By Nat Molomo
MASERU — Moments before he was shot dead the late managing director of Astoria Bakery, Thabo Phohleli, was asked to close his eyes and pray, the High Court heard this week.
The dramatic details surrounding the murder were revealed by an accomplice witness, Thabang Kotelo, 21, who was testifying during the trial which began in the High Court on Tuesday.
Tello Mabusela, 37, Seabata Ramohajane, 34, Mareka Nthejane, 41, and Thabiso Sephula, 37, are accused of gunning down the Astoria Bakery boss, on September 5 last year.
The four pleaded not guilty when they appeared before High Court judge Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Leaba Thetsane, said Kotelo would be testifying as an accomplice witness in terms of Section 236 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 1981.
“Having taken oath you are to testify to the satisfaction of the court, and if you do not, you will be exempted from prosecution and you will be prosecuted,” Justice Nomngcongo said.
Kotelo narrated to a stunned courtroom how Phohleli, 40, was waylaid and seized from his house in Ha Tsolo only to be shot on the banks of Phuthiatsana River.
Kotelo told the court that he was asked by one of the accused, Mabusela, to accompany him to Ha Tsolo to “pick up some money”.
Kotelo said on their way to Ha Tsolo they were joined by Ramohajane.
Kotelo said he was later given M20 to buy some drinks.
“I heard Mabusela telling Ramohajane: Hey, soare (brother-in-law) there is that person,” Kotelo said.
“I realised that the two men were becoming hostile and when I asked what was going on, (Mabusela) said I should stop asking what is going to happen (since I want you) to take this vehicle.”
The vehicle, which was being driven by Phohleli, was about 50 metres away, Kotelo said.
Immediately after, Phohleli stepped out of his car to open the gate to his house, the court heard.
“Tello Mabusela pointed a gun at him as he was about to open the gate. After he pointed a gun at him Mabusela ordered him to get onto the back of a van,” Kotelo said.
He said Phohleli appeared frightened when he jumped into the back of the van. They then sped off towards Phuthiatsana River, south-west of Ha Tsolo.
“We then took a path to Phuthiatsana River and went down jogging. Mabusela and Phohleli were in front and Ramohajane was behind me,” Kotelo said.
When they got to the river, Mabusela and Phohleli stepped on the river bank, a few metres away, he said.
“I heard (Mabusela) asking the deceased whether he knew him, to which the deceased replied: No ntate I do not know you, please forgive me,” Kotelo said.
“I heard (Mabusela) saying, ‘I am Tello Mabusela, why did you dismiss my sibling from work?’”
He said Phohleli then replied that he had been forced by circumstances to dismiss her, Kotelo said.
It was at that moment that Mabusela ordered Phohleli to close his eyes and pray before shooting him on the forehead.
“After that I heard a gun sound. I immediately looked down intending to run away from that place and I ran away,” Kotelo said.
He said he saw Mabusela chasing after him.
He then heard a second shot being fired, Kotelo said.
The four are also facing seven separate charges which include armed robbery, murder and two charges of illegal possession of a firearm.
They are also facing one charge of attempted murder.
All the incidents happened between September 5 and October 17 last year.
The defence team consists of Advocates Zwelakhe Mda, Letuka Molati and Thulo Hoeane.
The trial continues.