Take it like a man: a story of police brutality

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

WHOEVER spoke about enduring pain and taking it like a man was obviously pontificating from the comfort of their own home.

People often speak of tough activists who can stoically bear physical pain but they know nothing of the alleged savage beatings that police officers in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) are capable of. This according to two opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) members, Nqosa Mahao (49), and Kabelo Ratia (31).

The Lesotho Times recently visited the two men at their homes and heard horrendous stories of their alleged torture at the hands of the police.

While the duo have lived to tell the tale of their alleged torture at the hands of LMPS officers, their self-esteem and human dignity appears to have ‘died’ after the inhuman treatment.

The only thing Mr Mahao has in common with his more illustrious namesake, All Basotho Convention deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao, is the name. Beyond that there are no other similarities. Mr Mahao lives in a modest house in Ha Mabote, Maseru and he has pledged his allegiance to the LCD- a party led by former Deputy Prime Minister Mothejoa Metsing. Mr Metsing is a nemesis of the more famous Mahao family on account of his alleged involvement in the murder of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao. The late army boss was a younger brother of Prof Mahao. While the well-known former  National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor has successfully traded an academic career for the rough and tumble world of politics where he has assumed the powerful post of deputy leader of the ruling ABC, this particular Mr Mahao is a grassroots member of the opposition LCD.

He recently joined the growing list of civilians who have been subjected to acts of brutality by the police in the two years that the Thomas Thabane administration has been in power.

When the Lesotho Times crew recently paid him a visit at his home in the capital, they did not find a fiery opposition activist. Rather they found a broken man who looked much older than his 49 years. All the time he was perched precariously on the edge of the sofa like a person ready to make good his escape at the slightest hint of trouble.

It did not matter that it was a full house and he was surrounded by well-wishers comprising of family members and LCD party cadres. If it all he had danced and marched and chanted fiery slogans in support of the LCD in the past, this did not show during this newspaper’s visit to his home. On that day, he had the look of a cornered and frightened animal that had been beaten to within inches of its life by vicious police officers. His eyes continually darted sideways as though to reassure himself that he was safe and his tormentors would not suddenly pounce on him as they did last Thursday evening.

It was not easy to get him to recount his ordeal. In fact he initially refused to talk, saying, “with all due respect, I am not going to speak to the media lest I say the wrong things”.

“I am still trying to make head and tail of what transpired but all I can say is that I am sad and angry.”

Once again whoever, came up with the expression about enduring pain like a man had not seen Mr Mahao’s swollen feet or heard his groans as he slowly rose up and dragged himself in the direction of his bedroom.

After what seemed like an eternity in his bedroom, Mr Mahao emerged to re-join this reporter in his lounge. His wife followed him, carrying in her hands, what appeared to be a khaki rag.

“This is what remains of the new trousers that my husband was wearing on the night the police came for him. What kind of torture could have ripped apart his trousers in this manner? The pants are torn and unrecognisable but it is well because God is in control,” Ms ’Mampho said.

Everyone in the house looked horrified. The remarks by his wife acted as Mr Mahao’s cue to finally open up on his alleged ordeal.

By his own account, last Thursday began like any other day for him. It was a cold wintry morning and he and his family made sure to wear very warm clothes. Nothing could have prepared him from the sudden arrival of eight heavily armed police men who roughed him up and combed his house in search of weapons that he allegedly kept hidden on behalf of some rogue soldiers.

The weapons were believed to have been stolen from the armoury during the tenure of the previous seven parties’ government that was headed by the then Democratic Congress leader Pakalitha Mosisili with the LCD’s Mr Metsing as his deputy. It is not clear why the police suspected him of hiding the arms cache on behalf of the soldiers and by his own accounts, he is innocent. What is certain however, is that is his encounter with the police has impacted negatively on his sense of masculinity.

“There is nothing more painful than being helpless and not being able to protect your kids,” Mr Mahao says. Even though he appeared to be struggling under the weight of expressed emotions, this was all that he was prepared to say before burying his face in his hands and falling eerily quiet.

The police later released him without a charge for the alleged concealment of guns which were not recovered during the search operation.

Besides the guns’ issue, Mr Mahao was also suspected of running two Facebook accounts under the names Sefuba Molise and Makonyana Nku. The two Facebook accounts are said to be highly critical of the police.

Mahao was also accused of having exposed some policemen who had recently arrested and tortured a 31 year old Nazareth man, Kabelo Ratia.

In one of the worst accusations of sordid and sadistic behaviour leveled against the police, Mr Ratia alleges that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own fecal matter.

Mr Ratia was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman.  Mr Ratia said he was subjected to torture in police custody at Ha Matela in Maseru.

“I was arrested by four police officers who took me to the police station where they ordered me to strip down to my underwear. They made me lie on the floor. One of the police officers put his foot on my waist and covered my face with an empty fertiliser plastic bag. I felt I was suffocating as the officers hurled insults and demanded that I implicate myself in the alleged theft of the money,” Mr Ratia recently told this publication.

“I struggled to free myself and I got to a point where I felt I was dying. At that point they poured cold water on my face and told me to give them a signal by raising a finger whenever I was ready to talk. It is then that I soiled myself for the first time but the torture didn’t stop.

“I soiled myself a second time and they told me I would confess in the same manner as my (LCD) deputy leader Mr (Tšeliso) Mokhosi who was similarly tortured. They also told me they didn’t want to see any trace of filth and ordered me to eat up my own faeces.”

He said after four days of torture, he eventually caved in an implicated himself and other people in the theft of the M30 000.

“I just wanted to be free and I ended up creating enemies by implicating other innocent people who knew absolutely nothing about the alleged crime. I hate my country and I am a broken man who can’t face the world.

“I don’t feel any urge for revenge but I am hurt by this treatment,” Mr Ratia said this weekend.

 

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