THE mother of the late Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, ‘Mamosa, is demanding M4 million as compensation from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) for the killing of her son during the 5 September 2017 shootout that claimed the life of the then army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo.
According to the government, Colonel Hashatsi was killed together with another senior soldier, Brigadier Bulane Sechele, in a gunfight that ensued with fellow soldiers after the duo had stormed Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s Ratjomose Barracks’ offices and assassinated him. The duo were said to be angry with Lt-Gen Motšomotšo who they accused of betrayal after he agreed to hand over some soldiers who were wanted by the police for suspected crimes during the tenure of former army commander, Tlali Kamoli.
However, Colonel Hashatsi’s mother ‘Mamosa, has refused to accept the government’s version, claiming instead that her son was unarmed and murdered in cold blood by fellow soldiers.
And in the latest turn of events, she has issued a demand for M4 million in damages for the “unlawful killing” of her son.
The letter of demand was written on her behalf by top lawyer, Advocate Zwelakhe Mda. It is addressed to army commander Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela.
“I am acting on instructions from ‘M’e ‘Mamosa Hashatsi (hereinafter referred to as my client) to demand from you as I hereby do, the immediate payment of the sum of four million maloti as damages for the unlawful killing of her son, Tefo Hashatsi, by his colleagues (soldiers) on the 5th of September 2017,” Adv Mda states in the 3 August 2019 letter.
“As a consequences of such unlawful killing of my client’s son, she (‘Mamosa Hashatsi) sustained serious bodily harm such as shock and loss of support and maintenance in the sum of M4 million. My client holds the commander of the LDF and the Attorney General (Advocate Haae Phoofolo) liable for the damages suffered.”
LDF Acting Public Relations Officer, Lieutenant Kelebone Mothibi, this week confirmed that the letter was delivered and received by the commander’s office. He however, said he was not able to entertain further questions because Ms Hashatsi’s lawyers had also served them with summons to appear in court over the matter.
“I am unable to further comment on the matter because it is now in the courts and only legal experts can handle it,” Lt Mothibi told the Lesotho Times.
On his part, Adv Phoofolo said he was still to receive Ms Hashatsi’s letter of demand. He however, said Ms Hashatsi had a right to sue if she felt aggrieved and he was ready to defend the state against the lawsuit.
He said the lawsuit could necessitate an investigation, possibly by a commission of inquiry, to determine whether or not the killing of Col Hashatsi was lawful.
“Right now we cannot say whether the killing was lawful or unlawful because judicially, it has not been established that Ntate Hashatsi died lawfully. So it is only the courts of law that can put this matter to rest. If she sues, then fine, the courts will give the verdict,” Adv Phoofolo said.
Asked why the government had not set up a commission of inquiry into the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo and the deaths of Col Hashatsi and Brigadier Sechele, Adv Phoofolo said an inquest is usually conducted in situations where the authorities do not know the identity of the killers and other circumstances surrounding a particular death.
“An inquest is conducted in every death where the evidence showing what really happened is not clear but can we really say that there is a need for an inquest into Ntate Hashatsi’s death when everything happened in broad daylight?
“The police went there and his body was taken. So there is no need for an inquest into his death. Rather, what is needed is for police to take action if any unlawful act happened,” Adv Phoofolo said.
The compensation demand is the latest in a series of attempts by Ms Hashatsi to hold the army responsible for her son’s death.
Not long after Col Hashatsi’s death, Ms Hashatsi joined forces with the family of Brigadier Sechele to hire South African pathologist, Professor Gert Saayman, to perform autopsies on the bodies of the two soldiers to ascertain how they died.
More than a year later the two families had not received the results of the autopsies as they were struggling to raise the fees demanded by Prof Saayman who is better known for performing the autopsy on the late South African model Reeva Steenkamp after she was gunned down in 2014 by her now incarcerated boyfriend, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius. It is not clear if the Hashatsi and Sechele families eventually paid up and got the autopsy results.
Last December, LDF spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Mashili Mashili told a Court Martial that when the duo accosted Lt-Gen Motšomotšo in his office, Col Hashatsi tried in vain to restrain an angry Brigadier Sechele who had refused to obey Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s orders for them to leave his office and only return after he had attended to Lt-Col Mashili.
Lt-Col Mashili said instead of heeding the army commander’s order and despite Col Hashatsi’s best efforts to reason with him, an infuriated Brigadier Sechele unzipped his jacket, took out a gun and shot the army commander several times.
Ms Hashatsi seized on Lt Col Mashili’s testimony to buttress her argument that her son was innocent of charges that he had been party to the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo. She said he was unlawfully killed by fellow soldiers in the subsequent shootout that followed the murder of the army commander.
Immediately after Lt Col Mashili’s testimony, Ms Hashatsi said the government should have contacted her family and facilitated an inquest into her son’s “mysterious death”.
She said the government’s silence made her suspect that the army had a premeditated plan to eliminate her son, hence its alleged delay in rushing him to hospital after he was shot.
She also said that an inquest into his death would help her access the benefits from his funeral policy which she was failing to access because of the failure to establish the circumstances of his death.
The 5 September 2017 assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was the second killing of an army commander in as many years after the 2015 June 2015 assassination of Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao. Lt-Gen Mahao was gunned down in cold blood by soldiers who allegedly acted on the orders of Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli. Just like Lt-Gen Mahao, the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo sent shockwaves locally and across the SADC region.
Regional leaders subsequently deployed a SADC standby force to help investigate the murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo as well as ensure stability in the country. The standby force began its mission on 1 December 2017 and left the country last November.
The government is on record saying probes into the assassinations of Lt-Gen Mahao and Lt-Gen Motšomotšo are complete. Lt-Gen Kamoli and nine other soldiers have since been charged with murdering Lt-Gen Mahao. A court martial has been established and three soldiers are currently appearing before it on charges of mutiny in relation to the events that led to the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
The three soldiers are Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captains Boiketsiso Fonane and Litekanyo Nyakane.