BUSINESS TYCOON Tšeliso Nthane’s much-delayed trial finally kicked off yesterday in the High Court with the latter pleading not guilty to charges of murdering his truck driver, Kopang Mohapi, on 10 January 2019.
One of Mr Nthane’s employees, Motiki Mokase, took to the stand as the first witness and narrated the events leading up to the former allegedly gunning down the then 51-year-old Mr Mohapi.
Mr Mokase, who is employed as a truck driver, said prior to the incident, Messrs Nthane and Mohapi had been involved in a heated argument. However, he did not say who actually fired the gun that killed Mr Mohapi as he moved away from them and only returned a short while after the latter had already been shot at.
Mr Mohapi had been involved in a road accident at the Moteng Pass about 171 kilometres from Maseru while transporting construction machinery to Polihali in Mokhotlong for the Nthane Brothers company, which had just been awarded a M235 million road construction tender for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
After the shooting, Mr Nthane handed himself over to the Butha-Buthe police station where a murder charge was preferred against him. Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, who was then an ordinary High Court judge, presided over Mr Nthane’s bail application in January 2019 and released him on M5000 bail. His bail conditions were that he reports to the Butha-Buthe police on set dates, he refrains from interfering with Crown witnesses and stands trial to finality.
Since that time, the trial had inexplicably failed to take off until yesterday.
Mr Nthane whose business empire spans the construction, property development and other sectors, was in the dock, smartly clad in black jacket and khaki trousers. He cut an expressionless figure as he followed proceedings under the guidance of his lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele KC.
Adv Motene Rafoneke is the prosecutor and the case is before acting judge, Palesa Rantara, who was appointed in February this year.
When he took to the stand as the first witness, Mr Mokase described the business tycoon as an individual who was always furious but on the fateful day “he was not that furious”.
“He (Nthane) is usually a very furious man but, on that day, he was not as furious as I know him to be,” Mr Mokase said, adding, “but there was a long argument between him and the deceased”.
Mr Mokase said he had been with the slain Mr Mohapi who was driving the company truck on the night before the fateful shooting. The truck got stuck at the Moteng Pass and he (Mokase) called for assistance from their immediate supervisor, Pinare Nthane. He said Pinare said he would send them help.
He said it was raining heavily and a Letšeng Diamond Mine truck arrived on the scene to help tow their truck. This had unfortunately led to the accident.
“Our truck, which was carrying machinery, got stuck in Moteng and I called our manager (Pinare) who said he would send help. Later on, there arrived a huge truck from Letšeng to tow our truck.
“There was heavy rainfall as they were towing us. I was asked to drive another car on the other lane in order to block oncoming drivers so that they do not obstruct us as we were going up the (steep) road.
“But I noticed that they (Mohapi and the truck that was towing him) were no longer coming up the road and I stepped out to check what was going on. I found that our truck which was being towed had cascaded into a furrow on the side of the road. I again called Pinare to alert him about this but I could not reach him on his phone. Later on, Ntate Nthane called to ask where we were and I explained what had happened. But he said he could not understand what I was saying. I tried to explain again and he hung up his phone. After a while, he called again and said Pinare would come to us. We couldn’t leave the scene that night because the road was still blocked,” Mr Mokase said.
He said Mr Nthane arrived the following morning and asked him and the now deceased Mr Mohapi what had transpired. He said Mr Mohapi tried to explain and that was when an argument ensued between the two of them.
“The following morning Ntate Nthane arrived and he inquired what had happened from both of us. We then proceeded to the accident scene and the deceased tried to explain to him that the truck which was towing him caused an accident as it pulled the truck up the road. They argued over how the truck lost control.
“I left them and moved away a distance of about 15 to 20 metres from where they were standing. A few minutes later, I heard a sound and I tried to run but I felt down into a furrow as I attempted to take cover by the truck cabin. There was a silence thereafter and after sometime I heard someone calling me.
“The person shouted for the second time and I approached the side where the voice was coming from whereupon I found the accused holding the deceased together with one Moeketsi (another driver at Nthane Brothers). They asked me to help them put him (Mohapi) in a car and I did that. Some people had gathered there and they shouted that there was a bullet shell at my feet. I took it and tried to give it to Moeketsi but the vehicle they were in had already sped off. So, I tried to throw it to Moeketsi who had stretched out his hand. I don’t know if he managed to catch it but it was no longer on the floor,” Mr Mokase said.
The trial continues today.