Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) Acting Commissioner, ‘Matefo Makhalemele, says there is nothing unusual about members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) patrolling any of the country’s prisons.
Ms Makhalemele was reacting to complaints by some LCS staff who told the Lesotho Times that LDF members had taken over Maseru Central and Maximum prisons on Tuesday morning. The soldiers had allegedly chased away warders on duty and beefed up their numbers yesterday, the LCS staffers added.
“We were on duty early Tuesday morning when the Deputy-Officer-in-Charge of Leribe Prison, Superintendent Teboho Masenkane approached the Officer-in-Charge of Maseru Central Prison, Senior Superintendent Manaka (first name not given) and informed him that he had been transferred to replace him.
“But Superintendent Manaka demanded written proof of the transfer.
“Superintendent Makhalemele went away for some time and then came back with a transfer letter signed by LCS Acting Commissioner, ‘Matefo Makhalemele.
“Then at around 9am, Superintendent Masenkane demanded all prison gate keys from the gatekeeper. After that, soldiers drove into Maseru Central Prison and we, the LCS guards, were told to leave the premises and handover whatever duties we had been doing to the soldiers. We were never given an explanation of what was going on,” said the warders, who spoke to the Lesotho Times as a group, yesterday morning.
“Those of us who were supposed to resume duty at 2pm and 7pm on Tuesday were not allowed onto the prison premises by soldiers who were manning the main gate. We were simply told that our duties had been taken over by the LDF, and we could see the soldiers patrolling the complex.”
According to the warders, as of yesterday, no correctional officer was being allowed into the two complexes, save for Superintendent Masenkane.
Contacted for comment, LCS spokesperson, Assistant Superintendent Neo Mopeli, denied the guards’ claims that soldiers had taken over the two prisons.
“First of all, according to LCS regulations, there is no way that a Superintendant can give orders to a Senior Superintendent, the way your sources are claiming happened,” Ass Sup Mopeli said.
“On the presence of LDF members at correctional service facilities, LCS authorities can decide, at any given time, to seek assistance from the army or the police, if necessary.
“There is nothing unusual about this, and like I said, the LCS is allowed to ask for assistance from the army if need be and that is what is currently happening at Maseru Central Prison,” he said.
On her part, LCS Acting Commissioner, Makhalemele reiterated that it was not true that the LDF had taken over the two prisons.
“LDF members assist LCS officers with security matters on a daily basis, so it should not come as a surprise that soldiers are at Maseru Central Prison because they are always there.
“I really don’t know how the issue attracted public interest because we work with soldiers every day, like I mentioned earlier on.
“I am not aware that there are some LCS officers who have been prevented from doing their work, as you are saying, because of the presence of the soldiers. I am at Maseru Central Prison as we speak, and I am with other senior LCS officers working hand-in-hand with the army. I can’t go deep into security issues that have made us seek assistance from the LDF, but I can assure you that operations at this prison are continuing as usual,” Acting Commissioner Makhalemele said.
Repeated efforts to get a comment from the LDF were unsuccessful.