out on the streets moving on with your life because the seriousness of the offence of murder is not a factor, judging by the way Nkuebe has been treated and by Sergent Kubutu’s remarks. In other words, the system incentivises murderers. With such a cavalier system is it any wonder that the man charged with killing Mokalekale Khetheng, Sergeant Kubutu’s very own colleague, is now living lavishly in South after deciding he would no longer pitch up for court after winning easy bail. Is it any wonder that Habofane Ntsie decided to walk away half way through his judgment to live a life of bliss in South Africa after killing two people, just to mention but a few examples?
Is there any reason to wonder why some families who are victims of murder end up taking the route of appointing private investigators to help them establish the facts of the murders of their loved ones? Elsewhere in this edition, we carry a report of the murder of LEC audit head Thibello Nteso. The Nteso family hired a private investigator and a private pathologist as they became wary of the credibility of the police investigations and the findings of the government pathologist. The family has spoken publicly about their frustration at the slow pace of police investigations into the murder of their son. As usual to justify their incompetence, the police always resort to their most familiar refrain that they are waiting for this or that other report. In our edition of 11-17 January 2018, we carried a report on the frustrations of the family of Reitumetse Nthunya, who was vicious killed at the tender age of five just before she could graduate from kindergarten. The suspected killer Ntahli Chuene, a tenant of the bereaved family, handed herself to the police the same day she killed Reitumetse and even offered to show the police where she had stashed her body. Three years later Reitumetse’s family is still crying for justice and the murderer Chuene is living her life.
“The justice system has let us down because we lost a child more than two years ago and we are still waiting for the woman who took our child’s life to be tried…We need to understand why she did it,” said Reitumetse’s mother, Ms Mareitumetse Nthunya. To add salt to severe injury, this is not the only murder Chuene had committed as she had already killed another child Mpho Chuene to whom she is related.
With such cavalier attitudes by those tasked with administering the criminal justice system, why should murderers fear to ply their trade? Should these law enforcement officers be surprised if communities resort to taking the law into their own hands and begin meting out mob justice to the killers who are given a free reign by an inept criminal justice system. The time has now come for Basotho to stand up and say enough is enough and demand action. Surely, the story of the many families reeling while the killers of their children are given a free reign should make us unite in demanding justice.
There is a flicker of hope however. We have a new police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, a man of high integrity who is determined to bring criminals to book. For his mission to succeed however, he needs the support of competent investigators. Any successful criminal prosecutions must of necessity begin with competent, exhaustive and speedy investigations by police. Compol Molibeli would have to wean the LMPS of incompetents and ensure an effective and efficient police service. For that he shall need massive support from all and sundry. This means that families aggrieved by incompetent police investigations must come forward and publicly state their cases. But above all Lesotho’s entire archaic criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul to bring it in sync with modern realities.
When a man confesses to a serious crime, he loses his presumption of innocence till proven guilty. Why should he get easy bail? Why should his case drag ad infinitum. When a person commits a serious crime, why should their behaviour be incentivised by getting easy bail? It’s completely dumbfounding for any police officer to declare that there are no valid grounds of opposing bail for a suspect who has been charged with murder and burning an infant with acid. In fact, it is not only dumbfounding, it’s nauseating and sickening.
Justice Minister Mahali Phamotse and Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister Lebohang Hlaele must make reforms of the constitutional justice system a top priority. A paradigm shift is required in our criminal justice system. Equally needed is a thorough change of mind-set of our police officers and prosecutors who are key to an efficient criminal justice administration system.
Most of the recent arrests of various criminals have centred on high profile suspects. But out there, ordinary Basotho are reeling as reflected in the case of Ms Radiile and her grand-daughter. As reported on page 4, another young family of Mr Nkesi is reeling after he was shot in cold blood. Many other such families are suffering out there while the killers are given a soft landing by a depraved criminal justice system. Enough is enough. This will no longer be tolerated. We will vigorously expose and fight any attempts to incubate and breed criminals. This country needs responsible citizens to prosper not murderers aided and abetted by a debauched criminal justice system. The Nkuebes of this world must be hanged. Society is better off without them.