. . . still bitter over torture allegedly suffered in custody, ordeal in exile
MASERU — “I was in the dark, cold, hungry and sore. My whole body was aching. I was not given any food. I had lost sense of time and place.”
These were the words of Motlomelo Motlomelo as he described his ordeal during the week that he spent in military custody after being accused of trying to topple the government in 2007.
It is now two months since Motlomelo returned from exile in South Africa but he is still traumatised because of the torture that he allegedly suffered at the hands of soldiers in June 2007.
Motlomelo was one of the six men who fled Lesotho two years ago following the political disturbances that saw ministers’ houses being attacked.
The six were fingered in the attack.
Motlomelo and three others — Khotso Lebakeng, Mokherane Tsatsanyane and Thabo Thantsí — returned home in March following year-long negotiations between the government and their families.
They were also accused together with Makotoko Lerotholi and Pakiso Semoli.
Semoli died while in exile.
Motlomelo gave his first interview to the Lesotho Times since his return to Lesotho.
He described his gruesome experience while he was in custody and his miserable life in exile.
Tsatsanyane also spoke about his suffering in exile.
Motlomelo says he is happy to be home after two years in exile but his life will never be the same again.
The experience changed the way I look at life, says Motlomelo.
He is filled with anger as he tells his sad story.
He says he was kidna- pped on June 24, 2007 by members of the Lesotho Defence Force.
He said although he was blind-folded most of the time after his abduction he could tell that he was taken to some place around Thaba-Bosiu.
“They stopped near a river and they took me out. They beat and kicked me around. I do not know when it ended because I became unconscious,” Motlomelo said.
He said when he eventually regained his consciousness he was in a dark cold room and still blind-folded.
I was in so much pain from the beating, cold and hunger, he recalls.
“I was in the dark, cold, hungry and sore. My whole body was aching.
“I was not given any food. I had lost all sense of time and place.”
After about four days he was given what tasted like bread and drink, he says.
He says as they beat him, they demanded that he tells them where he had kept the soldiers’ firearms.
“They said they were going to teach me a lesson. They said that Lesotho was not Congo where there were two governments, and that we were trying to make Thabane a government.”
At one point Motlomelo said he was in so much pain that he wished his interrogators would just kill him instantly.
“They were beating me all the time. I was still blindfolded, my hands and feet fastened. I sometimes wished they could just kill me.”
He said he got a thundering slap on the face when he tried to remove the piece of cloth that was blindfolding him.
“I was slapped hard on the face when I tried to remove the cloth.”
He said after six days he was finally moved back to Maseru. On the way, they changed vehicles many times so he could lose his sense of direction.
“We changed cars four times. At some point they would drive in circles.
“I think the purpose was to make me lose my sense of direction.”
He says they “could have been in Maseru when I was taken to a room that felt like a hospital”.
There he was examined.
He however does not remember being given any medical treatment.
From there he was driven to another room where they left him.
“I heard a metal door swing open. They pushed me in, unfastened the blind folder quickly, locked me in and left. I did not recognise their faces.”
He woke the next morning to find that he was in a cell at the police headquarters in Maseru.
“I peered through a small window and realised I was at the police headquarters.”
He said at that time Lerotholi had also been handed over to the police after being tortured.
Tsatsanyane, Semoli and Lebakeng had already fled to South Africa after information that they were the next in line to be abducted.
Motlomelo said all hell broke loose after the announcement that the High Court had dropped charges against them.
He said within a short time soldiers arrived at Pitso Ground police station.
“They swamped the police station and forced their way in.
“We all frantically looked for places to hide. I hid under a desk and Lerotholi hid in another office.”
Motlomelo said together with Lerotholi they hid for hours in the police station.
Later they managed to escape, disguised in different clothes.
“A friend of ours took us in his car to Maseru border post. We passed through without passports. We did not have time to wait. We were running away from the soldiers.”
In Welkom, South Africa, they joined Semoli, Thantsí, Lebakeng and Tsatsanyane.
They were taken in by Holy Sisters’ Convent in Welkom which gave them food and a place to sleep.
They stayed there for two weeks and when their asylum papers were signed they moved to PumlSprings where they rented a house.
Motlomelo said no matter how far they moved away from Lesotho, trouble seemed to follow them.
A month after fleeing Lesotho three of them were arrested by the SA Defence Force taskforce.
“Semoli, Lebakeng and I were arrested by the SA soldiers. They had forced their way into the gate and unroofed the house.
“They beat the hell out of us before they handed us to the PulmSprings police,” Motlomelo said.
Tsatsanyane, Lerotholi and Thantsí escaped.
Motlomelo, Semoli and Lebakeng were charged with robbery, attempted murder and possession of illegal firearms.
The arrest was part of an extradition application from the government of Lesotho.
The charges were however dropped because the Lesotho government failed to pursue the application.
Semoli died weeks after they were released from police custody.
He said he was surprised when the charges were revived after talk that Lerotholi had been seen back in Maseru.
The Lesotho government reapplied for extradition. They reappeared before the Bethlehem magistrate court in July 2008.
“All seemed well until the police gave a warrant that the charges be revived.”
But then again the Lesotho government did not pursue the application and the charges were dropped.
Motlomelo said the time he spent in exile left scars on his mind.
“I was so afraid that they would hurt my family members. Those were the longest two years of my life.”
Thantsí’s mother died while they were still in exile.
Even after returning home in March Motlomelo says he is still uneasy.
“We are not yet fully relaxed. Maybe lightning will strike again and we cannot undergo torture again.”
He is still traumatised.
“I had to go for counselling and medical examination.”
“I hope it has ended. I can never live like that again. I cannot bear the trauma again.”