Cops accused of covering up

MASERU — Police shot a Leribe woman in a botched raid last year and when her husband demanded compensation he was given a temporary job at a police station in a deal that has raised suspicion that it could have been an attempt to buy the family’s silence.

’Marefiloe Khothe was shot and injured by the police in January last year while she was working in a food-for-work project under the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation.

The incident occurred in Ha Molibeli, a village in Hlotse.

’Marefiloe and other people were repairing a footpath along the Mohokare River in Ha-Molibeli when Lesotho police officers patrolling the border line shot at them.

’Marefiloe was seriously injured.

The police officers said ’Marefiloe was accidently shot when they were pursuing herdboys who had illegally crossed the
border into South Africa to graze their livestock.

Unable to work, ’Marefiloe lost her temporary job.

And when her husband approached the police for compensation he was instead given a job at Hloste police station as a handyman.

This suspicious arrangement only came to light earlier this month when the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) MP Sello Maphalla queried the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Lineo Molise-Mabusela about it during a question and answer session in parliament.

In her response to Maphalla, Molise-Mabusela confirmed the incident and said Khothe was already working at the police station.

“The ministry, through the department of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, have held talks with the latter (’Marefiloe) and her spouse (Khothe),” Molise-Mabusela said.

“It was agreed upon that she be compensated by an amount of money which the two parties, that is, the family and the Mounted Police, have agreed upon.”

She added: “It was also agreed upon that since ’Marefiloe’s state did not permit her to be reinstated to her job, her husband be given a job. He is already working at Hlotse police station”.

Unsatisfied, Maphalla further asked the deputy minister if the talks held with the Khothe family “were a way of dissuading that a case of attempted murder be lodged against these police who nearly killed her.”

“I would like to know if we are agreed with the honorable member (deputy minister Molise-Mabusela) that, this deed of giving ’Marefiloe’s husband a job was a way of buying them into pretending that this crime, which was perpetuated by the police never happened?

“I am asking on behalf of Basotho, so that they should know these things,” Maphalla asked.

Molise-Mabusela responded that the job that was given to Khothe was not meant to block a criminal case against the police officer who nearly killed ’Marefiloe.

“No, giving ’Marefiloe’s husband a job was not a way of ‘buying’ (bribing) him. Police do not bribe people; this one should be crystal clear. This was just part of the compensation agreed upon now that ’Marefiloe could no longer work; it was just a way of seeing to it that she gets provided for. That is the main reason,” she said.

But Maphalla insisted in an interview with the Lesotho Times last week that he still believes the arrangement was sinister.

“Something stinks about this case. Something is just not right about the case,” the LWP deputy leader said.

He said he is now doing his own investigation.

Under normal circumstances ’Marefiloe’s shooting should have been a criminal case for the courts to decide.

It is for the courts to decide whether the shooting was a genuine mistake, deliberate or a case of police negligence.

Acting police spokesperson inspector ’Mantolo Mothibeli said even if a police officer accidently shoots a person the case should be reported and investigations must be conducted.

“The matter is treated like any other case. A case will be opened and investigations will be done just like in any other case. It will even end up in the courts of law like it happens with all cases,” Mothibeli said.

“A person cannot be offered a job as compensation for being accidentally shot by the police. The police do not do deals.”

A year after the incident, police say they are still investigating the matter.

But Khothe says his wife is yet to recover and the salary he gets from his job at the police station can barely pay for the mounting medical bills.

“My wife has not been compensated either by the police or the department she was working for. She was injured on duty and she should be compensated for that. But the officers she was working under told us that they would not make any payments because she has not died. They said they would only pay if she was dead,” Khothe said.

The police’s delays in investigating the case have also frustrated Khothe.

“I see no progress in this case. The police have not updated me about the investigations. In the meantime I am incurring costs for huge medical bills for my wife. She is not getting any better,” Khothe said.

“She has been in and out of hospital. Sometimes the charges are so high I cannot afford them. I still owe Motebang Hospital some money.”

While there is nothing wrong with Khothe getting a job with the police, it is the circumstances surrounding his employment that raise suspicion.

It raises essential questions about the manner the case was handled.

Could the police have given Khothe a job if his wife was not injured?

Was the job meant to buy his silence over the shooting? 

Was the shooting thoroughly investigated by the police? 

How was the quantum of the damages that led the police to offer Khothe a job arrived at?

Was the police officer who shot ’Marefiloe brought to book?

Did the police take advantage of Khothe to cut a job-for-damages deal with him?

Will the case ever reach the courts?

Even if the case goes to court how will Khothe testify against the very same police force that has given him a job?

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