MASERU-‘Maesaiah Thabane flashed a sheepish smile as she elegantly strode into court on February 5.
Despite being a murder suspect ‘Maesaiah’s demeanour did not depict a woman whose spectacular fall from grace was just beginning to unfold.
She was still exuding the same aura of invincibility that had defined her rather eventful stint as the First Lady.
As the magistrate read her murder and attempted murder charges, ‘Maesaiah glared at the packed gallery.
Face glowing in fresh make-up and head held up high, she did not look like she had spent the previous night in a police cell.
The shame of being the first wife of a Prime Minister to be charged with murder did not seem to cause her much ache. She appeared unusually serene for someone in what was clearly an unnerving situation.
It was as if she was telling those thrilled by her comeuppance that they will soon have egg on their faces.
More like saying ‘celebrate while it lasts because I will be out of this temporary jam in a jiffy’.
And indeed her power and influence would come to her rescue a few moments later when she was granted bail in what has been described as record time.
As the Court of Appeal would later find, ‘Maesaiah’s release was unusual.
It was both hasty and dubious, the court said.
As dusk crawled into Maseru, ‘Maesaiah was walking out of the remand prison to the deafening cheers of her sympathisers who had camped at the gate. They joyfully escorted her to the State House as if they were welcoming a hero. The party dragged through the night.
Outside the State House many were outraged at the turn of events. There was a feeling that corners had been cut to grant her bail. A storm erupted on social media as people cursed both her and the court that had freed her. No previous bail had triggered such palpable anger.
In just two weeks she had fled the country as a fugitive, spent days on the run in South Africa and then casually walked into a Maseru police station as if she was meeting her friends for drinks.
The police promptly threw her into a cell but by the end of the next day she was back in her house on a measly M1000-bail that seemed to make a mockery of the heinous charges she faced.
Such was the power she wielded. It appeared that not even the courts were beyond her clutch.
A few weeks later her arrogance was in full display as she berated a journalist snapping a picture of her and her husband in court.
But something that would bring her back to earth, with a thud, was brewing.
First, her husband’s political fortunes were sliding fast. His political nemeses were aggressively shoving him towards the exit door even as he vehemently resisted.
Second, her controversial bail was being challenged.
In the end a few days separated the conclusion of those two processes.
Her husband fell from power and a few days later the Court of Appeal cancelled her bail.
Still, she appeared to be nursing a hangover of the power she had lost. It took her nearly a week to hand herself to the police. When she eventually handed herself in she appeared to have dressed for the occasion: Louis Vuitton trainers and tracksuit plus a fur coat.
That however did not change the reality that the world was crumbling around her.
Instantly, she had lost both her power and freedom. Only her dressing gave signs that she was once a woman of power and wealth.
Now bereft of the power that guaranteed her power, ‘Maesaiah is exceptionally vulnerable. No longer can she fight from high ground of power derived from the office of her husband.
That, in essence, is why her for quest bail is particularly tough.
Were she another ordinary person charged with murder, the battle would be between her and the prosecution only.
But because she is the once mighty ‘Maesaiah she has to deal with a battalion of people hell bent on blocking her bail.
The people on whose toes she stepped on are coming out of the woodwork, with guns blazing.
Rarely has a suspect’s bail been opposed by so many people.
‘Maesaiah is facing the police, the prosecution, victims, former friends and relatives who want her locked up until trial. And things are not looking good for her.
The affidavits against her have all but lifted the lid on the prosecution’s case against her. Her trial has already begun in the court of public opinion even before her prosecution starts.
Every affidavit contains damning and chilling evidence painting her as a callous, dangerous and scheming woman who doesn’t hesitate to kill those who stand in her way.
If Assistant Commissioner of Police Paseka Mokete’s affidavit painted the outline of the case then ’Makarabo Mojakhomo, her former confidante, added the texture to the portrait.
‘Mabatsoeng Hlaele (Nkoya) (See Side Bar), her stepdaughter, gave it the rich background.
Thato Sibolla, the alleged victim, supplied the frame to the picture.
The result is a woman facing overwhelming evidence that might sabotage her bail application and possibly sink her for good.
The common theme in the affidavits is that ‘Maesaiah is an unhinged character capable of using her ostentatious wealth and power to eliminate rivals and witnesses. The pleas are therefore that the world is a better place if she remains in jail until trial.
ACP Mokete gives a terrifying account of how ’Maesaiah and Thabane hired five famo gangsters and promised them M3 million to kill Lipolelo Thabane. He alleges that one of the gangsters, later hired as a minister’s driver, has now become a state witness.
DCP Mokete names the hit men as Rethabile ‘Chakela’ Mokete, Seabata Joseph ‘Lieta’ Sello, Macheli ‘Lebese’ Koeshe and Molefi ‘Mokata’ Matima. Chakela is a notorious famo gangster and a staunch All Basotho Convention supporter.
ACP Mokete describes the hit men as “members of the infamous famo gang, notorious for displaying violence and for brutal killings”.
The crown witness is the fifth hit man.
DCP Mokete says ’Maesaiah initially paid Chakela M50 000 and Sello M20 000. The witness was paid M30 000 and rewarded with a job as a minister’s driver. Chakela, Sello, Koeshe and Matima later “became aggrieved” after Thabane and ’Maesaiah failed to pay the full amount that had been promised.
DCP Mokete says during late 2018 or 2019, Thabane paid M300 000 to the four gang members “who expressed their extreme displeasure with the above amount, which they believed to be too little”.
The police have since issued warrants of arrests for the four suspects who are believed to be in South Africa. The story of how the money changed hands is told in detail by Mojakhomo, herself a victim of ’Maesaiah’s influence and power.
Until June 2018 Mojakhomo was ’Maesaiah’s confidante and manager at the ’Maesaiah Thabane Trust Fund which critics say was largely a laundry room for illicit money. The two fell out after ’Maesaiah accused her of bilking the Fund.
The official story at that time was that Mojakhomo escaped from police custody and fled to South Africa.
Now Mojakhomo is telling the court that the police handed her over to kidnappers who were instructed to kill her by ’Maesaiah. She says ’Maesaiah was angry that she had pinched some money she was supposed to deliver to Thulo Motau whom she alleges had a hand in Lipolelo’s murder.
She says on five occasions ’Maesaiah sent her to deliver money to Motau.
On the third occasion she was given M65 000 for Motau but she admits that she nicked M10 000 as compensation, courting ’Maesaiah’s anger.
She says ’Maesaiah had requested the money from a Chinese man identified as David.
“She (’Maesaiah) went on to ask whether I want to die like Lipolelo,” Majakhomo alleges, adding that it was then that she knew the money was payment to Lipolelo’s killers.
Majakhomo later delivered another M120 000 to Motau who she says was later murdered “in order to bury evidence because dead men tell no tales”.
Her conclusion is that ’Maesaiah is “dangerous” and “not afraid of taking life of another person if it may give her a benefit or please her heart”.
She says ’Maesaiah might kill witnesses if released.
Sibolla gives details that point to ’Maesaiah’s alleged motive for killing Lipolelo.
She says relations between ’Maesaiah and Lipoleo “turned from bad to worse and escalated into a dangerous if not life-threatening one” just before the 2017 election.
Sibolla tells the court that ’Maesaiah would call to insult Lipolelo and threaten her “with all forms of physical assaults”.
’Maesaiah was allegedly angry that Lipolelo was resisting Thabane’s attempts to end their marriage.
Sibolla says Lipolelo showed her Whatsapp messages in which ’Maesaiah indicated that “she wanted that divorce taking place by hook or crook”.
She says Lipolelo told her that some people had informed her that ’Maesaiah was planning to kill her.
“Faced with the prospects of a life threatening situation, the deceased (Lipolelo) started to employ security measures to avoid death and engage in measures to sleep away from her home in fear of her life”.
As pressure mounted Lipolelo allegedly agreed to the divorce but wanted Thabane to help her financially.
Sibolla says she did not think much of Lipolelo’s fears until she escaped an attack at her home in Ha Masana.
In desperation Lipolelo asked Teboho Mojapela, a businessman who leads the Socialist Revolutionary, to mediate between her and ’Maesaiah.
Lipolelo was however murdered a few hours after meeting ’Maesaiah at Mojapela’s house in Ladybrand.
Sibolla, who was with Lipolelo, was injured. She says after recovering a friend warned her that there were people who wanted to kill her.
She was constantly tailed by suspicious vehicles until she escaped to South Africa.
Like Mojakhomo, she believes that ’Maesaiah is capable of killing if released.
“The accused would be more than happy if I am not available to testify against her in the criminal proceedings because I am the most important eye-witness in this horrific incident”.
It is ironic that ’Maesaiah is appearing in court in a week of the third anniversary of Lipolelo’s murder.
The dead might not tell tales but the African thinking is that the dead can still fight from the grave. Lipolelo might be dead but she appears to be fighting her battles.
Whether she will eventually get justice is yet to be seen but what is certain is that the living are fighting for her.
’Maesaiah Thabane timeline
January 2014: Liabiloe Ramoholi’s house is bombed allegedly by rogue elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
April 2015: Thomas Thabane, then the official leader of opposition, flees to South Africa claiming his life was in danger. Ramoholi joins him in exile and they live in Ficksburg.
Before June 2017 – Thomas Thabane and Liabiloe Ramoholi allegedly meet famo gangsters in Ficksburg to plot Lipolelo Thabane’s murder. The couple promises the hitmen M3 million.
June 10: The hit men attack Lipolelo at her Ha Masana house but she escapes unhurt.
June 14: Lipolelo meets ’Maesaiah for mediation at Teboho Mojapela’s home in Ladybrand. On the same day Lipolelo is killed as she drives into her yard in Ha Masana. Thato Sibolla, who is in the same car, is injured.
August 2017: Liabiloe Ramoholi marries Thabane at an opulent wedding. Ramoholi becomes ’Maesaiah Thabane as per the Basotho customs.
June 2018: Health Minister Nyapane Kaya is fired after publicly accusing First Lady ’Maesaiah of interfering in government and party affairs. In the same month another minister, Motlohi Maliehe, complains that ’Maesaiah is meddling in the government’s affairs. He is later fired.
July: ’Maesaiah Thabane assaults a visitor at the Maseru Private Hospital. The hospital refrained from suing after the then secretary general of the All Basotho Convention, Samonyane Ntsekele, apologised.
October: Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli calls First Lady ’Maesaiah Thabane for questioning over the murder of Lipolelo Thabane.
January 2019: First Lady ’Maesaiah publicly rebukes Principal Secretary for Finance, Motena Tšolo, and Public Works’ Mothabathe Hlalele. He accuses them of neglecting roads.
May: ’Maesaiah is accused of insulting a bartender at a lodge in Butha-Buthe for serving another patron before her. ’Maesaiah insults Sports Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse for asking Thabane to go with her to greet players before an international match at Setsoto Stadium.
May: Famo musician Rethabile ‘Mosotho Chakela’ Mokete threatens to reveal secrets about ’Maesaiah and the then Police Minister ’Mampho Mokhele. Mokete is a suspect in the Lipolelo Thabane murder.
December: Police Commissioner Molibeli asks Thabane to explain why his phone number was used to call someone who was at Lipolelo’s murder scene.
Jan 2020: Thabane tries but fails to fire Police Commissioner Molibeli.
Jan 2020: Police Commissioner Molibeli again calls ’Maesaiah for questioning over Lipolelo’s murder. Instead of going to the police she skipped the country to South Africa.
Feb: The police quiz Mojapela over the killing of Lipolelo. ’Maesaiah returns from South Africa and hands herself over to the police. She is officially charged with murder and attempted murder. Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase controversially grants ’Maesaiah bail.
March: Mosotho Chakela is charged with Lipolelo’s murder.
May: ’Maesaiah ceases to be the First Lady after her husband hands over power to Dr Moeketsi Majoro.
May: The Court of Appeal reverses Justice Mahase’s ruling and orders a fresh bail hearing before a different judge. ’Maesaiah Thabane was sent to jail pending trial. She applies for bail on the same day and her case, two weeks later, is still being argued in the courts.
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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