LDF soldiers’ bail application in Matatiele

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Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE Matatiele Magistrate Court will tomorrow hear a bail application for two Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers who are facing charges of illegally entering into South Africa, stock theft, robbery and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

Private Rorisang Moepi (22) and Private Dumile Tsoanyane (26) were arrested in Matatiele, Eastern Cape on 19 July 2020 by members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) after they allegedly pursued South African rustlers who had stolen livestock from Lesotho.

LDF spokesperson, Captain Kelebone Mothibi confirmed that the two soldiers will appear before the Matatiele magistrate court on Friday.

Captain Mothibi said while the outcome of the hearing solely lays on the magistrate, they were crossing their fingers that the soldiers would be released.

“We are hoping that they will be granted bail so that they can come home,” Captain Mothibi said.

Captain Mothibi said that due to the sensitivity of the case, the LDF could not divulge details of the legal representatives for the detainees.

“We cannot reveal any details of the legal team due to the sensitivity of this matter.”

Their delayed release remains highly anticipated by their families especially after it was falsely reported twice in as many weeks that they had been released on bail.

A family member of one of the detained soldiers who refused to be named told this paper that they were still hopeful of the soldiers’ release.

Attempts by the government to bring home the officers failed after the Matatiele Magistrates’ Court delayed their release.

Their continued detention in South Africa saw local officials purportedly retaliating by arresting two SANDF soldiers and two immigration officers at the Maseru border last month.

The arrests of South African officers have therefore been viewed as a revenge mission, as it has always been common practice for South African officials to drive to Lesotho to fuel their vehicles. Fuel is much cheaper in Lesotho because of a government fuel subsidy system.

The South African quartet was fuelling two private cars at Gateway filling station when they were arrested by LDF officers who were patrolling the Maseru border area. They did not have passports on them when they were arrested.

The LDF officers handed the quartet over to the police after they failed to produce neither passports nor permits allowing them to cross into Lesotho in line with anti-Covid-19 regulations.

After spending the night at the Maseru Police Headquarters, Corporals Zibuse Herringtin Mbhense (48), Muzikawulahlwa Shandu (46), Mr Mfundo Mazibuko (38) and Ms Lipuo Lebese (39) appeared at the Maseru Magistrate Court on 22 August 2020. They were charged with contravening Section 30 (b) of the Public Health (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 and section 33 of the Aliens Control Act No. 16 of 1966.

The matter was presided over by Senior Resident Magistrate Peter Murenzi while Lehlohonolo Phooko appeared for the state. It had been expected that after the freeing of the South African soldiers and immigration officers, albeit on bail, the neighbouring country would reciprocate by freeing the Lesotho soldiers.

A government delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu even visited South Africa at the end of August for a meeting with South African government officials.

A welcome ceremony was even planned for the soldiers at the Mejametalana airbase in Maseru two weeks ago. Dr Majoro and his deputy Mr Mokhothu were among top government officials at the airbase along with senior army officers and the soldiers’ families.

But to the dismay of the soldiers’ families, the officers were a no-show amid revelations that they were still in custody in South Africa.

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