Book documents struggle against impunity

Book documents struggle against impunity

MASERU – Bleeding from the nostrils, senior army officer Posa Stemmere stood in the dock as a mutiny suspect, hoping for some justice.
He had been detained and tortured in a bid to force a confession. The High Court provided a fair chance for him to be released, or so he thought.
The judge had other ideas.

“Give him some tissues to wipe off the blood,” said High Court judge Justice Teboho Moiloa before ordering that the then army colonel be locked up.
That was in 2015 when Col Stemmere and 22 other Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers stood accused of plotting against then military commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.

For Professor Mafa Sejanamane, the case smacked of injustice and he decided to document it as part of Lesotho’s struggle to uphold the rule of law between 2014 and 2017. The book, titled Struggle Against Impunity, was launched last Friday with the assistance of Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), an ecumenical organisation lobbying for democratic practices.
The book reveals how rogue elements within the LDF, under the shield of the past coalition government of seven parties, committed heinous crimes with impunity.

The book chronicles how soldiers became tools of power-hungry politicians.
Containing a small exchange of words in the barracks between the then Captain Tefo Hashatsi and his senior, then Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao with a wider network of militia sponsored by politicians, the book is a must read for those interested in understanding Lesotho’s power dynamics involving the military.

Sometime in 2013 Mahao had learnt that Hashatsi had told soldiers at a parade that nobody could remove Lieutenant General Kamoli from the command of the LDF.

Hashatsi, who was later promoted to the rank of colonel allegedly as a reward for his role in the torture and other crimes, had said that Lt Gen Kamoli would only be removed over his dead body. Mahao, a law graduate and advocate of the High Court, called Hashatsi and told him that his statements were dangerous and could cause confusion in the army.

In response, Lt Gen Kamoli set up a Court Martial against Mahao, with Hashatsi reaping the rewards through promotion.
“This shows that Hashatsi was not just talking about himself but the wider rebel organisation when he said Kamoli would be removed over his dead body,” said Sejanamane.

He said the extent to which the “rebel organisation” had gone out of hand manifested itself in January 2014 when the homes of the then girlfriend to Thabane and her neighbour were bombed. The home of the then commissioner of police Khothatso Tšooana was also bombed.
Sejanamane argues that the rebellion was supposed to have been quelled but was allowed to flourish.

His book highlights Kamoli’s rebellion when the soldier refused to vacate office after the King replaced him with Mahao in August 2014. Instead of leaving, Kamoli and his associates attacked police stations. Kamoli claimed he had intelligence reports showing that the police had illegal firearms they were going to give to Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) activists to attack members of the opposition.

The book details how Kamoli was reinstated after the electoral defeat of Thabane’s tripartite coalition government to Pakalitha Mosisili. Mahao was subsequently demoted. It also narrates how Kamoli rounded up soldiers who supported Mahao as the commander, arrested and tortured them at a military base in Setibing. Others skipped the country.

Sejanamane wrote about the families of the soldiers and their struggles in several habeas corpus applications filed in the High Court.
The book peaks with the murder of Mahao and how the Mosisili-led government throttled investigations by the police, with the army bluntly refusing to cooperate.
However, it was the scene in the High Court that motivated the book.
“It was so sad when the judge looked at this bleeding soldier and just said, ‘give him some tissues to wipe off the blood’,” said Sejanamane at the book launch.

Sejanamane said he looked at the wives of the soldiers who had come to court and saw that they were desperate for justice.
He said the thought of how the soldiers’ families were suffering, especially the children, compelled him to write the book.
“This book identifies impunity as one of the problems this country has to deal with urgently,” Sejanamane said.
“It was hurting to see children like that. The people who suffered a lot are children and wives of the soldiers. As for the soldiers themselves they were trained to be tortured, I’m told,” he said.

Law lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Dr Hoolo ’Nyane, said now that the current government has started taking action against perpetrators, Sejanamane should consider penning a second edition.
’Nyane said some high ranking soldiers and ruling politicians used to feel that the “law was not applicable on them”.

Development for Peace Education director, Sofonea Shale, said there was a time “when rulers felt that they were stronger than the people”.
One of the soldiers who had skipped the country, Colonel Matobakele Matela, fears the book may gather dust on the shelves because Basotho in general do not have a reading culture.

Former police commissioner Tšooana said it took extraordinary bravery for Sejanamane to document the volatile situation despite receiving threats “from some who did not want the truth to be known”.
Tšooana said Sejanamane used to consult him while he was writing the book and “I kept telling him not to go too deep for fear that he might be killed but he wouldn’t stop”.

Professor Nqosa Mahao, NUL Vice Chancellor, described events of that time as “the maturation of the making of a criminal state in Lesotho since 1993” when the country regained democracy.
“People had to loot the state and enjoy the protection of the militia,” Mahao says.
“History has been documented,” he said, adding: “Unfortunately we don’t learn from history.”

Staff Reporter

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