THE family of the slain former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, is concerned that his killers have not been brought to justice five years after his assassination.
A civic organisation, Action for Peace and Solidarity (APS), echoed the Mahao family’s concerns saying it was disturbed by rumours that the government was in talks with the opposition to put the trials of politicians and other high-profile individuals on ice until after the implementation of the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC.
Lt-Gen Mahao was gunned down by his erstwhile Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) colleagues on 25 June 2015 just outside Maseru. The LDF claimed at the time that Lt-Gen Mahao had resisted arrest for allegedly leading a mutiny against former army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli. However, the claim was dismissed as a ruse by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) inquiry into his death.
Lt-Gen Mahao’s family accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
Eight soldiers were initially charged with Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder in March 2018 and Lt-Gen Kamoli was later added to the list of suspects.
The eight soldiers are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane; Captain Haleo Makara; Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi; Sergeant Motsamai Fako; Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli; Corporal Motšoane Machai; Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
But since then, the case has repeatedly been put on hold largely due to the spirited attempts by Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused to stop foreign judges from presiding over their case.
After they lost an application for the removal of foreign judges, Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused launched another appeal this time to the apex court in January 2020 to stop Zimbabwean Judge Charles Hungwe from trying them on the grounds that he had prejudged them even before the trial.
The appeal is yet to be heard in the apex court and such delays have exasperated the Mahao family and the APS.
Ironically, the late army commander’s elder brother, Professor Nqosa Mahao, was last month appointed Law and Justice Minister by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro. Dr Majoro took over from his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader Thomas Thabane on 20 May 2020 after the latter was forced to step down over allegations he killed his ex-wife, Lipolelo.
A Mahao family representative, Lehloenya Mahao, this week told the Lesotho Times that they did not expect any special treatment from the government now that Prof Mahao was a cabinet minister.
He, however, said it was disheartening that five years after Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder there was still no justice and the trial of his alleged killers continued to be delayed.
“We are not expecting any special treatment from the government but we expect this (murder) case to be heard to finality,” Mr Mahao said.
“As a family we feel that the previous (Thabane-led) government did well by engaging foreign judges. We believe that the current government shall ensure that justice is served not because our brother is now the Minister of Law but because we deserve justice like everyone who is aggrieved.
“We know that many people think that Professor Mahao was appointed to that ministry to avenge his brother’s death but that is not the case. He is there to serve every Mosotho,” added Mr Mahao.
In a statement this week, the APS said it was “perplexed and disappointed” by the previous Thabane regime’s failure to ensure the speedy trial of the suspects.
It said it was “concerned that the wheels of justice seem to have inexplicably ground to a halt over time” after Mr Thabane’s government collapsed “still short of delivering justice for Lt-Gen Mahao and other victims of the heinous crimes perpetrated by the security forces under the canopy of the preceding (Pakalitha Mosisili-led) regime.
“We have been left puzzled that to date, the state hasn’t followed through with the ordinary dispensation of justice and compensating his family for the unwarranted loss. We call on the Majoro Government to gather courage and do the right thing by putting its foot down to remove all hurdles to a prompt, swift, transparent, and complete prosecution of the killers of Lt-Gen Mahao and all other cases of the dastardly, murderous state-condoned violence of the security forces and afford a fitting compensation to the families of the victims…
“A speedy, transparent and complete prosecution of the case of the murder of Comrade Mahao…will determine whether and how, we are accepted by the outside world- from SADC to the African Union and the United Nations – it remains a barometer of our relations with the outside world,” the APS said.
The civic organisation said it was also disturbed by rumours that the government was in talks with the opposition to put the trials of politicians and other high-profile people on hold until after the implementation of the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC in 2016.
“We find unsettling the reports that the partners in the new coalition and some opposition parties have already been in talks to consider deferment of high-profile court cases to a time beyond the tenure of the current parliament. This would mean that over the five years since the brutish assassination of Comrade Mahao, and through three consecutive coalition governments including the current one, this matter has been casually traded by power brokers for their own selfish ends.
“Ironically, if this were to be allowed to happen, it would be a direct assault on the very values and principles that were touted by those who broke from their erstwhile comrades to form the successive coalition governments including the current one.
“These are the values of clean government and eradication of corruption, human rights and the rule of law, and respect for the sanctity of human life. We continue to be disappointed by the
lack of transparency of our governments about these matters, including the current one.
“We therefore call upon the government of Lesotho to discharge its obligations accordingly and use its mandate and authority through all lawful and constitutional levers at its disposal to close the chapter of impunity and bury the evil axis of the state, security forces and violence in our politics,” the APS said.
Meanwhile, the Mahao family and the APS will hold a prayer in Mokema on Saturday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder.