MASERU – TEKANE Maqakachane, 42, fell in love with law while he was working as a court interpreter at the High Court.
It was a case of “love at first sight”.
A man with a voracious appetite for reading, Maqakachane would devour the law reports and judgments by judges.
As he read, he was blown away by the elegance of the judges’ arguments. And from that moment he knew he was destined for law.
The judgments mostly dealt with the then turbulent political climate and the human rights violations that took place in Lesotho from the 1960s to the 1980s.
What impressed him most was that the judges “would use principles of law to resolve disputes and did not rely on how they felt personally”.
“The logic in the presentations and the application of the law was a marvel. I wanted to get to know these principles and apply them to resolve disputes. I knew this was the route that I must take,” he says.
Maqakachane was no lousy interpreter. A Mosotho who takes pride in the beauty of his Sesotho mother language, Maqakachane excelled as an interpreter in the courts.
His seniors within the legal profession, perhaps seeing his sharp intellect, advised him never to be content with just being an interpreter. They told him to dream higher.
He credits the likes of Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi, the late Justice Gabriel Mofolo, former Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla and the former Director of Public Prosecution Leaba Thetsane among people who advised him to “go and study law”.
And so in 2002 when he was at the ripe age of 26, Maqakachane belatedly walked into the gates of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and enrolled for a law degree.
Maqakachane is currently the President of the Lesotho Law Society.
Maqakachane says while the institutions that support our democracy might not be fragile, he believes they have proven to be woefully inadequate in protecting our democratic space since 1993.
“We are faced with institutional decay and fatigue,” he says.
Maqakachane believes that our courts, the office of the Ombudsman, the human rights commission and Parliament have failed to live up to their mandate and have “become self-serving”.
That has come at a huge cost for Basotho, he says.
He argues that Parliament has proven to be a big letdown over the years as it has historically failed to “hold the executive to account”.
“The problem is that the executive has become so powerful with MPs no longer serving the interests of the people.”
He speaks of MPs who have become far removed from their constituencies and no longer have any connection with the people they are supposed to represent.
Maqakachane says the MPs push their individual interests as exemplified by the M500 000 personal loans they took when they assumed office in 2015.
The government had to write off the loans after the MPs terms were abruptly cut when the coalition government collapsed last year before they could repay them to the banks.
“No one among the MPs is saying, ‘look we can’t be getting these interest-free loans from the national coffers.’ No MP will go against that.”
He says when you compare the amount of per diems MPs and other government officials get on their foreign trips and the appalling state of the High Court, then you will understand “that we have a serious crisis of resource allocation in Lesotho”.
Maqakachane believes these are some of the issues that must be resolved if we are to consolidate our nascent democracy.
And indeed, since independence from the British in 1966, Lesotho has enjoyed rare periods of relative peace.
Four years after independence, the country was plunged into turmoil after a disputed election in 1970. The main opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP) then launched a small-scale insurrection in the 1970s up to the 1980s that proved largely ineffectual.
Maqakachane says our problems were mainly because “when our colonial masters left in 1966, they left institutions which were not home-grown”.
“They wanted us to follow certain principles which were foreign to us,” he says.
He cites the case of the Constitution that was bequeathed to Lesotho at independence in 1966.
“It required a separation of powers (between the executive and the judiciary) but we never understood it and that is why immediately after independence we began to show some cracks,” he says.
“We made our own choices which ultimately became a fertile ground for the present political disturbances.”
For Maqakachane, Lesotho’s political crisis has its roots in the formative years after independence.
To address these concerns, Maqakachane wants to see “transitional justice” for victims of human rights violations.
The violence that took place during the pre-democratic era (pre-1993) must be investigated, he says.
“Whatever happened then is breeding more violence,” he says. “We all know that violence begets violence. That is why it is critical to take care of this matter through institutional justice.”
He also believes Lesotho is in a mess because of a political leadership that is “intolerant of each other”.
“They can’t sit down and discuss their differences and compromise for the sake of the nation. For them it is a zero sum game.”
The shocking levels of poverty in Lesotho are also to blame for the country’s perennial political challenges.
Maqakachane argues that “when your party is close to the cake there is an inclination among politicians to look after your own belly while forgetting and neglecting the wider national cause”.
“There is greed among the political leadership and they will never have enough,” he says.
The fight for the national cake will always trigger turbulence, he argues.
To address these challenges, Maqakachane is proposing “a new political and social order that responds to good governance”.
“We need a new order that responds to the pressing needs of our people and protect the fundamental rights of the masses of our people so that Basotho can feel safe in their own country,” he says.
The key to achieve this he wants to see some form of transitional justice “which is not just a legislative process where you simply pardon everybody”.
“We will require that the whole of society agrees on the way forward particularly those who are aggrieved and those who perpetrated the rights violations.”
“We need to unravel the truth about what happened.”
But will this approach not open old wounds?
Maqakachane disagrees, arguing that “we cannot start afresh” when a section of society still feels aggrieved.
“You need all these people who are angry. You would even risk the new order being threatened by those aggrieved by past human rights violations.”
As a lawyer, Maqakachane has had the rare privilege of watching from close range the titanic battle between suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and the coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The opposition has accused Thabane of seeking to push out Justice Majara in a naked attempt to capture the judiciary.
The government denies the charge.
Maqakachane argues that the battle between Justice Majara and the government is the most vivid illustration of the structural flaws in the administration of justice in Lesotho.
He says while there should be separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary he senses that the “executive was beginning to play towards the direction of the courts”.
“One can see the strong hand of the Prime Minister in the appointment of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal. There are no procedures that the Prime Minister needs to follow to ensure a strong candidate is put in place.”
This would effectively deal with charges that the premier wants to put his own people within the top positions within the judiciary, he says.
“We need clear procedures in the appointment of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal. That process must be transparent and credible.”
He believes Lesotho must broaden the membership of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) to include the opposition, academia, civil society organisations and the government. He says this will allow Basotho to “own the process” and avoid charges that the Premier is manipulating the process for his nefarious agenda.
Quizzed about the ouster of Chief Justice Majara, Maqakachane says he subscribes to the principles of constitutionalism.
“The supreme law directs how judges should be treated and for me the key is whether the Constitution was followed,” he says.
“As long as the Prime Minister was following clear constitutional principles and there are grounds for that, I wouldn’t argue with that.”
He says “whether Justice Majara was unfairly treated or not is not my call to make”.
Anyone aggrieved was free to follow the Constitutional precepts.
Maqakachane however admits that when one steps back and looks at the dispute from a broader context of judicial independence, “one can begin to see traces of the executive still playing on the side of the judiciary”.
That is a deeply worrying trend, he says.
To deal with this problem, Maqakachane wants to see a new model where the appointment of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal as well as the rest of the judges being done by the JSC.
“That process must be clear and transparent with procedures that are open to the public.”
Maqakachane was born on January 11, 1976 at Maliba-Matšo Ha-Ntšeli in Leribe.
He is the third born in a family of nine children.
His father, Benjamin Tlali Maqakachane, was a peasant farmer who survived through communal ploughing.
When things got tough financially, he would sell some of his few cattle, an asset that is much treasured among Basotho, to raise fees for the younger Maqakachane.
And that was what happened when Maqakachane was about to write his final Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) at Sacred Heart High School in 1993.
He sold the family’s very last cow just to ensure his son sat for his exams.
“I was so touched when I saw how my father was sacrificing everything for my sake,” he says.
From then on, Maqakachane saw his father struggle financially as he could no longer plough the fields in a meaningful way.
“It hurt me so much to see how my father sacrificed for my own education in a community that did not think much of education. They thought the best thing to do was to send their sons for initiation to become ‘real’ men.”
And so when his age-mates were furthering their studies at university after Form E, Maqakachane thought he had to find a job and relieve his father of the burden of looking after the family.
“I thought I had gone far enough with my COSC and thought it was time for me to go into the field and work so my parents could get something.”
Maqakachane says if ever there was anything he learnt from his father it was the virtues of hard work.
“As a poor peasant he was able to till the soil and feed his children and other members of the extended family. Those principles of hard work were ingrained within me.”
In 1993, he found a job as an assistant teacher at a primary school in Leribe.
Four years later he moved to Maseru where he worked as a court interpreter.
He was later transferred to Qacha’s Nek.
In 2000, Maqakachane was promoted to Chief Interpreter at the High Court.
He holds a Master’s in Law from the University of Free State.
He also teaches law at the National University of Lesotho on a full-time basis.
Lawyer in trouble
A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.
It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.
Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.
Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.
According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.
The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.
During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.
His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.
Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.
He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.
Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.
Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.
Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.
Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.
He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.
The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.
Trio in court for killing ‘witches’
THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.
Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.
They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.
The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.
Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.
Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.
He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.
“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.
He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.
They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.
Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.
He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.
Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.
He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.
Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.
He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.
“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.
He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.
Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.
The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.
Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.
“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.
“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.
He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.
Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.
He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.
The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.
“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.
Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.
He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.
Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.
He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.
“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”
He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.
Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.
He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.
Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.
“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.
The case continues.
Opposition fights back
THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.
Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.
But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.
The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.
Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.
Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.
It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.
The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.
The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.
“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.
“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”
“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”
The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.
The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.
“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.
He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.
“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.
“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”
He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.
“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.
Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.
“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.
Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.
“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.
“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”
The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.
The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.
Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.
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