THE date for the commencement of the much-postponed trial of five soldiers accused of attempted murder in connection with the near-fatal shooting of the Lesotho Times Editor Lloyd Mutungamiri in 2016 will only be set on 6 August this year.
This follows the Tuesday appointment of Senior Resident Magistrate Peter Murenzi as the new magistrate to preside over the case.
Mr Murenzi is the fourth magistrate to be appointed to the case after two other magistrates were forced to recuse themselves.
Mr Murenzi will only set the trial dates on 6 August in the case which has dragged on for several months after the five suspects were first brought before Resident Magistrate Polo Banyane on 15 March this year.
The attempted murder case was allocated to Senior Resident Magistrate Peter Murenzi on Tuesday after it went through three magistrates before him, who have since recused themselves from the case.
The five accused soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Colonel Khutlang Mochesane (57), Mahanyane Phusumane (37), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35).
They allegedly shot Mr Mutungamiri at his home in Upper Thamae in Maseru during the late hours of 9 July 2016 after he had knocked off from work. He sustained severe facial, dental and hand injuries, causing him to undergo extensive surgery in South Africa.
The case was initially allocated to Resident Magistrate Banyane but it was re-allocated to Senior Resident Magistrate Phethise Motanyane after the acting Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Hlalefang Motinyane directed that the case should be presided over by a senior resident magistrate.
It had been anticipated that the long awaited trial would finally kick off on 15 March this year but this did not happen after one of the accused, Colonel Mochesane applied for Senior Resident Motanyane to recuse himself from the case.
Col Mochesane argued that Mr Motanyane could not be relied on to be impartial because he (Col Mochesane) investigated a case in which Mr Motanyane clashed with another magistrate who had accused him of playing political songs that “irritated her”.
Col Mochesane said he learnt of the allegations against Mr Motanyane when he (Col Mochesane) was still attached to the Military Intelligence (MI) department of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
Mr Motanyane recused himself from the case on 22 June this year and thereafter the case was allocated to Resident Magistrate Monyake Hlabanyane.
But in the new turn of events on Monday, Mr Hlabanyane told the five army officers that he could not preside over their case.
Mr Hlabanyane said he also had to recuse himself from the case because the case should be presided over by a senior resident magistrate – a magistrate of a superior rank to him.
He then postponed the case to 6 August 2018 for the allocation to be done and the five soldiers were then taken back to remand prison.
But on Tuesday the case was allocated to Mr Murenzi and he is expected to set the new trial date on 6 August 2018.