THE mother of one of the three civilians allegedly murdered by the army in 2017 yesterday narrated to the High Court how her son was abducted by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members in a bus travelling from Maseru to Maputsoe.
‘Malerato Noko of Leribe Ha-Lelahla was called in as the 12th witness in the murder trial of 10 soldiers accused of murdering her son Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane in May 2017.
Former Military Intelligence (MI) boss, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, is accused alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Privates Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.
They allegedly strangled Noko, Pakela and Makibinyane to death at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumped their bodies in the Mohale Dam.
The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after they had just been released from police custody. They had been detained in connection with a shooting incident at the Maseru border gate on 13 May 2017.
Ms Noko told the court while she was being led in evidence by Crown counsel Shaun Abrahams that they were on their way to their Leribe home on that fateful day when soldiers attacked the bus they were travelling in and abducted Lekhoele.
“On 16 May 2017, I was informed by Lekhoele’s sibling that he had been arrested and I came to Maseru to see him. Upon my arrival, I went to one police station whose name I don’t know. But from there, I was taken to Pitso Ground Police station where, after I introduced myself, three boys were presented to me to point which one was my son.
“Police then informed me that they were going to release Lekhoele as he was innocent. The other two who were with him were also released,” Ms Noko told the court.
She said as they stepped out of the station, a man wearing a yellow t-shirt called his son and told him that he should leave her behind as she knew nothing about what was going on.
The man also told them that there were some soldiers behind the police station.
Ms Noko said they left the station and boarded a bus to Maputsoe. Along the way, they noticed three vehicles following the bus.
“As we approached Lekokoaneng in Berea, one of the vehicles sped off and blocked the bus. As people jumped out, we heard gun shots outside.
“The other two cars stopped behind the bus. Their occupants entered the bus and the man with a yellow t-shirt that we had seen earlier at Pitso Ground pointed at me. They called me but I said I would not go to the people I didn’t know. That was when they came to me and started assaulting me with their guns. As this happened, gun shots continued outside. I fell and sustained bad injuries (and) you couldn’t look at me,” she told the court.
She said the men dragged her son who was hiding under the seat and assaulted him until he fainted. After realising that he had fainted, they took him out of the bus into one of the vehicles.
“I also noticed the two men who were with Lekhoele earlier at the station as they tried to hide under one of the vehicles outside. They were also assaulted.”
Ms Noko said that was the last she saw her son alive.
“The next time I saw him was after I got a phone call from the police that I should come to one government hospital in Maseru to identify his body, which I did,” she told the court yesterday.
Messrs Noko, Pakela and Makibinyane had been arrested with the shooting of a soldier, one Private Seliane, and Moeketsi Makhabane, a street vendor, at the Maseru border post. Another soldier, one Private Nkonyama sustained injuries and was rushed to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital. He survived.
The three had been arrested together with Motlatsi Rantaoane (alias Teboho Mathota), Molise Motaung and Tello Thoi in connection with the shooting incident.