…says army “will not meekly turn the other cheek when provoked”
LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) Deputy Commander, Major General (Maj-Gen) Matela Matobakele, has slammed Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli for his failure to engage the army command after a soldier was allegedly brutally murdered by a police officer late last month.
The tough-talking army chief said he had noted with concern how soldiers continued to be vilified and were on the receiving end of crime as they went about their duties. He warned that the army’s patience had come to an end. They would not “meekly turn the other cheek to allow the enemy to continue slapping them,” he said.
He made the remarks over the weekend while addressing mourners at the funeral of one Private Teboho Mochele at Khutsong Cemetery, Ratjomose Barracks.
Pvt Mochele was allegedly gunned down in cold blood at Ha Thetsane, Maseru on 28 June 2022, by a member of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, Siang Tšoeunyane (41) and his friend, Lefa Matsoko (32).
The two allegedly pumped 14 bullets into Pvt Mochele’s body and also bashed him with a spanner. It is said his only crime was attempting to protect a woman that Tšoeunyane and Matsoko had allegedly attempted to rape.
The two appeared in the High Court on murder charges and were released on M1000 bail each on 4 July. They are said to be freely roaming the streets- a development that has not gone well with Maj-Gen Matobakele and the army command.
Speaking at Pvt Mochele’s funeral, Maj-Gen Matobakele said they were unhappy with the police command’s silence on the murder of their officer.
“I stand here on behalf of the LDF Command, our hearts are bleeding due to the murder of one of our own,” Maj-Gen Matobakele said.
“A soldier’s responsibility is to shed blood and sacrifice his/her own life protecting people. We are particularly proud of Pvt Mochele because he died in the line of duty. He died for a worthy cause and he is worth of honour. He will forever be a soldier.
“We wonder how long we shall cry like this because of such murders (of soldiers). One would have thought that human rights organisations would have said something about these killings but surprisingly they are quiet. Does it mean that there are some whose rights are superior to others? Are others supposed to be killed by criminals just because they are soldiers?”
Maj-Gen Matobakele said he was unhappy that soldiers continued to be vilified while executing their mandate. He said last year some soldiers were arrested in connection with the death of a Mohale’s Hoek man they had intercepted while he was allegedly attempting to smuggle wool and mohair into South Africa.
“However, some criminals are still walking freely on the streets despite having shot and killed an army officer who was protecting a citizen. In my village when my neighbours’ cattle have caused damage on my property, we sit down and amicably resolve the matter together.
“But, surprisingly one of my soldiers has been killed and no one has said anything to me. You’d think that his (the killer police officer)’s boss (Molibeli) would have come to us by now to convey his condolences. But to date that hasn’t happened. Now we have questions as to whether he (killer police officer) did that on his own or he was sent (to murder Pvt Mochele). If he hadn’t been sent his boss, the latter would have come to work with us on this issue.”
Maj-Gen Matobakele warned that soldiers would not allow themselves to be turned into punching bags. He however, did not say what action they would take to protect themselves.
“Am I expected to be a Christian about it and say everything is okay? No, it can’t work like that. If we are pushed in a corner, it will be very difficult for us to remain in that corner.
“We shall not go by the bible verse that says that when your enemy slaps you on your left cheek you should give them your right one too. We can’t do that lest they (criminals) finish us off. Something has to be done and this should be the last time that something like this happens. Next time if a criminal kills an army officer, that criminal should just run very far where he won’t be found. Better still, the criminal should just shoot himself as well.”
The fire-spiting Maj-Gen Matobakele said Pvt Mochele’s was a premeditated murder hence the 14 shots at him.
“There are cases when someone may shoot another with one bullet by mistake or in self-defence. But 14 bullets are just too many; this was a planned murder. We are not the judiciary but this was surely a premeditated murder and it’s totally unacceptable.”
Last week, Maj-Gen Matobakele gave an interview to the South African media wherein he bemoaned the escalation of murders, rape and other violent crimes particularly against the elderly, women and girls by criminals.
He said the army would stop at nothing to ensure that dangerous criminals who fled to South Africa after committing heinous crimes, are brought back to face justice in Lesotho.
He said the LDF and the LMPS had last week engaged South African authorities as part of renewed efforts to be allowed to flush out Basotho criminals hiding in various parts of the neighbouring country.
He said the army had previously visited Benoni, Randfontein and other parts of South Africa seeking to snuff out Basotho criminals. However, their efforts had failed due to complicated legal procedures barring them from conducting such operations in the neighbouring country.
However, the escalation of violent crimes by Basotho nationals in both countries in recent weeks, had led to renewed efforts to weed out criminals, he added.
He reiterated his stance against criminals at the weekend funeral of Pvt Mochele.
“These criminals are out of order and they should stop what they are doing forthwith. As the army, we don’t have holding cells to keep people we would have arrested. We don’t know what we’ll do to such people but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. And when that happens, we know for sure that is when human rights organisations’ voices will be heard (against the army). For now they are quiet, perhaps because the one killed (Mochele) was not important.
“My advice to thieves is that they should stop their activities immediately. We asked them to stop killing people in 2017 and they ran away to South Africa. Now they are trapped in the illegal mines and we are expected to feel sorry for them. As I said before, we don’t have holding cells in our barracks for criminals but we will corner the criminals wherever we find them,” Maj-Gen Matobakele said.
Meanwhile, police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said they would not comment on Maj-Gen Matobakele’s utterances at the weekend funeral because they had not heard them for themselves.
This is not the first time that the top soldier has attacked the police over their failure to deal with crime.
Addressing an army parade at Makoanyane Barracks in October last year, Major-Gen Matobakele said the army had been forced to take on policing duties due to the incompetence of the LMPS.
“Our commander has given us instructions to perform duties everywhere because we honestly don’t have a police force. I say this with my head held high, we don’t have it (police force). If we had it, you (soldiers) would not be involving yourselves with the public in this country. A few days ago, the commander instructed me to go to the police on a certain assignment. I shared my views with them (police) that we don’t have the police in this country,” Maj-Gen Matobakele said at the time.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro subsequently said he was unhappy with Maj-Gen Matobakele’s comments.
Dr Majoro said Major Gen Matobakele was out of line and he had undermined the police force with his comments. Therefore, he should retract his statements and apologise to Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, the premier said.
It is not clear whether Maj-Gen Matobakele apologised to Commissioner Molibeli as directed by the prime minister.
However, the prime minister has since accepted that the police is indeed incompetent. Two months ago on, 1 June 2022, Dr Majoro wrote to Commissioner Molibeli demanding that he “show cause” why he should not be fired over a plethora of charges including his failure to act decisively against rampant crimes which have caused so many deaths, financial ruin and brought untold suffering to the public.
Contacted for comment on Maj-Gen Matobakele’s claims that the human rights organisations were selective in their criticism of violations and never spoke out when soldiers’ rights were concerned, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (LCN) Executive Director, Seabata Motsamai, said they acknowledged everyone’s rights to life, soldiers included.
He also praised the role of the army in fighting crime and urged the police to up their game.
“The only thing that I can say to the LDF command is that they have an obligation to protect the country and its citizens. They should do all in their power to fight crime; intelligence gathering should be strengthened while the police should beef up its response. We should see coherence among all these security agencies.
“No one and no institution is above the law. No one has a right to kill. They army command are advised that criminals should not be cornered and killed, they should be taken to the courts of law.
“We laud the presence of the army and everything they are doing to ensure public safety. We’re very grateful to them but we don’t agree with the LDF when they talk about killing a ‘dog’ (criminal) wherever they find it. The LDF is not a law unto itself. They should deploy officers like they already are doing but we shall speak out where we see that there are human rights infringements,” Mr Motsamai said.