Exiled soldiers seek SADC intervention

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Colonel Matela Matobakele
Colonel Matela Matobakele

Keiso Mohloboli

Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members exiled in South Africa have appealed for assistance from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

According to a letter written by Colonel Matela Matobakele to SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, the soldiers are seeking the regional bloc’s assistance in returning home peacefully and also getting their salaries and benefits from the government.

The soldiers fled the country between 2014 and 2016, and Colonel Matobakele would not say how many of them sought refuge across the border when contacted about the letter this week.

Colonel Matobakele, who said he wrote the letter on behalf of his exiled colleagues, also alleges government is conducting surveillance in Ladyband and Ficksburg but did not explain why in the letter.

Former prime minister and All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader Keketso Rantšo have been living in Ficksburg and Ladybrand respectively, since they sought refuge in South Africa in May 2015 saying they could continue living in Lesotho because they feared for their lives.

Dr Tax could not be reached for comment yesterday, while Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi yesterday told the Lesotho Times he was not aware of the letter, but said the soldiers should “just return home” as nothing would happen to them. The minister cited the case of one sergeant Moshoeshoe who was also in exile but is now back home “and nothing happened to him”.

But according to Colonel Matobakele’s letter dated 1 June 2016, SADC should look into the exiled soldiers’ plight and help them return to their families.

The letter reads: “We have the honour to write to your good office in order to humbly seek your assistance.

“Your Excellency will recall that Lesotho developed a security crisis from the beginning of 2014 when some homes were bombarded. You will also recall an incident of attempted coup in August 2014, the pre-planned brutal murder of former LDF commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao (on 25 June 2015), and other incidents of murder as per the Judge Phumaphi Commission’s findings. There were also abductions and kidnappings of some soldiers and officers alleged to have committed mutiny.

“But it is a well-known fact that such allegations had no substance; even the Phumaphi Commission (which probed the fatal shooting of Lt-Gen Mahao by his military colleagues allegedly while resisting arrest for being the leader of a foiled mutiny plot in the LDF) confirmed that there was no such.”

These and other recent incidents have made some civilians and security personnel flee the country, Colonel Matobakele added.

“We therefore, as exiled soldiers, humbly request your good office to facilitate the Phumaphi Commission recommendations to be implemented in Lesotho in order to avert more problems that might spill over and then negatively affect the region,” Colonel Matobakele wrote.

“The recent Court of Appeal judgement for those soldiers in Maximum Security Detention Centre shows no commitment on the side of the Lesotho government to settle the current crisis amicably, but has ulterior motive. We are aware that the political leadership does not have the courage to implement those recommendations because of fear and favour of those rogue soldiers.

“We are also concerned about the motive of intelligence surveillance from Lesotho that is concentrated in Ladybrand and Ficksburg. Such deployment seems to have ulterior motive. We also do not understand why Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli who has been recommended to be fired (by the SADC Commission of Inquiry) can be allowed to keep on promoting his favourites and trying to manipulate recommended meaningful security sector reforms. Most of our juniors skipped ranks so that they can overtake us.”

Colonel Matobakele also says “as law-abiding personnel”, the exiled soldiers are requesting SADC’s intervention “before the current situation becomes similar to that of Burundi”.

The letter continues: “Additionally, let me inform your good office that we never got our salaries since we fled for our safety. It is difficult for our families to survive and it is not easy for our kids to attend school except where some good Samaritans lend a helping hand. Most of our properties have been seriously looted in Makoanyane and Ratjomose barracks where we were accommodated.

“Later on, our families were ruthlessly evicted. Your Excellency, two of our soldiers lost their wife and mother respectively but could not attend their funerals. You will recall that the inhumanly tortured and false accused soldiers in Maximum are still illtreated in defiance of the Phumaphi Commission findings and recommendations. These and other situations forced us to seek the sympathetic consideration from your respectful office upon which we have trust”.

Col Matobakele on Tuesday confirmed writing the letter and submitting it to Dr Tax last week.

“I can’t get into the details because we believe SADC is currently looking into our matter so that we can be rescued,” Col Matobakele said.

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