Firm sues Mosisili for M11 million

MASERU — A local company is suing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili for M11.6 million for failing to protect its property during the 1998 political riots.
Cee Bee Industries (Pty) Ltd and UB Technical Services, a garment and air conditioning equipment supplying company, collapsed when its assets were looted and burnt down during riots that rocked the country following a disputed election in 1998 that saw the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party ascending to power.
Now, 13 years on, the company wants justice.
In papers filed at the High Court this week the company says Mosisili failed in his capacity as the country’s defence minister to protect its assets.
The papers also cite the attorney general, Tšokolo Makhethe, in his capacity as the government lawyer.
The company wants the government to pay M11.6 million in damages for the property and business it lost during the violence that left many companies and buildings in Lesotho’s major towns destroyed.
But that figure could increase to more than M30 million if the 18 percent interest rate per annum is included.
If the company wins the case the compensation will have to come from state coffers which are sustained by taxpayers.
The Cee Bee Industries (Pty) Ltd and UB Technical Services’ case could open floodgates for other companies that lost their property during the riots to sue the government for damages.
The cost of those damages could run into hundreds of millions of maloti because almost every company in Lesotho lost something during that crisis.
Almost all shops in Maseru, especially those in the city centre, were looted to shells as protesters went on the rampage and anarchy reigned supreme.
Other companies in Lesotho’s major towns were either looted or destroyed.
The firm alleges that “during the political riots in 1998 the first defendant’s (Mosisili’s) servants failed to keep law and order in the country and provide security to residents and citizens of Lesotho”.
“As a result of their failure to discharge their legal duty of providing security and maintaining order the plaintiff’s property was damaged during the riots on 22nd September 1998.”
The lawsuit was filed by Benny Mann, who was the firm’s production manager and brother to the late Catherine Boch who was the director.
In his affidavit Mann says attempts by Boch to get compensation from the government had failed.
Mann says on September 21, 1998 a group of violent men arrived at the firm and demanded that the employees stop working.
“The following morning I learned that Sadc (Southern African Development Community) forces were in the country,” Mann claims.
“I learned from the radio that there was chaos in Maseru. Law and order had broken down. Sadc forces were fighting the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).”
“The Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) and Basotho National Party (BNP) youth were roaming the streets threatening people, and burning buildings, private and government.”
Mann says on September 24, 1998 the firm’s security officer, Tšeliso Nyepetsi, told him that the company was on fire.
“I immediately called my sister, the late Mrs Catherine Boch, and told her that Tšeliso Nyepetsi was at my home reporting that the factory was burning.”
“When we arrived at the firm, I found that the place had been vandalised before it was set on fire because goods which were prepared and ready to be delivered to Durban were not there.
“The machines were also burning and the bus was not there. The factory door was broken.”
“All I can say is that the whole firm was damaged and nothing was retrieved,” Mann adds.
Mann says the army and the police failed to protect property and maintain law and order.
“I expected the police and the army to protect the property including the plaintiff’s factory as according to section 146 (1) of the Constitution, the (Lesotho) Defence Force is charged with the responsibility of maintaining internal security and the defence of Lesotho while according to section 147 (1) the police are responsible for the maintenance of law and order in Lesotho.”
When the case opened on Monday, Webber Newdigate, the lawyers representing Mosisili and the attorney general, argued that it was not easy for the police and the army to carry out their duties because the situation was chaotic.
Advocate Henry Viljoen put it to Mann during cross examination that the police were not able to control the situation because they “had been told by some senior army officials that some members of the army were among the rioters”.
“Even if the police could have rushed to your firm, which is situated about 15 kilometres away from Maseru, it would not have been easy for them to stop those rioters.
“At least we now know that a machine gun was used to destroy the door. I put it to you that even if the police were able to get there they could do nothing considering the fact that they were not properly armed at that time,” Viljoen said.
Mann told the court that the company was suing because the government had failed to fulfill its promise to compensate people who lost their property during the riots.
“When the situation had calmed down, Ministers (Monyane) Moleleki and (Mpho) Malie called citizens of Lesotho who had lost their property during the riots to Lesotho Sun for a meeting whereby they promised compensation to all those who had lost their property,” Mann said.
“They were then asked to complete loss reports and hand them to the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
“Mrs Boch on behalf of the plaintiff submitted the first report shortly afterwards to the Chamber.
“On the 6th April 2001, she submitted a copy of the loss report to the permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.
“She kept on going back to the government to find out precisely when compensation would be effected.
“The late Mrs Boch tried to negotiate with the government for compensation but failed,” Mann said.
The case is before High Court judge Justice Thamsanqa Nomncongo.

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