Mahaos accuse govt of ‘torture’



Keiso Mohloboli

THE family of slain former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, says the government is adding more pain to their late relative’s wife and children by withholding his belongings and terminal benefits, almost one year after his fatal shooting by fellow Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members.

Among the possessions were two cell-phones, a pistol, and spectacles Lieutenant-General Mahao was wearing when he died in a hail of bullets on the afternoon of 25 June 2015 just outside Maseru —allegedly while resisting arrest after being fingered as the ringleader of a group of LDF members plotting to topple the army command.

However, a SADC Commission of Inquiry established to probe the former LDF commander’s death cast serious doubts over the mutiny claims.

According to his brother, Lehloenya Mahao, the family was also concerned that despite being “a major stakeholder”, the government was not responding to the family’s request for information regarding the late former army commander’s personal belongings, terminal benefits and killing.

“The family will just have to wait for SADC’s intervention because the government is completely not engaging us in anything. Despite the family’s efforts to seek the government’s explanation regarding investigations into his killing, the authorities have decided to take sides and ignore our existence,” Mr Mahao said this week.

“About two months ago, the family wrote a letter to Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa asking him for an update about how far police investigations into his murder had gone.

“But instead of getting Letsoepa’s response directly, since we had written to him, we heard his answer on one of the local radio stations saying he had just taken over as police boss and did not know anything regarding such investigations, which was very disappointing.”

Mr Mahao also said the government “was very clear from the beginning that it had taken the army’s side”.

“That stance makes us believe that the government and LDF are partners who push certain, common interests. I don’t really know if the government is failing to engage the family because it doesn’t have the capacity to handle issues around Maaparankoe’s death or it may have a certain interest to protect the soldiers who killed him,” Mr Mahao said.

Asked if the family was considering legal action against the government over the issue, Mr Mahao said doing so would be a waste of time.

“The judicial system in this country is currently polarised by top government officials and gives judgements according to these officials’ wishes. We have seen judges withdrawing from certain cases to avoid victimisation by the authorities should they make a ruling that angers the government. That’s why we decided to let foreign organisations intervene and help us,” he said.

Mr Mahao described the government’s failure to return Lt-Gen Mahao’s personal belongings and terminal benefits as ample evidence that it was “out to torment Maaparankoe’s wife and three children”.

“If the government really wanted to deal with this matter transparently and seriously, it could have at least given Maaparankoe’s wife his terminal benefits, according to the rank that suits the government, as well as his cellular phones and spectacles. Denying the wife and young children what Maaparankoe worked for shows serious lack of care; it shows the government is out to torment Maaparankoe’s wife and three children,” he said.

Asked if the family was going to be part of the Father’s Day “fun walk” organised for 19 June by the children of 23 LDF members who have been charged over the alleged mutiny and whose trial is before an army court-martial, Mr Mahao said there was no way they could snub such an event.

Sixteen of the soldiers are in Maseru Maximum Security Prison while the rest have been placed under open arrest and are attending the court martial from home. The soldiers were arrested between May and June 2015.

The soldiers’ children and wives have decided to commemorate Father’s Day together, which is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. The families of LDF members who have fled the country and sought refuge in South Africa say they would also attend the ‘fun walk’. Some members of civic organisations and opposition political parties have also said they would attend the commemoration in solidarity.

“The Mahao family is at the forefront of supporting the initiative and Maaparankoe’s children will also attend the walk,” Mr Mahao said.

“The family felt it must support either the wives and children of the detainees because it was because of Maaparankoe’s name that they were arrested and tortured.”

Repeated efforts to get comments from Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi and Police Commissioner Letsoepa were fruitless yesterday.

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