Phumaphi ‘has not fled Lesotho’

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Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi, Chairman of SADC Juidicial Commission of Inquiry to Lesotho
Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi, Chairman of SADC Juidicial Commission of Inquiry to Lesotho

…as Kamoli faces SADC commission

Bongiwe Zihlangu

The head of SADC’s team probing Lesotho’s instability, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, has not fled the country for fear of assassination as alleged on social media this week.

This is according to the team’s media liaison officer, Phumlani Dlamini, who told the Lesotho Times that the Botswana judge had simply left Lesotho to be with his family.

Early this week, social networks were ablaze with ‘news’ that Justice Phumaphi had fled to his native Botswana after receiving death threats, allegedly from military elements and some politicians.

“We have not received any threats; there is nothing like that. However, it’s true that Justice Phumaphi has travelled out of the country,” Mr Dlamini said on Tuesday.

“I cannot say where he has travelled to, whether it’s Johannesburg or Botswana. But, wherever he has gone to, it is solely to spend time with his family; he has not fled Lesotho. He has missed his family after being in Lesotho for a while now.”

Although Mr Dlamini could not reveal when Justice Phumaphi was expected back in the country, he however, said the SADC Commission of Inquiry that he is leading, would resume its sitting tomorrow after a weeklong break.

“While he’s out of the country, the other commissioners who are more knowledgeable about security issues, are assessing evidence given by previous witnesses in preparation for further interviews,” Mr Dlamini said.

“Justice Phumaphi’s main role is to balance the legal aspects of the interviews, while the other commissioners focus on the security aspects.”

Justice Phumaphi is the chairperson of the 10-member Commission of Inquiry endorsed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to investigate the murder of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao by the military.  Brigadier Mahao was killed on 25 June this year during an army operation to arrest soldiers suspected of being part of a foiled plot to topple the LDF command. The ex-LDF commander had been fingered as the ringleader of the soldiers involved in the alleged plot with the military later announcing he was shot while resisting arrest.

Meanwhile, Mr Dlamini also told the Lesotho Times that LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and Military Chief of Staff Major General Lineo Poopa, are scheduled to appear before the Commission tomorrow.

“On Friday (tomorrow) morning, we expect LDF Commander Lieutenant General Kamoli to testify before the Commission, followed by Major General Lineo Poopa in the afternoon,” Mr Dlamini said.

In August 2014, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired Lt Gen Kamoli, and replaced him with Brigadier Mahao, whom he promoted to Lieutenant General.

However, Lt Gen Kamoli refused to vacate office, leading to SADC’s intervention which culminated in a snap election on 28 February this year.

The poll then produced a hung parliament, resulting in Dr Thabane’s ouster as premier. He was succeeded by former premier Dr Pakalitha Mosisili after his Democratic Congress (DC) formed an alliance with six other parties to form a coalition government.

In May, Dr Mosisili removed Mr Mahao as LDF commander, and reinstated Lt Gen Kamoli, backdating the reappointment to August 2014.

While testifying before the Commission on Monday last week as first witness, the LDF’s Advocate General, Colonel Bulane Sechele said Lt Gen Kamoli refused to vacate office because the army felt his expulsion was illegal.

Colonel Sechele explained when Dr Thabane fired Lt Gen Kamoli, he had ceased to have legal powers to make decisions because the government he was heading, no longer commanded the constitutionally required 61 majority seats in parliament, after two MPs had defected.

Several attempts to solicit comment from army spokesperson Colonel Ntlele Ntoi, as well as Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, on tomorrow’s scheduled appearance of both Lt Gen Kamoli and Major General Poopa before the Commission, proved fruitless yesterday as their mobile phones rang unanswered.

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