The cop who took down the mighty couple

The cop who took down the mighty couple

MASERU-UNTIL six months ago, Deputy Commissioner of Police Mokete was just another career police officer. After 21 years in the police force he was just a rank away from being the police commissioner.

It had been a career without drama and DCP Mokete wanted to keep it that way until retirement. But that changed dramatically when he started investigating the murder of Lipolelo Thabane.

An ugly picture had begun to emerge as he pieced together the evidence and the random tips. All the evidence pointed to the then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, as the main suspects.
DCP Mokete says he wasn’t shocked because his investigators had been on the same trail since 2017.

As the head of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) DCP Mokete knew his officers were reluctant to go after the Prime Minister and his wife. None of them had investigated a Prime Minister and his wife for murder.

These were unchartered waters in which careers and lives could capsize.
The suspects were not ordinary people on whose doors you could knock. They were not the type to be cuffed and thrown into a holding cell. The husband was the man who could hire and fire their boss, the commissioner.

Point a finger at him and he could bring the might of the state apparatus upon you. If you were not fired you could never be promoted. You might keep your job but be consigned to some police station in the backwaters.

‘Maesaiah’s reputation as a First Lady with oversized influence on her husband and government was common knowledge. Cross her path and you might be licking your wounds.

DCP Mokete knew he was poking a powerful couple but did it anyway.
His decision to take over the case came after a meeting with the Police Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, in January. Commissioner Molibeli had just filed an urgent High Court application to stop Thabane from suspending him.

What had pricked his interest was the commissioner’s allegations that Thabane was suspending him to block the investigation into Lipolelo’s murder. In an affidavit, Commissioner Molibeli said Thabane was getting back at him for asking why his phone number was used to communicate with someone who was at the murder scene. DCP Mokete then went to the commissioner to confirm his allegations.

“The commissioner said this was not just a bare allegation but something backed by evidence,” DCP Mokete recalls.
“The investigating officers were called into the meeting and they confirmed the allegations but I could see that they were reluctant to go all the way.”
It was at that moment that DCP Mokete took matters into his hands. Since then he has been thrust into a storm he never anticipated when he joined the police in 1998.

Today he is seen as the fearless police officer who took on the Prime Minister and his wife… and won. He has charged ‘Maesaiah with murder and attempted murder. He put up a strong fight when the High Court granted her bail and won even as the Director of Public Prosecutions unspeakably took the suspect’s side. He won. Now he is about to arrest her husband on the same charges.

It has been a blustery six months for a man who says he only wanted to be “a good policeman who served his country with distinction”.
Since January he has been fielding an avalanche of questions from local and international media. He has been on BBC, Aljazeera, SABC, eNCA and dozens of radio stations. Social media is buzzing with his name and so are radio stations.

His name has been mentioned countless times in international newspapers and news agencies. Any other police officer would be basking in this new found glory but DCP Mokete says he is a “bit uncomfortable with the attention”.

He appreciates the interest in the story and the magnitude of what he has achieved so far but he just wants to keep his head down and focus on the task at hand. The task being to see to it that justice is done.

Yet not everyone agrees or is praising his actions.
For starters, Thabane and his wife call his investigation a political witch-hunt instigated by enemies using a police commissioner “who is out of control”. Their supporters are outraged by the investigation and blame the police for using the case to fast-track Thabane’s political demise.

Politicians sympathetic to Thabane and his wife are shaken by the vim with which the police have pursued the case.
Their fear is that this could happen to them as well.

In the past six months DCP Mokete has heard rumours that he is marked for assassination. Some people have told him to watch his movements because there is a bounty on his life.

Others whispered that he was about to be transferred to the Ministry of Police to get him off the case.
But he says he is not perturbed because “I am doing the right thing”.
And indeed many agree that he is a good cop.

“People tell me that what the police have done is unprecedented. They say this is the kind of police they want.”

Born in Kholokoe, a village in Matsieng, DCP Mokete never dreamt of being a policeman. When others were in crèche he was looking after his father’s flock, and he kept at it even as his age mates started primary school. Only when he was ten did he enter a class at St Louis, a local primary school.

After high school he spent two years as an accounts clerk at a school in Quthing after being hired by his former headmaster at Moshoeshoe II High School.

DCP Mokete has fond memories of the headmaster who he says was “a great man and a brilliant mentor”. It was that man who taught him computers and sparked the ambition to study computer science.

Events however conspired to sabotage that desire. The events started with a lie, not from him but the police officer he met at the Maseru Charge Office when he was inquiring about police recruitment.

DCP Mokete was just completing his International Baccalaureate at Machabeng College when he met a group of recruits on their morning jog and after school he walked to the Maseru Charge Office.

“The lady told me that soon after the six-month training the police would send me to school. This was false but I did not know it at that time.”
“What convinced me completely was when one of the panellists at the recruitment interview said my grades were good enough for me to go to university. I thought this was confirming what the lady had told me.”

So instead of going for a BSc in Computer Science at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) DCP Mokete joined the police. What he thought would be just six months turned out to be nine months after the 1998 political disturbances interrupted their training.

The next event happened two months before the training ended when a senior officer announced that they could only qualify for study leave after a-two-year probation.

If DCP Mokete was disappointed then what followed left him shattered.
After graduation he was posted to Thaba-Tseka.
“It was a tough and cold place when we did not have any access to phones. We did not have the resources to do our work. It was a miserable time for a man like me who had come from Maseru.”

He was about to apply for his study leave when the police announced that it was reviewing policies. That meant he had to wait another year after the two-year probation. And when he eventually applied for leave to study computer science his bosses refused to let him ago.

“Your application for study leave has not been successful. Try next time,” said the letter from the bosses.
“I was shocked because I was the only one who had applied from the district. Others went to school while I had to wait for another year.

“Meanwhile my classmates from high school were completing their degrees,” he says.
When he applied for leave a year later DCP Mokete changed the course.
“I thought they didn’t want me to study computer science so I changed it to law. This time the leave was granted and I started at NUL in 2003.”

That decision would change his fortunes in the police. He believes his legal training added a strong wind in his sail through the ranks.
While at NUL he was transferred to the Car Theft and Counter Robbery Crime Unit in Maseru.

“I don’t know how it happened but I had been removed from an environment I did not like. There are no roads. No resources. We had to use horses.”

He was later promoted to Senior Inspector, which meant he had skipped two ranks (sergeant and inspector), to become the unit’s commanding officer.
However, he did not last long there because he was moved to the CID’s administration office at the head office where he stayed for two years. By 2013 he was a Superintendent and Administrator of the Police Training College.

Two years later he was the officer commanding the CID in Maseru Urban District and then station commander for Maseru Rural District.
Lipolelo’s murder in June 2017 in Ha ’Masana was under his jurisdiction as the head of Maseru Rural District.

DCP Mokete was not involved in the case because the commissioner established a special investigation team. He would remain on the peripheries of the case even when he came to head the police’s legal department at the headquarters in mid-2017.

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His first direct contact with the case was in November 2017 when he became Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the CID. He says he found the case in disarray but he could not do much to push it because it was still under the special team. He could only help the team with a vehicle.

In the meantime he watched as more details lifted the veil on the case. The first revelation came from ‘Maesaiah when she was interviewed by the police.

DCP Mokete says he found her answers contradictory.
“In 2017 she said her relationship with Lipolelo was very good. She said she loves Thabane and hates anyone who would make him angry. That raised red flags because she then said Lipolelo was making Thabane angry.”

The news pointer came a few months later when Tefo Mapesela, then Acting Police Minister, tore into ‘Maesaiah for allegedly instigating Thabane to interfere with his work.

Mapesela was angry that Thabane had ordered him to abandon his meeting with the police to discuss the fate of a police officer he accused of leaking a recording of their telephone conversations.

He blamed ‘Maesaiah for that and told a local radio station that she would regret when she is in prison. That, to DCP Mokete, indicated that “a lot of people knew what had happened”.

A few months later audio clips of Advocate ‘Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, Thabane’s daughter, warning ‘Maesaiah were leaked.
Advocate Hlaele was warning ‘Maesaiah that jail was waiting for her.

“All these amounted to signs that were worth following to solve this case,” DCP Mokete says.
It was Commissioner Molibeli’s court affidavit and confirmation to him in January 2020 that made DCP Mokete spring into action.

Within two weeks he called ‘Maesaiah for questioning but she skipped the country. The die had been cast: Thabane and his wife were officially named as suspects.

The reaction of those close to Thabane was instant and forceful.
“We were sure that the PM was involved. They were trying to remove the Commissioner and replace him with someone they could instruct to push me out so as to kill the investigation.”

“The ultimate target appeared to be me but I am glad that the Commissioner stood his ground.
“I was told that I was going to be killed. Some said I was supposed to be transferred because I was causing problems.”

His work on the case has also quietened allegations that he had been promoted to lead the CID so he could stop the investigation.
“That made me very angry because I was not doing that. These were fake accounts attacking me.”

He believes the case has gone some way to repair the police’s battered image.
Still he however admits that the police still have a lot to do to regain the public’s trust.

For that to happen, he adds, the police have to stay out of politics. By that he means “internal and external politics”.
“The problem has always been that some police officers ingratiate themselves with politicians. So when there is a new regime some officers say it’s their time to benefit while others feel neglected. That has to stop if we are going to be regarded as a professional police force,” he says.
“People should be promoted on merit. All promotions should be based on performance and results.”

He says what keeps him going is the passion to get justice for victims of crimes.
“We serve people who are angry victims of crimes. They are bitter and they expect the police to help them but they have preconceived ideas who the suspects are. They look at the person who hates them or used to be a thief.”
“Once we take a different direction they become angry.”

DCP Mokete has accepted that he will not please everyone.
“It bothers me a little bit that people don’t like me but then I remember that my job is not to please anyone.”

Those words are not entirely his. He heard them from his headmaster when he was an accounts clerk at a school in Quthing. He had clashed with several people and wanted to quit.

“The headmaster told me that everywhere you go you will find people who don’t like you. Those words have become part of life. I try to do the right thing, not what some people want.”

For now DCP Mokete’s focus is on putting criminals away.

Shakeman Mugari

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