Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi says Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi’s impending marriage to a member of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) could never be a security risk for both Lesotho and Botswana.
Mr Mokhosi told the Lesotho Times that Lieutenant-Colonel Hashatsi had the right to marry a woman of his choice no-matter her country of origin.
The minister also said calling the marriage a security risk was “blowing things out of proportion”, adding the Special Forces Commander had not been convicted of any crime and was one of the most disciplined members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
Mr Mokhosi, who was reacting to an article published in a Botswana newspaper this week called The Patriot, said Lt-Col Hashatsi had followed the right procedures when he decided to marry his Botswana fiancée, who is said to hold the rank of lieutenant.
But according to the Patriot, the BDF was now in a quandary because of the marriage as Lt-Col Hashatsi was a “controversial” figure.
The paper cites the officer’s on-going court case challenging the legitimacy of the SADC Commission of Inquiry into the death of former army commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao among the controversies associated with Lt-Col Hashatsi. Lt-Gen Mahao was killed by the LDF on 25 June 2015 in Mokema, allegedly as he resisted arrest for suspected mutiny, and Lt-Col Hashatsi lodged a case in the High Court soon after being interviewed by the SADC Commission in which he questioned the probe’s legitimacy and also accused the head of the inquiry, Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi of Botswana, of making him appear a suspect in Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing.
Writes The Patriot: “To compound the situation further for the BDF is that the controversial Colonel Hashatsi is one of the leading figures in the political crisis that has gripped the mountainous kingdom.
“One of the bold and influential figures not only in the army but also in government, Hashatsi is the one who took SADC to court over the findings of the Commission of Inquiry which was led by Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi.
“According to reliable sources, Hashatsi has already completed the traditional part after paying lobola and is waiting for civil marriage. It is alleged that the female army officer who holds the rank of lieutenant, is from Molepolole and she is ready to walk the aisle with Colonel Hashatsi. The two officers are said to have met during their regional exercises and Hashatsi didn’t waste time in proposing. Information gathered by this publication has revealed that the situation has caught the BDF high command by surprise as their Act is not clear on cross-border fraternisation and they have since stalled the civil marriage to investigate the risks. The lady has, according to sources, threatened to resign to go and settle in Lesotho.”
The Patriot further notes that the BDF does not allow love relations between senior female officers and junior male officers.
“One of the reasons that are giving the BDF a headache is that Hashatsi is not an ordinary army officer but a controversial one and commander of the Special Forces,” the publication further noted.
The paper also said it asked about the BDF position on “cross-border fraternisation”, but the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi indicated “he would consult”.
The paper also claims Lt-Col Hashatsi’s name “appears prominently in Phumaphi’s report” and that the officer is regarded as having played “a pivotal role in the assassination of Mahao”.
The Patriot also quotes LDF spokesperson, Colonel Ntlele Ntoi, confirming Lt-Col Hashatsi’s impending marriage “and that army commander Tlali Kamoli had given him permission to do so”.
“We have a very good relationship with the BDF and we are happy that one of our officers is marrying in Botswana,” Col Ntoi is quoted by The Patriot as saying, before dismissing suggestions that the marriage might compromise security in the two countries.
However, Minister Mokhosi said the article was unfortunate, before adding LDF and BDF regulations did not forbid cross-border marriages.
“First of all, it is not illegal for Lt-Col Hashatsi to marry outside Lesotho. Even the constitution of Lesotho doesn’t stop cross-border relationships or marriages. It is a personal act that won’t interfere with their professionalism as soldiers,” said Mr Mokhosi.
“Hashatsi is not as controversial as the journalist explained in that particular article. If he was as controversial, the LDF could not have allowed him to join the army in the first place. I want to assure you that Hashatsi is a highly disciplined soldier; that is why he was appointed to head the Special Forces. Not everybody can qualify to join the Special Forces Unit and head it but because he doesn’t have any criminal record and is professional and disciplined, he earned the position.”
Mr Mokhosi further said the only crisis in Lesotho was drought which now threatens thousands of Basotho with hunger.
“As a member of cabinet, Minister of Defence and citizen of Lesotho, I can confidently tell you that there is no crisis in Lesotho, apart from drought. Hashatsi is not controversial and did not contribute to any crisis,” the minister said.
“It is also a blatant lie that Hashatsi ever brought his gun during his testimony before the SADC Commission of Inquiry as alleged in that article. Security was tight and nobody ever got into that hall with a gun. The journalist was just trying to tarnish Hashatsi’s image for no reason.
“I was also shocked that the journalist acted as a prosecutor and found Hashatsi guilty. The Commission of Inquiry’s report is not yet out and nobody knows its findings but the journalist knows that Hashatsi’s name appears prominently in the Phumaphi report.”
Mr Mokhosi also denied claims in the article that Lt-Col Hashatsi was Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s ally and right-hand man of LDF Commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
“The PM’s allies are politicians and Hashatsi is a professional soldier and not a politician. Hashatsi can’t be the right-hand man of the commander because he is not in the command of the LDF. The journalist even missed his rank to show that he did not verify anything before publishing. Hashatsi is not a colonel as indicated in the article; he is a lieutenant-colonel.”
Mr Mokhosi further said Lt-Col Hashatsi was “a responsible and dignified person.”
“He followed all the customary procedures and paid lobola and will legally get married. What is wrong with getting married to a soldier from another country?”