. . . LDF launches manhunt
By Bongiwe Zihlangu and Letuka Chafotsa
MASERU –– Colonel Matela Matobakele — president of the court martial trying renegade soldier, Second Lieutenant Thabang Phaila — has reportedly disappeared, prompting a manhunt by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
According to authoritative LDF sources who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity, Matobakele has not returned to work since his sick leave ended on February 13 and is now considered to have gone AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave), hence the manhunt.
“The colonel is considered to have gone AWOL because he has not reported for work since his sick leave ended on February 13. We cannot yet say the man has deserted because he has not been gone for a long time. But the LDF is now looking for him because he has breached provisions of the Lesotho Defence Force Act 1996 by absenting himself from work without authorisation,” said one of the sources.
Another source said Matobakele is thought to have left the country on the night of February 20 — and that the LDF was looking for him when a heavily-armed group of soldiers raided the Lithoteng home of Retired Major General Samuel Makoro in the early hours of February 21.
According to the source, it was believed Matobakele was hiding at Makoro’s residence at the time.
Makoro on Tuesday told the Lesotho Times he had been “reliably informed” the raid — which the LDF has since said was in search of army uniform the retired major was suspected to have been keeping illegally — was actually targeting Matobakele.
“My informant told me that the LDF was looking for Matobakele when those soldiers raided my home because they had established that I was hiding him in my house. As you know, the search didn’t yield anything,” Makoro said.
Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times is also informed that Matobakele has been to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana since leaving Lesotho to seek help and could now be in Johannesburg, South Africa.
There was no immediate comment from the Sadc secretariat regarding the allegation.
“Since leaving Lesotho, Matobakele is said to have been moving between the Sadc headquarters in Botswana and South Africa, although it’s not clear what he’s been up to, or what he is running away from,” the source said.
Several attempts to get a comment from LDF spokesperson, Major Ntlele Ntoi, on the latest developments regarding Matobakele’s whereabouts, proved fruitless as both his mobile phone and office line, rang unanswered.
Text messages to Ntoi’s mobile phone, explaining that the Lesotho Times was seeking the LDF comment on Matobakele’s whereabouts, were also not responded to.
However, two weeks ago when the Lesotho Times launched its investigation into Matobakele’s disappearance, a then cooperative Ntoi told this paper that when the colonel went on leave towards the end of January, it was brought to his attention that the dates of Phaila’s court appearance fell within the vacation period.
“When Colonel Matobakele was made aware of this, he responded that he would report for duty when the case resumed,” Ntoi said.
After his leave days ended Matobakele sent a message saying he was in Leribe and would not be able to attend to Phaila’s case due to ill-health.
“Colonel Matobakele sent a message on the day he was supposed to attend the court martial for Second Lt Thabang Phaila, that he was in Leribe and not feeling well,” Ntoi said.
Asked when Matobakele’s leave was supposed to end, Ntoi said the colonel was expected to report for work on February 14. The Lesotho Times then contacted Ntoi again on February 17 for an update on Matobakele’s whereabouts.
The LDF spokesperson said although he did not yet have a full report on the matter, he, on February 15, had an informal discussion about Matobakele with a colleague, who had told him the colonel had not reported for work as expected on Friday.
“The person I was discussing Colonel Matobakele’s whereabouts with, told me that he did not report for work and I still don’t know where he is because I do not yet have a report,” Ntoi said.
Contacted for comment, Phaila’s elder brother, Sefiri, said the family had learnt the trial was in limbo because the court’s president could not be located.
“If my memory serves me well, the case was supposed to resume in February but when that time came, we heard that the court’s president was on a five-day leave,” Phaila said.
“But we have never been told officially why the case is stalling; all we can do as a family is sit and watch while my brother remains in detention.”
Contacted for comment, Phaila’s lawyer, Advocate Sakoane Sakoane referred the Lesotho Times to the court martial’s prosecutor, Captain Bulane Sechele.
Sechele could not be reached as his mobile number was not available.