'My husband’s killers have not faced justice' ― Widow of slain Lesotho army chief
25 June 2018 marks three years since the brutal killing of my husband, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, former Commander of Lesotho Defence Force. He was an advocate for peace, an advocate for justice and a servant of the nation, especially the marginalised. He loved Basotho and Lesotho, and was a true patriot.
Lesotho is a country in chaos, which shows little signs of recuperating any time soon. When lawlessness reaches its peak, those meant to be protectors become the perpetrators of the very acts they are entrusted to protect the masses from, and heinous acts become the order of the day.
And now, instead of dealing only with the permanent absence of a person dearly loved, there is still another dark cloud hanging over our heads ― our lack of access to justice. My husband’s killers have not yet faced the law. Worse still: even those who openly declared themselves part of the operation to have him killed have never been brought to book.
Before he was murdered, the Pakalitha Mosisili-led coalition government had instituted a sinister campaign to oust him. Mahao was killed for the very principles his life was based on.
From a young age he was inspired to join the army, in an effort to promote peace and stability in Lesotho. His view was that the persistent instability in our country has the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) at its centre.
The Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) soldiers claim that on that fateful day, 25 June 2015, their intention was to arrest Mahao, and that after he resisted arrest the soldiers opened fire on him. Mahao was shot three times with an AK-47 rifle at point blank range. However, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Lieutenant General Mahao found that the LDF soldiers’ claim that Mahao resisted arrest is improbable given the scientific evidence. Excessive force was used. Prior to his killing, there were persistent public threats on Mahao’s life by some members of the LDF.
There was a very deep sense of fear in the days leading up to his death. Many people from different walks of life were always looking out for our safety. Some even advised us to skip the country, but my husband insisted that by so doing he would endanger the lives of the soldiers who were arrested, detained and tortured because they had honoured his appointment as the commander.
He had informed me that the minute I hear that there was an encounter between him and the army I should know that that would mean his death. This he said because he had prior information to the effect that the order was to kill him but disguise it as an operation that went wrong.
So when the news came it was no surprise. I just wished things had turned out differently. I knew that I had to carry on with his struggle, pursue justice and ensure that Basotho do not continue to suffer as he and others did. I and the children were living with my brother in law, his elder brother (where we had been living since the attack on 30th August 2014 when Kamoli instituted a coup) and we stayed there for a few more days then packed and went home for funeral arrangements.
Life has been quite difficult, having to take on all responsibilities without him, with the additional responsibility of ensuring the healing of our children.
The government has refused to pay any dues following his death. I remember one day, 5 September 2016, when the then Minister of Defence organised a meeting after our filing a case against the government. Amongst those present in that meeting was Brigadier Bulane Sechele, the man who proudly told the court that he led the operation that killed my husband. To me, this was the minister’s bid to further torture and intimidate me but I decided to take that opportunity to emphasise that all I want is justice, nothing more, nothing less, and ensured that they knew that I would not settle for less. Ironically Sechele died on the same day exactly one year later.
We have received a lot of support from our family, colleagues and Basotho generally and this has helped us cope with the tragedy. The family is collectively dealing with the loss and is collectively pursuing justice in an effort to ensure that his ultimate goal is achieved, that is, the justice, peace and stability of this nation, democracy and the rule of law. Together, as a family, we are surviving.
Just as efforts were made to engage with the 2015 coalition government, the family is doing the same with the current government in a bid to achieve our goal. We, as the family, wrote several letters to the government seeking intervention of the government as its constitutional duty but all was in vain.
When at long last our cries were heard, these institutions put pressure on the government to restore the rule of law. These were the times when the then prime minister, Mosisili, would make such utterances as “it is better to misgovern ourselves than to be properly governed by others” claiming that Lesotho actually does not need the international community.
The Mahao family was accused of being “loudmouths”, crying over a death of just one person when so many people had lost their lives and were ultimately forgotten. We continue to make efforts to seek government’s intervention. A letter was written to government seeking the performance of the military honours to afford him the military burial that was due to him as the commander, which he was denied by the Mosisili-led coalition government. The family also requested the engagement of foreign judges to preside over the murder case to save the Lesotho courts from acting with prejudice (actual or perceived).
It is my humble plea that the international community help us bring the 2015 governors to book, both individually and collectively for failure to protect our rights.
Lesotho is a country with a history of peace and, as a member of international community, is supposed to be governed in line with international protocols, conventions and standards where observance and protection of human rights is fundamental. But, for the past four years, it had been operating in direct contrast of these. It is our hope that the current government and other governments to be will take cognisance of their constitutional responsibility towards restoration and sustenance of democracy, peace, respect for human rights, good governance, rule of law and access to justice.