By Bongiwe Zihlangu
MASERU – A court martial convened last month to try suspended Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao was yesterday dissolved “with immediate effect”.
It could not be established whether this effectively means charges against Mahao have been dropped.
According to impeccable sources, the dissolution followed a meeting between Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, held yesterday morning at the premier’s office.
The Lesotho Times was also told that although the meeting was not solely to discuss Mahao’s trial — which got underway last week and was supposed to resume today at the Makoanyane Barracks — the court martial was among items topping the agenda.
This paper also heard that, in order to put a stamp on the agreement, Thabane yesterday afternoon wrote Kamoli a letter instructing him to dissolve Mahao’s trial as per their agreement at yesterday morning’s meeting.
Mahao confirmed last night that his court martial had been dissolved but referred the Lesotho Times to the Ministry of Defence Principal Secretary (PS) David Sehlooho “for further details”.
“The PS of the defence ministry called me earlier today to inform me that my court martial has been dissolved with immediate effect,” Mahao said.
“It was supposed to resume tomorrow (today) but I don’t have all the details regarding the dissolution, save for what the PS told me.”
Contacted for comment, Sehloho said he was aware of the dissolution but had not been officially informed about it.
“I don’t have all the details; they are with the LDF Commander to whom the PM issued the instruction in the form of a letter,” Sehloho said.
“I was not in the office the whole day, so I don’t have a copy of the letter yet. I cannot speak authoritatively on the matter until the letter is on my desk tomorrow (today).”
“The letter is supposed to be a follow-up on the meeting between the PM and LDF Commander, confirming their agreement to dissolve the court martial.”
The Lesotho Times called Lt General Kamoli to get his side of the story but the person who answered his phone — who introduced himself as his bodyguard — said the LDF commander was unable to take the call at that moment.
The LDF spokesperson Major Ntlele Ntoi could also not be reached for comment as his mobile phone rang unanswered the whole day.
Thabane’s press secretary, Thabo Thakalekoala, was also not available for comment until the time of going to print late last night.
Meanwhile, Brigadier Mahao of the Logistics Unit had pleaded not guilty to two counts and alternative charges of “behaving in the unbecoming character of an officer, contrary to Section 75 of the Lesotho Defence Force Act 1996”.
Mahao is alleged to have acted improperly when he secretly confronted Commando Captain Tefo Hashatsi about what the latter had reportedly said during a meeting with the Special Force Company.
Mahao is quoted as having allegedly said: “I want to advise you that issues of the change of command do happen at a political level, and do not only take place in Lesotho but also even in other countries. Soldiers must be loyal to the state, not a particular individual.
“So my advice to you is if you take issues of the change of command personally, you better lift up your hands and resign.”
He is also alleged to have acted in a manner “prejudicial to discipline” when he reportedly threatened Captain Hashatsi.
“The accused did not follow the chain of command in addressing his concerns to the Captain, neither was he granted permission by his superiors to utter such views which sought to influence or victimise the Captain,” the charge states.
Hashatsi told a court martial last week that he had told his colleagues in a meeting he had convened on January 13 this year that he would have to “die first before the commander of the LDF is removed”.