Army  says sorry

Army says sorry

MASERU-DEPUTY Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Major General Matela Matobakele on Monday apologised to Basotho over the army’s excesses during the last four years. Maj Gen Matobakele was speaking at a seminar organised by SADC military experts on the role of the army at Makoanyane Barracks.

“The Lesotho Defence Force terrorised Basotho, everybody knows it,” he said.

Maj Gen Matobakele apologised to Basotho for those actions. “We are now heading into a restoration process to bring back peace belonging to Basotho,” he said.

He also said the first thing that the army has to do is offer training to sergeant-majors. “Warrant officers (sergeant-majors), you had a part in doing those previous incidents because you are the ones who advise us. However, I won’t point fingers at you,” he said.

He also said they have to tell everyone that they are sorry. “We had to protect these people and not use cars without registration numbers to terrorise them,” he added.

“We all had to be expelled (from the army) but Basotho gave us a second chance that we have to use profitably. Now we are taking the right way,” he said. He also said it is embarrassing that they had to ask for help to stabilize Lesotho from foreigners.

“I promise you we will not be lenient to whoever gets out of the right way. They will face punishment,” he said. Thirty-three sergeant-majors from the LDF attended the special training.

He said some officers within the LDF had led the army astray which ended with the army perpetrating some atrocities “against the very people they were supposed to protect”.

Sergeant-majors, also called warrant officers, are non-commissioned officers whose duties allow them to interact with lower and senior ranks within the army, according to the LDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mashidi Mashidi. “They have different duties depending on what each one is assigned to do,” Lt Col Mashidi said.

According to the internationally recognised US-based organisation, Warrant Officer Historical Foundation, they are basic level, technically and tactically focused officers who perform the primary duties of technical leader, trainer, operator, manager, maintainer, sustainers, and advisers. They also provide direction, guidance, resources, assistance, and supervision necessary for subordinates to perform their duties.

They have specific responsibilities to accomplish the missions and tasks assigned to them. They primarily support levels of operations from team or detachment through battalion, requiring interaction with all soldier cohorts and primary staff. The LDF was at the centre of the political crisis in Lesotho over the last four years. Matters came to a head in August 2014 after the then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired army boss Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli.

Lt Gen Kamoli refused to vacate office and instead attacked the State House and the police headquarters in Maseru, sending Thabane and his senior partners in government scurrying into exile in South Africa. Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, who had been picked by Thabane to replace Lt Gen Kamoli, was later assassinated by his colleagues in the army on June 25, 2015, triggering an escalation in the political crisis in Lesotho. Over 40 soldiers, including Maj Gen Matobakele, who was still a colonel, were persecuted for allegedly backing Mahao in the tussle for the control of the army.

Maj Gen Matobakele and several others later skipped the country while many others were arrested and were locked up at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison where they were allegedly tortured. Maj Gen Matobakele said the sergeant-majors had failed in their duty to warn the army about these disturbances.

“We might have to blame you because you did not play an honest and the truthful role, you did not ensure that the officers are not misleading this army,” Maj Gen Matobakele said. He said in the whole military fraternity throughout the world, it is often sergeant-majors who “mislead” the army.
“I don’t understand why you did not give advice. You know those incidents were not good unless you can tell me otherwise,” he said.

The SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) commander, Brigadier Sabino Dunguiouga, from Angola said the seminar will accord the SAPMIL an opportunity to fulfil its mandate on civil military cooperation as recommended by SADC double troika meeting held in Pretoria in September 2015.

“The programme will endeavour to discuss civil military relations role of the military in a democratic dispensation and handling of the media by the military among a host of other areas,” Dunguiouga said.

“Let me hasten to say there should be no misconceptions regarding this seminar as I am sure that you are capable members of LDF,” he added. He also said as a defence force, the LDF’s responsibility is to “jealously protect the country’s territorial integrity and assist the government to achieve its national developmental goals”.

“Having a sound working relationship between the civil and military leadership is vital to securing the nation state and achieving a nation’s military goals,” he said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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