Police brutality will be a thing of the past: Mokhele
ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) stalwart ‘Mampho Mokhele, recently resigned from her post as Minister of Police and Public Security with effect from 7 May 2019.
She also resigned from her senatorial position and she will soon be taking up a post as Counsellor in the Lesotho Embassy in Ireland.
It has been an event-filled time at the helm of the Police ministry for Ms Mokhele, who served as a police officer for 37 years. Ms Mokhele has been in the eye of the storm over persistent allegations of acts of police brutality that have been committed under her watch.
In this wide-ranging interview, the Lesotho Times’ (LT) Senior Reporter, Pascalinah Kabi, speaks to Ms Mokhele (MM) about the highs and lows of her almost two years in charge. Below are excerpts of the interview.
LT: Why did you resign from your cabinet post?
MM: I immediately resigned after the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane decided to redeploy me to a new position in Ireland. As someone who worked in the disciplined force, I take orders from my superiors and do as I am instructed. So, the Prime Minister decided that I should go to Ireland to deputise Lesotho’s Ambassador to Ireland (S’khulumi Ntsoale) and there was no other way except to do as I was told. For that to happen, I had to resign from the cabinet and Senate.
LT: What are your achievements at the helm of the Ministry of Police?
MM: My appointment to the ministry was greeted by so many challenges. I do not have the exact number of the police officers who were suspended from the service at that time but there were so many police officers who were suspended by the previous government over allegations that they were actively involved in party politics.
I investigated their issues and concluded that there was really no evidence to that effect and they were never formally charged. There were no cases preferred against them and what was more disturbing was that they were suspended because they were believed to support political parties that were at the time in opposition (including the ABC) whereas those that supported parties that made up the previous government were not suspended.
So, I reinstated them because I needed to take decisions that would unite the police service. I needed to show them that they should not allow party politics to divide them. They have no business getting involved in party politics. They have a clear mandate of preventing and fighting crime, not to busy themselves with party politics.
I also discovered that sometime around 2015, the government increased civil servants’ salaries by six percent but left behind the police officers. This was one of the hardest and challenging issues that I had to correct as a minister. Convincing the cabinet that the government needed to reconsider its decision on this matter was a baptism of fire for me. It took an arm and a leg to convince both parties to sit down and talk about this because the police had already lost faith in the government. Honestly speaking, the police officers did not have faith in the cabinet because they had been sent from pillar to post in the past regarding the same issue.
I am happy that after a lot of work and headaches, the matter has been resolved and this should be the third month since they started receiving salaries inclusive of the six percent increments and arrears.
I would also want to talk to the issue of lack of equipment in the police service. At that time there were no vehicles that would make it easy for them to do their jobs, attend to crime scenes immediately after receiving reports. They needed over 250 vehicles but at that time there were only less than 100.
This was one of the serious challenges but I worked hard to ensure that we address that situation. Last year we managed to secure 10 more vehicles. However small the number was, they came in handy and made our job a lot easier. Even now we still have a serious challenge of shortages of vehicles in the police service.
We also decided to equip ourselves with skills on forensic investigations.
Senior police officers who head different units or departments were therefore sent on forensic investigations courses to countries like Algeria, America, China and India. They have gained a lot in that respect and now know better on investigations. Soon enough police brutality will be a thing of the past because they will not use force to investigate cases. The only challenge now is for us to procure the equipment required for forensic investigations. A full brief has already been presented to the cabinet.
We also need to have a satellite machine that will capture the entire town. This means the police will be able to watch on camera criminal acts being committed in Maseru and they will be able to immediately attend to the scene of the crime. Soon enough we are going to sign a memorandum of understanding with some of the donors who will assist us with that programme.
I had proposed that the programme covers Maseru and Maputsoe which are crime hotspots and this will soon be implemented. This programme is so important for the prevention and fight against crime because even the police officers accused of soliciting M20 bribes from drivers will be caught on camera and charged. I have fought tooth and nail to ensure that this programme is implemented and I am proud that we will soon implement it.
Two months from now we will have 30 motorbikes from China to help the police officers to control traffic and attend to accidents. The Chinese government has offered to train 90 of our police officers. They will be trained in batches of 30 each and the first batch has already been trained. There are already some police officers who have completed Mandarin classes. I therefore believe that in these two years, I have done my bit.
The issue of shortages of police uniforms will soon be a thing of the past soon because in two to three months, police officers will have a brand new uniform. It is true that we have a small budget but we have put measures in place that will ensure that we never run out of uniforms in our stores. We are also going to phase out the blue uniform because we have learnt that for years suppliers failed to get quality material that does not quickly fade.
At the time I left the ministry, we had already made a decision to replace it with a brown uniform because the brown material is able to stand the test of time and it does not easily get dirty as compared to the blue. We are therefore going to procure the brown uniform and will start distributing it to the police officers until the blue one is phased out from the LMPS.
LT: Please tell us about the alarming increase of killings of civilians through the use of illegal firearms.
MM: There is no denying that there are incidences of killings almost every day and I must say that there are so many illegal firearms in the hands of civilians. Lesotho has so many unregistered firearms and those firearms are being used to kill people. It is worrying and I had already started processes of enacting a law that will respond to this challenge. We need to have laws that respond to this crime because it seems that these guns were carelessly issued and they are now being used to kill people.
As things stand, the laws do not really address this challenge because people with illegal firearms get small fines which do not curb this practice. Crimes like this must carry huge fines to scare people from carrying illegal firearms. Once the new law has been enacted, it will be a thing of the past for people to be found in possession of illegal firearms. We are tightening the screws.
LT: There are allegations that some police officers are involved in the sale of illegal firearms to the civilians while others are part and parcel of the famo killings which are done using illegal firearms.
MM: I am not saying there are no crimes (being committed by the police officers) but suggesting that there is somewhere where they just go to get guns to supply famo musicians is not true. There were allegations levelled against me in this regard when I was there. They were unfounded allegations that the famo factions are using guns supplied by me to kill each other and that is not true because I do not even know the place where the Commissioner of Police (Holomo Molibeli) keeps the police armour.
Therefore, I am unable to respond to these allegations but any police officer, who has been legally issued with a gun and decides to use it during personal fights, commits a crime and should face the music. This is why you see police officers who are found wanting being prosecuted and jailed. But as for the claims about police involvement in the sale of illegal firearms, I don’t have evidence because if I had evidence, I would have made sure that they have their day in court.
As we speak, those suspected to have had a hand in the killing of civilians in police custody, are being made to face the music. Dockets have already being opened against them. The only challenge that we are facing now is the backlog in the courts because the few limited judges and magistrates are overwhelmed. The police dockets are not given special treatment in court, they follow the normal procedures and those found guilty of committing crimes while investigating cases will eventually go to jail.
LT: You made a name for yourself as a policewoman when you ended the famo killings in Mafeteng some years ago. Based on your experience as senior superintendent coupled with your position as a Minister of Police, what could have gone wrong now that famo killings are escalating once again?
MM: This is a very good question because the increasing famo killings are no longer about the colour of the rival groups’ blankets. This is something deeper than when the famo killings first broke out.
There is something dangerously brewing in South Africa and unfortunately that is not our territory. We need to follow certain stringent procedures for us to be able to step into that land and unfortunately the famo killings are now brewing at the illegal mining settlements.
People of same colour of blankets, who remain brothers until they lay their hands on diamonds, are killing each other over wealth accumulated in the illegal mining. They kill each other to ensure that the accumulated wealth is shared among a few and most of these killings are as a result of the illegal mining squabbles.
Even ordinary civilians are being killed because of the zama-zama fights. Though I do not how the South African Police Service (SAPS) deals with this matter, the corpses are then transported and soon after burying them here (Lesotho), the culprits go into hiding.
While in hiding, the aggrieved party decides to kill the culprits’ family members to force the culprits into coming out to the open. The worst merciless killings happen. An example is the Rothe killings last year where only women were killed. How does a man enter the village and kill only women?
This was part of a well-orchestrated revenge plan and this is why I am saying the current Famo killings are now more complicated than they were when I was a police officer. They are more complex and worse because they begin in a foreign land where we do not jurisdiction. However, I had already began processes of collaborating with the South African government in this fight.
LT: How did you fare with the less talked about Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU)?
MM: That office is operational but needs to be improved. I have toured the police stations across the country and there are stations that do not even have this unit or specialised people dealing with cases of abuse.
They are still operating from the charge office yet if well resourced, they should have their own special office because some victims are even afraid of entering the charge offices to report. It is humiliating for a victim to talk about the rape or abuse.
It is not only about privacy of the victims but there should also be well trained counsellors who will offer counselling sessions for the victims and families. It is very challenging for a police officer to take a statement from a victim.
I remember one peculiar story when I was still a police officer. I burst into tears while a child was giving me a statement. It was the most painful experience for me and it took me more than two hours to record that statement and this shows the sensitivity with which these issues must be handled.
We are trying our best but the most frustrating aspect in this country is lack of resources. We need resources to improve these units and I have requested for assistance from our international friends. There are some countries who have promised to assist us.
LT: As you leave the police ministry, what is your message to the police officers and the nation?
MM: I earnestly pray for an end to the merciless civilian killings. I hate it that people are killing each other over nothing. These are killings that can prevented if only the suspects can share their frustrations with people close to them or the police.
We also need to increase the police presence in our communities because the increasing number of villages in Lesotho has attracted a lot of criminal activities. The community policing programme also help us fight crime but to be more effective, community officers have to be trained so that they do not end up committing crimes themselves. Sometimes they end up taking the law into their own hands instead of thoroughly investigating the tip-offs which they receive.
The police should do their work in accordance with the law. They should not torture civilians.