MASERU — The late Makotoko “Mashai” Lerotholi led the April 22 attacks from the front, a soldier who was captured by the mercenaries at Makoanyane Barracks told a commission of inquiry into the attacks this week.
Corporal Lebohang Thejane was one of six soldiers who were captured when a group of about 20 mercenaries stormed the barracks en route to the State House.
He is the first witness to directly link the late Lerotholi to the attacks.
Thejane who was the driver on standby on the night of the attacks at the barracks told the four-member commission led by Justice Johan Steyn that he saw Lerotholi leading the attacks.
It was Lerotholi who was involved in the gun fight that ensued when the mercenaries tried to enter the State House, Thejane said during Tuesday’s hearing at Manthabiseng Convention Centre.
It was Lerotholi, Thejane said, who demanded the keys to the armoury.
The mercenaries, most of whom are now languishing in prison in South Africa awaiting trial, were part of the ill-fated coup attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Four of the mercenaries were shot dead by Lesotho’s joint forces while two were arrested before they could flee the country.
This is the first time that one of the soldiers captured by the mercenaries has publicly implicated the late Lerotholi in the attacks.
Although the police had announced that Lerotholi was a suspect the public was yet to hear it from a witness who was as close to the events as Thejane.
Thejane told the commission that he realised they were under attack when Lerotholi shoved Sergeant Motsoto into their room.
“Sergeant Motsoto was in front and they pushed him inside the room,” Thejane said.
“They then pointed firearms at us and ordered us to raise our hands so that they could search us,” he added.
“They took our cell phones and my side arms and asked us to show them where the Special Forces were.”
Motsoto is the soldier who has since been court-martialled on suspicion that he could have connived with the mercenaries.
He has however declined to appear as a witness before the commission saying his evidence might jeopardise his trial in the military court.
Thejane said, after capturing them, Lerotholi demanded the keys to the armory.
“They tied me together on the hands with Sgt Motsoto and Private Tlelase was tied alone with his hands at the back. When we got out we found that there was what looked like a platoon (a group of about 30 military men) outside.”
Lerotholi, Thejane said, then led them to the Special Forces room where other mercenaries were already stationed.
He said together with other captured soldiers they were hurled into the two vehicles – a Land Rover and an armoured car – which the mercenaries had stolen from the barracks.
Thejane said it was Motsoto who was driving the armoured vehicle as they headed for the State House.
One of Lerotholi’s men was driving the Land Rover, Thejane said.
“On arrival at the State House, Sgt Motsoto hit the gate with the Ram and Lerotholi got out and started firing.”
The shooting continued and Lerotholi got into the Ram and we returned to Makoanyane.
Lerotholi, a former military police officer who had fled the country after the June 2007 attacks, died on October 16 while he was in South Africa awaiting his extradition hearing to bring him back to Lesotho.
There have been doubts that he could have led the April 22 attacks with those close to him saying at the time of the attacks, he was too frail to undertake such a mammoth operation.
Months before his death Lerotholi is reported to have told his lawyer Haae Phofoolo that he was never part of the attacks.
The commission will continue its hearings until Friday.