THE decision not to allow government and the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) at Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao’s funeral was almost spontaneous. It was a humble reminder that once again the family stands firm that Maaparankoe was Lieutenant General and not anything below. The family meeting that made the decision to bar government and its organs was simply a formality. Individually – and without any external influence except the build-up events and circumstances in which the General was assassinated – each one had already decided this seven-headed government and its army would not be allowed anywhere near him. Even if they had offered to spend $10 million on his funeral, they would not have been given access. Perhaps the government and their military thought money is more important than values, principles and integrity. The family is clear that no amount of cash can replace these virtues. Ours is not a family full of billionaires, but we do not sell our souls for a bowl of soup.
It is intriguing what kind of speeches this government and its army would have made at Maaparankoe’s burial: why would they want to honour him in death yet they could not do so while he lived? Their speeches would have been nothing short of grand hypocrisy, insincerity and cynicism at its best. Worst of all is that up to now, the government has not shown any leadership by immediately ordering the arrest of the murderers even though they are known. For them it is business as usual. When government remains silent, we are bound to draw our own conclusions. Either they fear to antagonise someone they hold dear to their hearts or they could be suffocating under a heavy load of guilt conscience. The last time government spoke with some intensity was before the family press conference where the nation was told how the General was murdered. Since then, all the spin doctors and their masters have retreated because they knew they were lying to the nation. What remains is their defiant arrogance. Some in this government have gone a step further to pre-empt the (unnecessary) commission established to probe Maaparankoe’s death as they claim that the killing will not result in any prosecutable cases; yet another obvious insult to his grieving family.
As the letter addressed to the Government Secretary (and copied to Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa) clearly stated, the presence of the government and its military at the funeral would have been most “inappropriate and would likely further traumatise and open anew our hurt.” This in a context where the cold-blood murders of Inspector Ramahloko and Thabiso Tšosane still remain fresh.
Let us not forget that the LDF admitted in court the Friday after the well-planned and orchestrated assassination that they had killed Maaparankoe. Any right-thinking person would have to ask how they would kill him and then parade with pomp, flutes and drums at his funeral. It would have been a serious mockery for both government and the army to be allowed centre stage at the occasion. As far as the family is concerned, government and the army are prime suspects in Maaparankoe’s death and there was no way suspects could have been allowed to window-dress the occasion. We do not use the term ‘suspects’ due to shortage of vocabulary. Another more appropriate term will be unveiled as the events unfold. Many serious battles (hopefully to be fought without the use of tax-payers’ guns and bullets) still lie ahead. Maaparankoe’s demise does not signal the end but on the contrary it signals the beginning.
In fact, this seven-headed government should be thankful to Maaparankoe’s family for saving them from an embarrassing situation. Of the multitudes who thronged Mokema on Saturday 11th July, very few would have been interested in government and army speeches. All of their speakers would have probably been booed off the stage. Their presence would have soured the occasion and lessened the dignity of this great man’s last moments with us who really loved him. The family, friends and all right-thinking citizens would certainly not want that. It would have been unacceptable to allow those who – in front of international television cameras – claimed to be “devastated” by Maaparankoe’s death yet the family and many other Basotho do not believe they really were. One of them was even smiling as he talked of ‘devastation’. Perhaps I need to re-check exactly what this word means.
This is a government that does not even have the guts to criticize and rein in its army for atrocities, impunity and blatant abuse of human rights and dignity, and disrespectfully barging into courts of law brandishing machine guns. Yes, in our country justice is pinned down by those with powerful muscles and raped again and again almost at will. Why should we be surprised when some in this government strangely claimed that the army is independent and autonomous? We thought the very next day this government would officially announce the army had been privatized and that the portfolio of Defence minister had ceased to exist.
Even Maaparankoe’s second son, who is just twelve, wouldn’t have allowed government and its organs to be present at his dad’s funeral. On the Thursday of the week his father was laid to rest, he told me their bicycles had broken down beyond repair and that his dad had promised them new bikes “before all this happened” as he put it. I could see tears welling up in his eyes till I decided to change the subject to his school and how it was there. I was sincerely touched and his words zoomed my reflection on those responsible for his dad’s killing. I hope when the time comes for them to face their fate the same way Maaparankoe bravely faced his, they will not run and hide and cry that they still have young kids to care for. Maaparankoe never had the opportunity to plead for his life for the sake of his young children. He was cruelly taken out of a game he was no longer even keen to continue playing. No one gave a thought about his wife, three sons and the rest of the family.
Let us remember that some of the people in this government never duly recognized Maaparankoe as the rightful commander of the army despite the King having lawfully gazetted the appointment during Tom Thabane’s premiership. Everyone else except these people acknowledged how talented, skilled, principled and incorruptible Maaparankoe was. We are not showering these praises purely because we are his family, but those who recognized talent and great leadership when they saw it knew Lesotho possessed an extra-ordinary soldier; probably a once-in-a-lifetime gem that was determined to transform the LDF into a professional body. This was one of the main reasons he joined the army despite reservations from some in his immediate family. From far beyond the borders of Lesotho, he has been hailed as humble, dignified and highly intelligent among many other qualities. Only his government (with its eyes wide open) did not see these exceptional attributes.
Those who denied Maaparankoe rightful command of the army should provide valid reasons why they did so. But even if they keep silent it is glaring what the main agenda was. It is sad as some of his colleagues who loved and respected him had hoped to give him a proper send-off, but the law that governs the principle of collective responsibility meant they would not be allowed.
Government has clearly treated Maaparankoe like an outcast or a leper who all should have kept their distance from. Even his backdated removal from his position was meant to humiliate him and send a message that those who had appointed him (inclusive of the King) were wrong. This they did while they continued to wine and dine with those who point guns at the Basotho nation instead of the external enemies of this country. During the riots of 1998, government officials whose properties were damaged received compensation. Maaparankoe’s property was damaged during an attack by elements of the army at his house on the 30th August 2014. Where is his compensation? Of course according to leading figures in this government, nothing happened on that fateful day.
When the family firmly put its foot down that the state shall play no role, the government spin doctors contracted Severe Verbal Diarrhoea (SVD) and claimed that the family would regret (whatever ‘regret’ means) preventing the government from giving the General an official funeral. Once again, the statements that came out bore no remorse for what has happened to Maaparankoe but were intended to further add salt and hot spices to the gaping wounds the family has suffered since this abominable act. To put the record straight, the family does not regret a thing. Even 200 years into the unknown future, the decision would still be similar. And the same people who had treated this gallant soldier like garbage suddenly wanted to honour him at his funeral and bask in the glory and attention they did not deserve? The overarching conclusion is that the Lesotho government simply had no valid case to have played a role at Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao’s funeral, full stop.
- The writer is lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho and this article represents the views of the entire family of Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao