I never imagined myself a soldier: Letsoela
BORN on 3 August, 1967 in Bela–Bela in the Berea district, army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, never imagined himself being a soldier- let alone being in charge of the entire military institution.
The fifth child in a family of seven siblings attended ordinary schools like any other ordinary child, beginning with Pelele Primary School before proceeding to Holy Names High school where he completed his Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) in 1985.
He said his dream had been to become a commercial pilot but politics changed his career path even though he never took an active part in them.
“After completing my COSC, I always wanted to become a qualified commercial pilot but was denied a scholarship to go to university because of my parents’ congress politics. As a result, I was forced to stay at home for the whole of 1996,” he said.
“My parents left me in Lesotho to complete my high school while they went into exile in South Africa. I then found myself with no option but to apply for military recruitment because all my friends and peers were at the university”.
Despite the career change, Lt Gen Letsoela soon excelled in the military recruitment course and achieved the best performance in Law and Evidence.
He was given the rank of Private and worked in the LDF Military Band Unit from 1988 to 1991 until he was advised by his immediate supervisors to pursue further studies at the National University of Lesotho.
Preparations were made by the LDF for him to enroll with NUL in 1992 but things took another turn when LDF Air Wing reported a shortage of pilots.
“I was so reluctant to apply for military pilots’ recruitment but my bosses put me under a lot of pressure.
“With a heavy heart I took their advice and went to South Africa Airforce Flying School in 1992, the very year I had been looking forward to going to the NUL.”
Lt Gen Letsoela remembers clearly that the in-depth of the course was frustrating and hectic because it was at a time when apartheid was intense.
Racial discrimination topped the struggles of the course. Everything was taught in Afrikaans and he was forced to do private lessons to learn the language in his spare time.
“Against all odds, I passed with flying colours and only two Lesotho soldiers failed the course. I was the only one who was given an opportunity to go solo on the Harvard Fighter Aircraft as an indication that I was the best performer. This is a great achievement that I cannot forget”.
After completing the military air force course at the end of 1992, he was confirmed as a military cadet.
“I was still a Private because a cadet is not a rank but a position between the ranks of Warrant Officer II and Warrant Officer I.”
Following military air force procedure, Lt Gen Letsoela had to go back to South Africa for a three month Combat and Special Missions Operational Course in March 1993.
“By the end of 1993 I completed what is called multi-engine flying course,” he said.
In April 1994 he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant and by that time he was a vibrant and young pilot enjoying what he always dreamt of- flying.
Two years later he was moved up to the rank of Lieutenant and was commissioned as LDF Air Wing base Aviation Safety Officer responsible of controlling risks at the military aviation base.
In 1999 he was appointed Captain and was fully operational, available around the clock.
“I enrolled with Singapore Aviation Academy part-time, from 2001 to 2005 and completed a Degree in Aviation Safety.
“Nine years later I was appointed Major and the following year I enrolled at the Zimbabwe Military Staff College which is affiliated to University of Zimbabwe and obtained a Diploma in Defence, Security, Strategic Studies and International relations”.
In 2010 he was then appointed Lieutenant Colonel and continued flying while attending numerous courses and developments programmes.
In April 2012, he was appointed acting commander of the LDF Air Wing and in June 2013 he was confirmed LDF Air Wing commander and Colonel.
“The following year in 2014, I went to South Africa National Defence College in Pretoria to study for the Executive National Security course.
Before leaving for the course, he had been promoted to the rank of Brigadier.
“In January 2015 when I returned home there was a very bad political cloud in the country. It is that time when the mutiny allegations surfaced in the LDF.
“I was temporarily promoted to Major General just for the purpose of presiding over the court martial against the soldiers who were arrested between May and June 2015 on allegations that they were part of a foiled plot to topple the LDF command”.
Immediately after former commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, left the LDF in December 2016, the command structure changed and Lt Gen Letsoela was appointed Acting Deputy Commander in administration responsible for staff administration and human resource affairs.
“I had to multi-task as Air Wing commander and acting Deputy Commander until 5 September 2017 when the former army commander, Lt Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, was murdered.
Lt-Gen Letsoela then deputised the-then acting army commander, Retired Major General Lineo Poopa, until 23 January, 2018 when he was appointed substantive Lt-Gen and commander of the LDF.
Lt Gen Letsoela says that the LDF went off the rails during the period from 2014 and now needed to “speedily return to the right track”.
He says his vision is to re-align the LDF to become an institution that clearly understands democracy, civil and military relations where the army respectfully and willingly submitted to civilian authority without rebellion”.
“We were at a situation where one could say we were off track and we should speedily come back to the right track,” Lt Gen Letsoela said.
“We are facing challenges in our quest to see the establishment of a stable system of good governance based on the rule of law according to the precepts of Lesotho’s constitution.
“It is my vision to see the LDF respectfully submitting to civil authority without rebellion. We have to understand that there is civilian authority and that will help us understand the importance of rule of law, proper governance and development.”
Lt Gen Letsoela also emphasises the need for the LDF to be fully accountable and respectful in its behaviour towards civilians.
He said soldiers could not just one wake up one day and claim to have conducted an operation where they massacred civilians who looked to them for protection.
“We (soldiers) can’t just wake up, strangle people and throw them in dams and not account for our deeds,” he said in reference to the May 2017 incident where three men were killed by LDF officers and their bodies were thrown into the Mohale Dam.
“As a state security institution, we have to fully account for our actions, operations and programmes,” he said, adding, “The national assembly through their portfolio committees should be active and pressure us to adhere to democratic principles”.
“The soldiers should have transparent financial reports and never hide behind claims that security issues are sensitive. They must report and account for money spent.
“The civil society informed about activities of the army that attract public interest to avoid negative perceptions. When everything is in the right direction then every activity that is in the public interest should open for the public to know.”
Only time will tell whether or not his vision for the LDF will be fully realised.