LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) commander, Mojalefa Letsoela, recently appealed to individuals to desist from attacking the army and its initiatives in their quest to score political points against the government.
Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Letsoela made the remarks during a weekend ceremony to mark 74 juvenile delinquents’ completion of a three-month army-led programme to “rehabilitate” them.
This after they were detained for “rehabilitation” at Makoanyane Barracks in May this year on allegations of committing violent crimes including murder, rape, housebreaking, theft and stabbings in the Maseru and Berea districts.
Lt-Gen Letsoela, who launched the Operation Namola (intervene), to weed out the young but dangerous suspected criminals, detained them for the “rehabilitation” programme to get them to change their ways before they are reintegrated into society.
Lt-Gen Letsoela also courted civil society organisations and churches including the Maseru-based Word of Life International Ministries (Wolim) to assist in counselling and support services.
The 74 youths completed their “rehabilitation” programme over the weekend and they are now known as the Makoanyane Rangers.
Speaking at the weekend ceremony to mark the conclusion of the “rehabilitation” programme, Lt-Gen Letsoela said the exercise was met with serious challenges that included lack of resources and unwarranted criticism from such sections of society who had seen an opportunity to advance their own political agendas.
“The biggest challenge came from some sections of society,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said.
“My fellow citizens, I am making a clarion call for the nation to stop using the army or the security agencies for their political ends of attacking the government. The should be attacked on the basis of its own actions, not those actions of Lieutenant General Letsoela, his command or the entire army.
“I am saying this because there were come who plotted to attack the government. They even paid for radio programmes to question our actions and that caused a lot of confusion among these children’s (juvenile delinquents’) parents.
“This issue nearly made us angry but we managed to calm those who became angry and discouraged when we were assisting these children.”
He said sue to the negative criticism of the “rehabilitation” programme, they were even dragged to court last month by one of the delinquents’ family who wanted the army to be ordered to produce their child after he had allegedly disappeared while he was still writing his school examinations.
“We ended up in the courts. I personally wanted to go and tell the court that I am guilty but I will continue (with the “rehabilitation”) because it is in the best interests of the nation. However, our lawyers left me behind.
“Our primary aim is to ensure that there is peace in this country. This (Makoanyane Barracks) is not a slaughter house where people are killed. It is a life-saving institution where people’s lives are turned around and that is why we did what we had to do to save these children.”
Now that they had competed the “rehabilitation” exercise, Lt-Gen Letsoela urged the juveniles not to go back their lives of crime but to lead exemplary lives as respectable members of their communities.
“The three months we spent here with you is enough to rehabilitate you. There is no need for you to walk the same path, we don’t expect you to go back to criminal activities.
“We expect you to go back to your communities and be positive influences,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said.
The event was attended by ministers and Halebonoe Setśabi (Defence and National Security), ‘Matebatso Doti (Social Development), Likeleli Tampane (Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation) and other government officials.
Mr Setśabi also attacked unnamed civilians for “meddling in security matters”.
He also hailed the “rehabilitation” exercise, saying it had achieved its mandate and the juveniles were “ready to be re-integrated into our communities”.
He however, expressed misgivings about the type of communities the juveniles would go back to, saying the nation had lost its moral fibre and was “sick”.
“The children are ready to be integrated into the communities but I ask myself what type of society they will be integrated into when we have lost our way.
“I appeal to priests and pastors to pray for these children to be integrated into a healed society because the fact of the matter is that we are sick,” Mr Setśabi said.