A monkey can’t be a judge in its own forest

A monkey can’t be a judge in its own forest

Staff Reporter

MASERU – It’s been 14 months since former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao was killed by soldiers but investigations – if there is any – have not yielded much. Instead what has dominated the news is how the investigation had either stalled or been frustrated. In June Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili said the police had resumed the investigation. That gave a glimmer of hope that finally there is movement on the investigation. But revelations that the government has established a 50-member-taskforce of the army and the police to investigate the killing have cast further doubt on the government’s commitment to the investigation. This might be a matter of perception but it should matter to any government. This week we spoke to the late Mahao’s brother Professor Nqosa Mahao about the family’s views about the taskforce and the investigation in general. We started by asking him if he can confirm if South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa told him about a new taskforce to investigate his brother’s murder?

He told us the prime minister had told him that the investigation has not commenced. That taskforce will have 50 people, half from the police and another half from the army. What we have however found is that it is not true that there is such a taskforce. The truth we know is that it’s meant to hoodwink SADC at its summit in Swaziland next week. The taskforce has nothing to do with the investigations into General Mahao’s death. Rather, it is a supplement to the Special Operations Unit whose primary role is to combat crime in the rural areas especially cattle rustling. The most important thing is that the army has confirmed that its soldiers killed Mahao. The question we should be asking is how the army can now be involved in an investigation in which its members are suspects. In law we say a monkey cannot be a judge in its own forest. It’s a principle of law.  How were the officers of the taskforce selected? Because those who killed Mahao were under army command it follows that those soldiers selected for the taskforce will be under the same army command.

Why do you say that taskforce does not exist? What informs that view?

It’s clear that the government does not want to investigate this matter. Earlier the prime minister told SADC that the investigation had been delayed because the forensic laboratory had been destroyed by fire. We know this was not true. What we have gathered is that there was a team that was investigating the matter but it was disbanded when it got too deep for comfort.  You don’t stop an investigation because a forensic laboratory is not working. For many years after Independence the country did not have a forensic laboratory but investigations did not stop. We have always worked with the laboratory in South Africa, where we have always sent evidence if there is a special case. This is just an excuse. Now they are coming up with this taskforce. Why should you train 50 people to investigate a murder case? Those people are not going to a war. As the family we were satisfied with the work the initial police team was doing.  The investigation was frustrated from the start.

How so?

A team of ballistics experts was deployed in the country by SADC to conduct tests on the car and the scene of the accident. They brought huge machinery for their investigation. When they wanted to do an investigation of the car that carried Mahao from the scene they were told that cannot happen. They needed the guns used to shoot Mahao and his own gun which the army alleges he wanted to fire. They were denied access to those. They were told that they were no longer wanted in the country so they left in a hurry. They called me from Pretoria to say they had left because they were not feeling secure in the country. Those in the police briefed us that the army had refused to hand over crucial evidence like Mahao’s cell phones, the guns involved, his clothes and vehicles involved. That evidence is supposed to be in the hands of the police but more than a year later the army has not released it. Witnesses on the scene have told us that soldiers tried to wash away Mahao’s body. They asked for a broom and tried to cover the blood with sand. Mahao’s clothes have also been washed, thus destroying evidence. All that amounted to tampering with evidence and the scene, which is a crime. The army also admitted that the body was washed. The army did all these things to destroy evidence. Then the government now wants to call the same army to be part of the investigation. The involvement of the army in this is a violation of the autonomy of the criminal justice system. The army does not feature anywhere in that system. The army is a primary suspect in this matter. That is why we said the government and the army cannot take part in the funeral. The claims of a taskforce are just a ruse that can only be believed by a gullible SADC.

You have written several letters to the police and the prime minister seeking information on the investigation. What has been the response? 

After September when the police told us that the army was refusing to release evidence we wrote to the prime minister imploring him to instruct the army to comply with requests from the police. In all this you should remember the prime minister is the de facto commander-in-chief. The King is the de jure commander-in-chief. You should know the prime minister is the chief executive of the country. So we said it was time for him to direct the army to comply with the request from the police. To our surprise the next day that letter was read on a local radio station. They were trivialising the letter. Up to now the prime minister has not responded to that letter or at least acknowledged receiving it. In March this year we wrote to the police commissioner to request an update on the investigation. We are now in August but there is no reply. In May we again wrote to the prime minister informing him that we are anxious to find out what is happening to the investigation. Again there was no reply. In July we wrote another letter to the commissioner of police through our lawyer, asking about the progress. Why would the police not respond if there was an investigation going on?

Why do you think this investigation has not gone far?

Let’s be frank. Everything that has happened coincides with the plot to kill Mahao, starting in January 2015 when the army sent him to a phantom mission in Leribe. The plan as we now know and as was said in the Phumaphi commission, was to ambush him on his way back. We know that there were some politicians involved in that plot. The same applies to the August 30 coup attempt. The challenge for the government now is they cannot take those soldiers involved in the murder to court because they might spill the beans about the involvement of some politicians. We now know that the Phumaphi report that is in the public domain is not the original one prepared in November last year. The one the public has is a sanitised version of the previous one which was more illuminating. SADC removed the names of some politicians from that report. I understand why they did that and I don’t blame them. They thought if politicians are not named in the report then they might be persuaded to implement its recommendations. SADC however forgot that in the court there is no way you can wish away the contribution of politicians in the plot.

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