Army sued for a staggering M17, 5 million
. . . damages claims are for the 2021 torture of a police officer, five civilians in Mohale’s Hoek
DECEASED Police Constable (PC) Relebohile Mokone’s family has filed an M5 million damages claim against army commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Mojalefa Letsoela, and four soldiers for his alleged torture and his subsequent death in October 2021.
The Mokone family has been joined in their High Court application by four Pakistanis and a Mosotho civilian who were allegedly tortured alongside PC Mokone. The five are Wilim Ashraf, Moozzam Khan, Shakeer Amir, Asnan Asif and Tumisile Moletsane. The five survived the torture ordeal but PC Mokone succumbed to his injuries on 11 October 2021. They had allegedly been tortured on 10 October 2021. The five are each demanding M2, 5 million from Lt-Gen Letsoela and the four soldiers.
Should all these claims succeed, the army would be forced to cough up M17, 5 million in damages to the victims, an unprecedented quantum of compensation.
In an interview a week after PC Mokone’s death, Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the police officer and the five civilians were tortured by the soldiers who suspected them of smuggling wool into neighbouring South Africa.
“According to our investigations, the army had a roadblock in Mohale’s Hoek on that night when they stopped two cars on suspicion that they were illegally transporting wool to South Africa.
“Later on, PC Mokone arrived at the roadblock driving a Mazda Demio with a man from the village. They were stopped and allegedly beaten by the army officers. The report that we got from the army was that he (Mokone) was part of the group in the two other cars and he ran away from the army,” Senior Supt Mopeli said at the time.
PC Mokone’s family and the five subsequently engaged prominent lawyer, Napo Mafaesa, to represent them in their quest for compensation from the army.
Adv Mafaesa initially wrote to Lt-Gen Letsoela and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa, demanding that they fork out a whooping M24, 5 million in damages which was broken down as M12 million for PC Mokone and M2, 5 million each for the five civilians.
The army chief and the attorney general had been given just 30 days to pay up, failing which they would be dragged to court.
They were supposed to have paid by end of November 2021.
It appears they did not compensate PC Mokone’s family and the five civilians hence the filing of the damages claims in the High Court last week.
Privates Tseko Mokati, Motheo Ntaitsana, Tumisang Perekisi, Lereng Seliane, Lt-Gen Letsoela and Attorney General Motsieloa are the first to sixth defendants in the application respectively.
In her court papers, the late PC Mokone’s wife, ‘Makatiso Mokone, alleges that the four soldiers tortured her husband for two hours. All the while, they were firing live gunshots near his head, she alleges.
“On the 11th October, 2021, the plaintiff was listening to Mafeteng Community Radio station when she learned that Lesotho Defence Force Members had arrested a certain businessman and other individuals,” Ms Mokone states.
“The (radio) presenter narrated that among the detained was a government official who was killed. At about past 3pm, police officers from Mafeteng Police Station arrived and explained to ‘Makatiso Mokone that her husband, Relebohile Mokone, was killed by Lesotho Defence Force members.
“(The) Plaintiff’s husband was brutally tortured for more than two hours and during the torture, the first to fourth defendants kept firing live gunshots near his head as he was on the ground. The plaintiff was married to the late Relebohile Mokone and their marriage was blessed with two children, namely: Paballo Mokone (1st plaintiff) and Reabetsoe Mokone (2nd plaintiff). The plaintiff’s late husband had legal duty of support to the plaintiff and her children.
“As the result of such unlawful torture and death of Mokone that resulted from the acts of the first to fourth defendants who were acting within the scope of their employment, the plaintiff suffered psychiatric injury and she experienced difficulty in sleeping. She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, bereavement, depression and grief. She lost consortium and support.
“Reabetsoe now suffers lack of concentration, keeps quiet and cries often. She suffers poor appetite, sadness, grief and loss of support. Paballo suffered psychiatric injury and experienced lack of sleep, lack of concentration, sadness and grief, depression and bereavement,” Ms Mokone states.
She therefore wants to be compensated to the tune of M5 million for the loss of her husband.
“The plaintiff’s husband was earning M9 800 monthly. At the time (of his death), he was 39 years of age. He was due for pension at age 55. As a consequence of such unlawful killing, plaintiffs (Ms Mokone and her two children) have suffered damages in the amount of M5 000 000…
“Wherefore the plaintiffs claim against the defendants jointly and severally a payment of the sum of M5 000 000 as damages aforesaid, payment of interest at the rate of 12 percent per annum, costs of suit and further and or alternative relief,” Ms Mokone states.
In their separate applications, the four Pakistanis and Lesotho national who were tortured alongside PC Mokone each demand M2, 5 million for injuries, pain and discomfort.
“As a result, the plaintiffs sustained injuries from the aforementioned barbaric torture and they suffered pain, suffering and discomfort that will probably continue in future. Further, the plaintiffs were unlawfully arrested and detained.
“In the circumstances each plaintiff sustained personal damages to the amount of M2 500 000. But despite lawful demand, the defendants have to date failed to pay such amounts or any part thereof to plaintiffs,” the five state in their application.
At the time of the alleged torture, LDF’s public relations affairs officer, Captain Sakeng Lekola, said he could neither confirm nor deny that the late PC Mokone and the five civilians had been tortured by his army colleagues.
“I cannot say whether they were tortured or not. Since it is now a disputed matter, those responsible for investigating are the ones who should come out and say what actually happened. What I can confirm though is that we had an operation and we prevented a crime from being committed,” Captain Lekola told the Lesotho Times.
He said the army had a “primary role” of guarding the country’s borders and its assets.
“As part of our primary role, we have the responsibility of protecting Lesotho’s borders by ensuring that there is no trespassing. As part of that responsibility to protect Lesotho borders, we had an operation to stop people from illegally transporting wool outside the country.
“This was after we had received an intelligence report that some people were taking advantage of the porous borders to smuggle wool out of the country. This was going to be done through the porous border in Liphiring, Mohale’s Hoek.
“Soldiers rushed there to prevent a crime. We did not even know the status of the suspects when we conducted the operation, we only saw people who were going to illegally transport wool through porous borders,” Captain Lekola said.
He said six people were arrested during the operation.
“Those people were handed over to the Mohale’s Hoek police along with their assets, namely, a Mazda vehicle and a truck that had 14 bales of wool. We only learnt after the operation that one of them was a police officer.
“We did not know that he is a police officer but even if he was one, we will not fold our arms and allow a crime to be committed at the borders. The most important thing is that we prevented a crime. We didn’t even know the status of the suspects but we only know that we prevented criminals from illegally transporting wool outside the country,” Captain Lekola said.
A week before the alleged torture incident, the deputy army commander, Major General Matela Matobakele had said the army had taken on policing duties because there was “no police force to talk about in the country”.
While many people have applauded the army for stepping in to fill the void created by police ineptitude in fighting crime, there is always the risk of human rights violations such as these because the soldiers are not trained to operate as police officers. There is also the risk of renewed army-police conflict as the army ventures into police territory.
An analyst who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said “Lt-Gen Letsoela and his command mean well but they cannot and should not be a substitute for an incompetent police force.
“The Prime Minister (Moeketsi Majoro) should act now to compel the police to perform their duties. He should fire the police chief (Holomo Molibeli) and appoint someone who is up to the task,” the analyst said.