Mahao drops Lipolelo murder bombshell

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. . . claims he was fired to stop Thabane’s arrest and prosecution for murder

 Pascalinah Kabi

FORMER Law and Justice Minister Nqosa Mahao has sensationally claimed that he was fired from his ministerial post in April this year in a last ditch bid to shield former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from arrest and prosecution for the June 2017 murder of his estranged wife, Lipolelo.

Professor Mahao claimed that he was dismissed the same day prosecutors had told him that they had already communicated to Mr Thabane’s lawyer that the former premier would be arrested and appear in court the following day on 23 April 2021. He did not identify the lawyer in question.

“When I left that office on Thursday (22 April 2021), the prosecutors had told me that they had already told Ntate Thabane’s lawyer that they were going to arrest him on Friday (23 April 2021) and take him to court over Lipolelo’s murder. That was why somebody was in a hurry to have me out of that office so they can sit on that case,” Prof Mahao said in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week. He did not name the person who was in a hurry to have him fired.

In fact- according to Prof Mahao- the prosecution had obtained solid evidence linking Mr Thabane to the murder of his ex-wife. Apart from the use of the premier’s mobile phone in the commission of the crime, the prosecution had also uncovered prior meetings to plot the murder, Prof Mahao claimed.

This would have led to Mr Thabane’s arrest and subsequent trial alongside his current wife, ‘Maesaiah. However, before that happened, unnamed people quickly orchestrated his dismissal and thereafter pressured the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, not to pursue the case, Prof Mahao claimed.

He said during his time as minister, he had protected DPP Motinyane from powerful individuals. In his absence, the DPP became vulnerable and thus unable to proceed with the case. In fact, the DPP is not independent to prosecute high-profile and other cases, despite the constitutional provisions guaranteeing her such freedom, Prof Mahao claimed.

Former First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane was last February arrested and charged with the murder of Lipolelo. She was also charged with the attempted murder of Thato Sibolla who was travelling in the same vehicle with Lipolelo when she was gunned down in cold blood on the night of 14 June 2017. Ms Sibolla sustained some injuries in the incident which occurred just two days before Dr Thabane’s inauguration for his second stint as premier.

Prior to ‘Maesaiah’s arrest, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli had sensationally alleged that Mr Thabane was a key suspect, adding that his mobile phone had been used in the commission of the crime.

Despite being named as a suspect in the June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo, Mr Thabane has still not been arrested or tried for the crime.

Some police sources have alleged that Mr Thabane has not been arrested on the orders of the government which fears a backlash from his supporters in the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party.

Back in July 2020, some senior ABC officials including former cabinet minister and current Qoaling legislator, Chalane Phori, publicly threatened to topple the Moeketsi Majoro administration if Mr Thabane was arrested and charged alongside ‘Maesaiah.

They threatened to “expose” Dr Majoro’s own “dirty secrets” if the premier, who took over from Mr Thabane on 20 May 2020, did not give in to their demands to have the murder charges against Mr Thabane dropped.

On 6 July 2020, Mr Thabane had addressed a press conference at his Hillsview, Maser, home where he told his supporters he expected to appear in court the next day

The scheduled appearance was however, aborted at the last minute. At the time, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Paseka Mokete told this publication that the police were “tying up loose ends” before taking the former premier to court.   It now appears the police never completed that task.

Police sources subsequently told this publication that the Majoro administration had given in to demands by Mr Thabane loyalists’ and ordered the police not to arrest the former premier.

And in remarks that seemingly lend credence to the claims by those sources, Prof Mahao now alleges that all the groundwork had been prepared for Mr Thabane’s arrest and trial, only for everything to be scuttled by his (Prof Mahao’s) dismissal from cabinet.

The former ABC deputy leader was fired on 22 April 2021. This after he had announced that he was dumping the ABC to form his own Basotho Action Party (BAP). At the time, he said he was jumping ship after discovering that Dr Majoro was plotting with Mr Thabane and ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, to oust him from the party.

In an explosive weekend interview with this publication, the former National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor, made new sensational allegations about the period leading up to his departure from the ABC and his dismissal from cabinet.

“All the evidence (in the Lipolelo murder) has been collected.  It is not just that telephone issue; they had solid evidence of this and that meeting held to plot someone (Lipolelo)’s death and the prosecution has all those details. But they (prosecutors) have been politically suppressed.  How can they therefore promote reconciliation,” Prof Mahao rhetorically asked in reference to current proposals to establish a peace commission to hear all politically motivated crimes, compensate victims and pardon remorseful perpetrators of human rights violations as part of efforts to foster reconciliation in the nation.

Asked if his remarks meant that the DPP’s office was not independent to prosecute cases without undue interference, Prof Mahao said “I know so (that it is not independent)”.

“Do you see how diminutive that child (DPP Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane) is? She was able to act boldly because I was in that office.

“I used to say to her, ‘my child, prosecute the cases and I will protect you’. I knew that she would be called to higher offices and told to abandon certain cases. But because I protected her, she had the courage to prosecute cases.

“So, it became necessary for me to be taken out of that office (of cabinet minister). In my absence, those who called her to the higher offices knew that she would not be able to refuse to implement their orders not to prosecute certain cases.

“It (DPP’s office) is independent in law but in reality, it is not independent. You must understand that when government leaders have spoken and told a young person like her (Motinyane) not to do certain things, she cannot go ahead.

“She has a security officer assigned to her and other security officers to guard her house. But what will happen if they withdraw her security? Do you realise what that would expose her to?

“If they withdraw the security officers assigned to her residence, what courage would someone so tiny and staying alone have to continue with such cases?

“So, the whole system is rotten to the core, it does not strive to ensure that justice is served.

“Basotho are wondering what has happened to some of the high-profile cases involving certain people and you know what- some of the witnesses have been killed. The cases cannot be concluded because the witnesses have been killed. These very cases involve high ranking individuals. One has to ask what kind of a country we have become? How will we raise our children in an environment that is pushing so hard to avoid the rule of law?”

Prof Mahao also accused the government of “bribing” Ms Sibolla, with a diplomatic post to stop her from spilling the beans in the Lipolelo murder.

Ms Sibolla, the slain Lipolelo’s friend, is a key state witness in the murder case.

“There is that person who is the victim who has been bribed with an embassy post for her to stop pursuing those issues. I am referring to Thato Sibolla,” Prof Mahao said.

Back in May 2021, Ms Sibolla was appointed consular at the Lesotho High Commission in Pretoria.

Ms Sibolla had been living in exile in South Africa, under Amnesty International protection, after fleeing the country in 2019 when the police started to question ‘Maesaiah in connection with the Lipolelo murder.

In a February 2021 interview, Ms Sibolla spoke of her fear for her life after ‘Maesaiah had been granted bail. She described the bail as a betrayal by the justice system.

“Everything about the case did not add up,” Ms Sibolla said of Ms Thabane’s bail.

“The confirmation by the police that someone as powerful as the (former) First Lady was the suspect didn’t sit well with me. Worse still is the fact that she was released (on bail).

“I called the investigation team which was also in the dark until the case had gone to court. Nothing added up and nothing was done to allay my fears. I was not even given the courtesy of being properly informed so that I could make my own preparations for my safety since the state had not given me any protection.

“The pain of betrayal by the justice system is that it doesn’t only break your heart, but is also darkens your soul. My life has completely changed and so have my sleeping patterns as I get constant nightmares. I am traumatised and no counsellor can help me pick up the pieces and make me whole again,” Ms Sibolla said at the time.

The failure to charge Mr Thabane despite the much-vaunted claims that his communication devices were used in the plotting of the murder has baffled many. Others now see the case, which attracted widespread international attention, being allowed to die a natural death. During her bail hearing ‘Maesaiah had herself taken umbrage with the decision to charge her when it was her husband’s phone that was allegedly used in the murder.  Any failure to co-charge her husband is seen imperilling the entire state case even if it is pursued.  Still, the whole case has been stagnant since ‘Maesaiah was originally charged almost 18 months ago. Any mishandling of the case is seen irretrievably damaging the reputation of the current DPP in the long term despite her initial efforts to pursue it.  It is a case seen remaining entrenched in the national psyche until it is resolved.

Meanwhile, Lesotho’s perennial political and human rights problems came under the spotlight at the recent SADC summit in Lilongwe, Malawi.

In their communique following the 17 and 18 August 2021 summit, regional leaders urged the government to “expedite the completion of the ongoing reforms, and to continue with peace, transitional justice and reconciliation process to engender national unity, and bring about national healing and cohesion”.

The transitional justice issue has been a thorny one with the ABC and Prof Mahao all opposing the National Peace and Unity Bill which seeks to establish a National Peace and Unity Commission with powers to pardon suspects who testify truthfully and show remorse for their crimes. Prof Mahao and the ABC say the Bill is meant to protect high profile criminals at the expense of justice for the victims.

“The transitional justice commission is just a dishonest mechanism which will never bring peace to this country because Basotho will continue to discuss these things even if they try to hide them,” said Prof Mahao in the weekend interview.

“I was fired a day after I met families of the victims of human rights abuses. There were more than 40 people who came to that meeting and those people can tell you that they know their tormentors.

“Now you want to suppress that information over something (proposed National Peace and Unity Commission) which can never work. No one will voluntarily confess their sins.

“The best way is for suspects to be tried in court and be freed if there is no evidence to convict them. Everyone will be satisfied by that.

“We know the killers but we hide that. I can tell you that my cousin was killed by soldiers in 1986. They had arrested him at his home and took him to the river where gunshots were fired. Those who arrested him came back alone. We know and live among the army officers who arrested him.”

Prof Mahao said politicians were “unwilling to do the right thing and expose all human rights abuses for justice to be served”.

“Another cousin, a sibling to (former South African) President Thabo Mbeki, was abducted and killed. But there is still no justice yet we know very well who killed him. The killers of people like (Famo musician Mosotho) Chakela are known.

“We, especially us politicians, lack the will to ensure that these things are exposed for justice to be served. That is where the Lesotho problem lies. If we don’t deal with these issues, future generations will never heal. There will be a recycling of hatred and acrimony,” Prof Mahao said.

 

 

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