NEWLY appointed Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Commissioner Thabang Azael Mothepu is a young man on a huge mission.
He wants to see a reformed LCS which will refrain from partisan politics.
More importantly he plans to oversee the transformation of the LCS into a world class institution in terms of service delivery.
These are big plans for one so young. Born in Nazareth Ha Pholoana, in Maseru’s Machache constituency on 17 October 1982, at 36, Commissioner Mothepu is the youngest ever LCS boss.
He was Acting Commissioner from June 2017 until he was appointed as the substantive boss on 31 May 2018.
Commissioner Mothepu told the Lesotho Times in a recent wide-ranging interview that he is not only committed to the protection and safety of offenders but to the LCS staff’s wellbeing.
He said LCS facilities were dilapidated and impeded the efficiency of correctional service officers.
Growing up, Commissioner Mothepu says he always wanted to be a teacher and never dreamt of becoming a correctional officer, let alone heading the entire institution.
He however, said the LCS can be a model in Africa and the world.
Commissioner Mothepu said focusing on service delivery, protection and wellbeing of detained offenders, wellbeing and capacitation of correctional officers will remain are his main concerns.
Conceding that it has been a tough at the helm since last year, he said the exposure enabled him and fellow colleagues to ensure sound management. He said they used proven fiscal practices and outcome-oriented strategies.
“The appointment came at a convenient time when I am still young and active,” Commissioner Mothepu said.
“My vision for this institution to grow is to employ, train, equip, support and mentor high quality staff and hold them to the highest professional standards. I want to see an LCS environment where collaborations with other security institutions are just done for operations to be successful not because LCS officers lack capability.”
Even though he refused to disclose the number of inmates in all the prisons in the country, Mr Mothepu confirmed that prison cells in the country are overcrowded.
“Disclosure of the number of prisoners in the country will compromise LCS ethics and professionalism but I cannot shy away from the fact that there is high prevalence of crime and offenders in LCS custody,” he said.
Commissioner Mothepu said LCS officers are lucky to have the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) in the country. He said SAPMIL’s on-going trainings would help the LCS to conduct all its duties with the highest degree of integrity, excellence and respect for the value and dignity of human life.
Asked about his institution’s reported incompetence in dealing with high profile offenders, Commissioner Mothepu said the issue tops the list of his list of plans. Already, he said, the LCS escort team has undergone training by SAPMIL.
“I will not deny the fact that we were behind other correctional services in the region by not having a properly trained escort team dealing specifically with the high-profile offenders.
“However, with the help of SAPMIL, the first phase of the LCS escort team and the intelligence team have been trained,” he said.
Commissioner Mothepu said he managed to secure six new vehicles from the government, renovation and extension of prisons during his tenure as acting commissioner.
He said the LCS would have ‘Corrections Police’ not later than the end of the year.
“LCS need a department like military police where Correctional Police will deal with correctional policing and civilian policing.”
Mr Mothepu said he dreams of an LCS that has integrity of doing the right things for the right reasons.
“I want an LCS of correctional officers who love working together to get the job done. I want officers who inspire one another to accomplish goals and those who maintain the highest standards in their professional lives and private lives.”
He said plans were also underway to draft a proposal to the Ministry of Finance for special funding so that offenders can start designing and sewing their uniform and that of LCS officers.
He also indicated that in their draft proposal, they asked the government to subsidise LCS in agricultural projects for at least three years so that they can plough and cut costs.
Commissioner Mothepu refuted allegations that he was an active member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) active member.
“I am not an LCD member but you must be aware that I have been accused of participating in politics from way back. Initially, I was said to be member of the Democratic Congress. Later I was said to be part of the All Basotho Convention then the Alliance of Democrats and now LCD.
“I am a citizen of this country and a voter, but no one has seen me participating in any political activities. I am not interested politics but service delivery,” he said.
He refused to reveal details on how far LCS’s investigations have gone to find Facebook fantom character Lira Litjame who has been accused of spreading lies about LCS administration on social media.
“I reported the matter to the national intelligence and the police. I will not comment on the progress made to avoid jeopardising the on-going investigations,” Mr Mothepu said.
Commissioner Mothepu is the third of five boys born to Phoka and ‘Mabafokeng Mothepu. He did his primary education at Nazareth Primary School. He proceeded to Morapeli High School where he obtained his Cambridge Overseas School Certificate with a first-class pass.
He graduated with a distinction from the National University of Lesotho in 2006 where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and Political Science.
In 2007 he worked for the Independent Electoral Commission but later trained as a cadet officer for Lesotho Correctional Services.
Raised by his maternal grandmother who always encouraged him to be helpful to others, he always thought being a teacher or a Roman Catholic priest would help fulfil his grandmother’s teachings. He however, by chance landed at the LCS.
“I am a guitarist, a piano and drum player and as part of rehabilitation, I always dreamt of changing the lives of inmates through music,” Commissioner Mothepu said.
“I never thought of myself as a leader of such a huge security institution. When I came here, I gave up my job as a voter educator at the Independent Electoral Commission, declined an offer by Ministry of Natural Resources then and came to rehabilitate and change the lives of offenders to the better.”
From his appointment as a cadet officer in 2007, Commissioner Mothepu was promoted to Assistant Superintendent in 2009. In 2013, he was appointed Head of High Profile Security at Maseru Central Prison. In 2015, he was appointed as acting Assistant Commissioner until he was confirmed substantive Assistant Commissioner in 2017. In 2017 June, he was appointed Acting Commissioner until he was confirmed as the substantive Commissioner on 31 May 2018.
He also holds an Honours Degree in Public Management and Administration in 2008 and a Masters’ Degree in 2012 in the same field from UNISA. He scored another first by becoming the first LCS officer to acquire a Masters’ Degree.
He is now reading for his PHD with the Durban University of Technology since 2016 where he is majoring in Public Management and Administration majoring in corruption, professionalism and ethics in local government.
In 2015, he went through the preliminary procedure preparing for PHD with Durban University of Technology and was admitted in 2016. He is currently busy with his PHD in Public Management and Administration majoring in corruption, professionalism and ethics in local government.