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The rise and fall of Mothepu

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MASERU-ON a chilly winter day three years ago prison officials woke up to stunning news.
Thabang Mothepu, a young but ambitious officer, had been appointed acting commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) under circumstances that could only be described as odd and controversial.
The shrill of protests from his colleagues were instant.

And those grumblings were neither unreasonable nor overdone.
First, Mothepu was not the most senior officer. He had leapfrogged two ranks to land into the commissioner’s office in an unprecedented ascent in an institution that is a stickler for seniority.

Second, Mothepu was on a special probation (a punishment) for the alleged illegal release of some prisoners. Third, the timing of his appointment was curious as it came on the same day (June 17, 2017) former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had been inaugurated.

It appeared that thrusting Mothepu into the commissioner’s office had been one of Thabane’s first decisions. It seemed there had been a strong political wind in Mothepu’s spectacular sail to top.
In May 2018 Thabane made the bold but equally contentious move to confirm Mothepu as the commissioner. Although many in at the LCS had seen it coming they had not expected it to be so brazen as to violate simple human resources protocols.

Yes, Mothepu had jumped ranks. True, he had a blemish on his disciplinary record. Yes, he appeared to have benefitted from his proximity to power.
But to appoint him to a position that was not vacant was to take matters too far.

’Matefo Makhalemele, the person he was purportedly replacing, was still the substantive commissioner. Makhalemele had been put on forced leave but was still the de facto prisons boss when Mothepu was appointed.
Mothepu would run the prisons for a tumultuous three years that ended with his dismissal this week.

Although he now says his dismissal was “politically motivated” it is hard to miss the heavy irony in his protestations.
He too appears to have climbed to the top through political connections. He says the decision to fire him is unfair yet the person he replaced was shoved out by politicians in the most crude of ways.
Those who watched his rise might be tempted to evoke the “what-goes-around-comes-around” adage. There was a time when Mothepu appeared to be ‘untouchable’.

Advocate Leshele Thoahlane, the former Ombudsman, had an unnerving encounter with Mothepu when he was investigating allegations of mismanagement and discrimination in the LCS.
A group of warders had filed a case complaining about Mothepu’s appointment and his management style. They alleged that Mothepu had used political affiliations as the basis for promoting some officers and had also abused institutional resources.
During the hearing Mothepu ignored a subpoena to appear before Advocate Thoahlane.

Instead he chose to address the Ombudsman through the Lesotho Television to which he gave an interview responding to the allegations.
And when he eventually came for the hearing he brought a mob of bodyguards, a move whose implications were not lost on Advocate Thoahlane who later released a stinging 59-page report describing Mothepu in an unflattering way.

Advocate Thoahlane portrayed Mothepu as immature and overly dramatic.
“Mothepu’s conduct during the inquiry was baffling. He was heavily guarded on the allegation that his life was in danger from the same officers who fell directly under his command. This was beyond description,” Adv Thoahlane said.

“It was not clear whether he was by nature a dramatic character or what. This showed lack of maturity on the officer’s side.”
The report said Mothepu’s appointment was as irregular as his promotion of 50 officers.

“At the time of the inquiry there were two LCS commissioners as Makhalemele had, during her interview with the Ombudsman, proved that she was still a Commissioner as she was still earning her salary and associated benefits,” Adv Thoahlane said.

“She (Makhalemele) confirmed that she was just on annual leave while Mothepu on the other had informed the Ombudsman that he had been confirmed as the LCS commissioner. This made no sense legally and otherwise and displayed the highest degree of confusion in the LCS authorities.”

“If there could be confusion at that level it definitely meant confusion in the entire institution. This was not only a burden to the public purse but it also meant that Mothepu’s appointment as a commissioner while the substantive holder of that position was still in office was illegal and so were any decisions he made thereafter, including the decisions to promote officers.”

Adv Thoahlane’s report also went some way to vindicate those who had long accused Mothepu of being a beneficiary of his proximity to Thabane.
“It is not easy to rule out that politics play a vital role in the LCS promotions taking into consideration that Mothepu and six other officers were seen driving and escorting a political leader to the Setsoto Stadium (Thabane’s inauguration) and thereafter got promoted despite their criminal records,” Adv Thoahlane said.

“Senior officers like assistant commissioners and the commissioner (Mothepu) were reported to have been seen and heard canvassing for political parties to the inmates in the run up to the (2017) elections. That definitely proved that there was a political spirit over casting the institution.”

Mothepu however did not take kindly to the damning report, telling a local newspaper that the findings were “pure lies”.
“Government institutions such as this one (the LCS) and that of the Ombudsman are supposed to be in the hands of people who are entrusted not to prejudice any processes but we have seen the Ombudsman acting contrary to what he is expected to do,” Mothepu said.

“The report is out of order because the Ombudsman was misguided and it was clear he was serving someone else’s interests rather than those of his office. We told him what transpired regarding the allegations he was inquiring into but instead he decided to listen to other people who were feeding him lies.”

On allegations that he was basking on the warmth of a political fire, Mothepu told the newspaper that he should not be crucified for being friends with politicians.
He was referring to Thabane and the then deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki.
“I reside in Ha Abia and I come from Nazareth so I cannot be crucified for befriending my neighbours Thabane and Moleleki.”

“All the people I promoted are the best and that is why there is stability in the prisons,” he said, adding that since his appointment there had not been reports of prisoners escaping.
Adv Thoahlane’s report has come back to haunt Mothepu.
Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao did not waste time in clipping Mothepu’s wings.

One of his first major decisions was to ask Mothepu to give reasons why he should not be fired for making irregular appointments, failing to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations and being contemptuous of court decisions.

These were exactly the same allegations in the Ombudsman’s report whose findings Mothepu scornfully dismissed.
Mothepu’s representations did not stop the minister from giving him his marching orders last week.
Mothepu however insists his dismissal is politically motivated.
“They were always against my appointment,” he said in an interview with thepost this week.

He also took a swipe at Professor Mahao and Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for firing him without “sufficient information and research”.
“Administration has its way and politics has its way therefore whoever takes over must consult with the past ministers on how matters were worked out,” he said.
“In politics people handle matters the way they like. They want to run the office like a political party or something.”
His views on the Ombudsman’s report remain unchanged.

“The general conduct of the Ombudsman’s office had strange things happening. Here the Ombudsman did not follow procedures.”
“The Ombudsman’s decisions were unreasonable, unlawful and biased. He said I was promoted politically but failed to prove that allegation. The Ombudsman only makes recommendations not to force decision-making,” he said.

Now that he is out, Mothepu said there should be an investigation on how Lehlohonolo Scott, who was recently convicted of two murders, escaped from prison in 2012.
The government, Mothepu said, should investigate “how a Mosotho man (Scott) escaped from the correctional facility by smearing himself with Vaseline and slipped out through protective bars.”

At that time the prison authorities described the escape as bizarre but many were convinced that it was an inside job.
Mothepu told thepost that “it is a lie that someone could escape by use of Vaseline” and there are people “who know what transpired”.
He said it is for the prime minister and the minister to find out what happened.

“If those people are not found (those who helped Scott escape) watch the space. That is dangerous to the country.”
“I urge the commissioners to remember that LCS is the last hope for the country for keeping dangerous people in society.”
Mothepu said he will not fight his dismissal.
“I am still young and employable,” he said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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