Mahao’s wife in shock claim against Metsing, Rakuoane

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Former Lt General Maaparankoe Mahao's wife 'Mamphanya Mahao testifying after SADC Commisssion of Inquiry on Tuesday
Former Lt General Maaparankoe Mahao’s wife ‘Mamphanya Mahao testifying after SADC Commisssion of Inquiry on Tuesday

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

The wife of slain former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao shocked the nation this week by claiming Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane urged her husband to accept government’s decision reversing his appointment as head of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to save himself from Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.

’Mamphanya Mahao (42) was testifying before the SADC Commission of Inquiry currently underway in Maseru, and said Advocate Rakuoane was once a family friend hence his approach with such a message.

The commission, which began its probe at the end of last month, is investigating circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Lieutenant-General Mahao by his military colleagues on 25 June this year, and other security-related challenges facing Lesotho.

Ms Mahao told the commission Advocate Rakuoane “used to be a close family friend, hence government used him to approach my husband”.

According to Ms Mahao, the minister told her husband he would “negotiate” for his life to be “spared” from Mr Metsing.

Asked who she meant by “Metsing” by Advocate Tumisang Mosotho, a legal representative of some parties to be interviewed by the commission, Ms Mahao said “the deputy prime minister”.

As Advocate Mosostho proceeded to question Ms Mahao about the Metsing allegation, commission chairperson, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, was quick to make the lawyer aware the deputy premier had already testified and was not present to defend himself.

“But then I am not stopping you from proceeding with your questions; I am just making you aware that if need be, the deputy prime minister will have to come back before the commission over this issue,” said Justice Phumaphi.

After this interjection, Advocate Mosotho abandoned the cross-examination, but Ms Mahao continued to explain how she had been told of Advocate Rakuoane’s “offer” by her husband, adding he was not prepared to accept the offer and determined to challenge his removal from office by Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. He had been promoted from Brigadier to Lt-Gen and immediately appointed LDF Commander in August 2014 by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane before his removal from the post by Dr Mosisili in May this year.

Contrary to LDF evidence before the commission that General Mahao was shot while resisting arrest, Ms Mahao told the commission the army’s plot to assassinate her husband began on 14 January 2014.

Ms Mahao said on the day in question, her husband told her he had been directed by his superiors to attend to a water-related problem in Leribe and was on his way to the district.

“But when he got there, there was no problem related to water at all. Instead, he received intelligence that he was sent to Leribe so that he could be assassinated. I am not sure whether the intention was to assassinate him on his way to or from Leribe,” Ms Mahao said.

Because he was busy consulting the local chief, Ms Mahao said her husband realised he had missed “many cellphone calls” from a certain person he knew.

“Because he was busy, he could not return those calls until he returned home. That same person called him again the first thing the following morning and when my husband answered, that person said he was relieved to hear that my husband was alive,” Ms Mahao narrated before the commission.

A day after being sent to Leribe, Ms Mahao said Lt-Gen Mahao was issued with a letter of suspension as he reported for duty.

According to evidence before the commission, the suspension related to his confrontation with Captain Tefo Hashatsi, who was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel last month, about the meeting he had held with his subordinates.

Lt-Col Hashatsi has since testified before the commission, insisting based on the LDF chain of command, the then Brigadier had no right to approach him the way he did.

Evidence before the commission is that Captain Hashatsi ordered his subordinates to be loyal to the commander following allegations on social media that Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli was soon going to be issued with a dismissal letter by Dr Thabane. This, according to the evidence, prompted Brigadier Mahao to confront Captain Hashatsi and advise him that it would be proper for him to be loyal to the state and not an individual.

Ms Mahao told the commission a few days after his suspension, her husband was summoned to appear before a court-martial for his confrontation with Captain Hashatsi.

“That’s when he wrote a letter to the Ministry of Defence requesting the Defence Council to investigate whether it was him who should appear before the court-martial or Hashatsi,” she said.

But the request, Ms Mahao said, was never responded to.

During Lt-Gen Mahao’s court-martial proceedings, Ms Mahao said Captain Hashatsi was furious about the way her husband had treated him.

“Apart from declaring that the commander would only be removed over his dead body, Hashatsi also said in the court-martial that people who were as highly trained as him were not supposed to be addressed the way my husband did with him,” she said.

Ms Mahao then moved to events of 29 August 2014 when their home came under heavy gunfire “from members of the LDF”.

“It was almost 4am when I heard gunshots. I woke up to find that my husband was not in bed with me. The shots were being fired at our house. I remember carrying our five-year-old son and crawling with him under a safer place,” she told the commission.

“I later checked on our other two sons (12 and 16 years old) who had also taken cover. We managed to secure ourselves because of a drill my husband had always advised us to follow in case of an attack.”

Ms Mahao told the hushed auditorium of the State Library where the commission’s hearings are being held that her youngest son then asked where their father was as they huddled under cover.

“When our youngest son asked where their father was with the shooting going on, I responded that through the prayer I was reciting at that moment, their father, wherever he was, would come back alive once the firing stopped,” she said. Ms Mahao said she learnt later that her husband had sought refuge in the toilet.

Asked how she knew that their attackers were LDF members, Ms Mahao said apart from the intelligence the family had received, her husband identified some of his colleagues during the attack.

She told the commission how the family property, including vehicles, the garage-door and house-roofing, were damaged during the attack.

Following the attack, Lt-Gen Mahao fled to South Africa, but returned a week later under South African security.

“But still the threats on his life continued,” she said.

On events leading to her husband’s fatal shooting on 25 June 2015, Ms Mahao said: “At around 9pm the previous evening, my husband’s two mobile phones strangely lost internet at the same time.

“Earlier in the day, we had yet again received information about advanced plans to assassinate my husband.

“And when his two cellphones, which used different networks, lost internet-connection all at once, I checked mine and both were still connected. We suspected there was a possibility that our house could have been surrounded by the attackers again,” she said.

The next morning, 25 June, Ms Mahao said she left home early for a trip to Mafeteng.

“That was the last time I saw my husband alive. He was in a bath when I left, so I was not even aware what he wore that day. But the last time we talked was somewhere during the day as he called to ask if things were going fine where I was in Mafeteng,” she said.

According to Ms Mahao, she leant about her husband’s shooting when she arrived at “our brother’s home” around 5pm.

She said the family had convened late that day and started enquiring what had happened.

“Later, the police came to our place to formally inform us about the death of my husband. Apart from the police, we only heard Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi making a statement on national media about the fatal shooting of my husband.”

Advocate Koili Ntebele, who is representing some of the 22 soldiers detained by the military for the alleged mutiny plot, asked Ms Mahao if Mr Mokhosi, Advocate Rakuoane, Dr Mosisili or any other  government official had visited the family to pass their condolences, and Ms Mahao responded: “Not to my knowledge.”

Mrs Mahao also told the commission since her husband’s death, she had not received any benefits from his employer, the LDF.

She added: “What I also find strange is that the LDF has refused to release my husband’s property, which includes his two cellphones, spectacles and pistol.

“The sad thing though, is that one day after my husband’s death, one of my sons received a call made from his father’s cellphone. He came rushing to show me the call. I saw it and decided not to answer until it was a missed call. I then called our brother to inform him about it. He advised me to keep a record of that missed call, but as I checked for that missed call in the phone-record, it could not show.”

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times contacted Advocate Rakuoane regarding Ms Mahao’s claims but the minister declined to comment.

“I will not comment on anything that concerns the commission until I am also afforded a chance to appear before it. Like the courts of law, I will not discuss evidence before the commission. Wait until I am also summoned before the same commission to hear my story.”

Repeated efforts to reach Mr Metsing on his mobile phone were unsuccessful.

 

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