THE government is re-hiring most of the soldiers who fled the country at the height of the turmoil in the Kingdom during the year 2015 and others who were detained over trumped up charges of plotting a mutiny.
Dozens of soldiers fled into exile while others were detained at the Maseru Maximum Prison during the reign of terror unleashed on Lesotho by former army commander Tlali Kennedy Kamoli in the wake of his re-appointment to the LDF after former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili won the February 2015 snap elections.
Under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s renewed mandate at the helm of the LDF, Maaparankoe Mahao, who had been appointed army commander by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was brutally murdered in June 2015. Other soldiers accused of having plotted a mutiny alongside Lt-Gen Mahao were arrested, brutally tortured and detained. Others fled into exile.
The mutiny story was dismissed as a hoax by the Mphaphi Phumaphi commission of inquiry established by SADC to, among other things, probe the killing of Lt-Gen Mahao.
The government is now rehiring the soldiers, who suffered immensely under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s reign of terror. Their re-hiring, according to the government, is part of a wider initiative to rehabilitate the LDF and return it to normalcy after the turbulence that characterised the army during Lt-Gen Kamoli’s tenure.
Lt-Gen Kamoli was forcibly retired on 1 December 2016 after widespread international disapproval of his continued command of the LDF and the recommendations of the SADC commission of inquiry. He is now in prison for atrocities he committed during his tenure.
At least six soldiers, of the more than 30 who were either in exile or in army detention, will start work on Monday while more are expected to return to work in the coming weeks.
The six are Major Mojalefa Mosakeng, Lieutenant Colonels Lekhooa Matlali and Nkhetheleng Mohale, Major General Poqa Motoa and Colonels Kolisang and Stemmere. Major General Matela Matobakele, who was hounded into exile by Kamoli, has already been appointed deputy commander of the LDF and will also start work next week.
The Lesotho Times has it on good authority that all the soldiers who were in exile as well as those who were in detention met with the army’s Human Resource manager at Ratjomose Barracks yesterday at 11am to discuss the modalities of their return to work. Some don’t want to return to work nevertheless and prefer to get compensated.
Defence and National Security minister, Sentje Lebona, last night confirmed the impending return of the six LDF members, saying, “The government is busy with the modalities of ensuring that all the soldiers start their work as soon as possible”.
Major Mosakeng fled into exile in February 2015 after being shot by his colleagues.
Lt-Col Matlali and Lt-Col Mohale fled after being fingered in the alleged mutiny plot of 2015 which was allegedly aimed at toppling the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli but was dismissed by the SADC inquiry as a hoax.
Maj-Gen Motoa (previously a Brigadier) as well as Colonels Kolisang and Stemmere were detained at the Maseru Maximum prison.
Mr Lebona however, refused to shed light on yesterday’s meeting at Ratjomose Barracks, saying “security issues are sensitive matters that should be handled with the uttermost care”.
In addition to the six, Mr Lebona said other soldiers of lower ranks would also be returning to work in the coming weeks.
“The seven soldiers (including Matobakele) will start work on Monday and all the other soldiers who were either in exile or in the maximum prison will resume their duties very soon”.
He however, said only those soldiers who were willing to return to work would be reemployed while the government would compensate those who did not want to return to work.
“The government will work on the exit packages for those who do not want to return to work,” Mr Lebona added.
He said that the government had completed paying salaries owed to all the formerly exiled soldiers. Their salaries had been cut by Lt-Gen Kamoli in April 2015.
He said the payments were necessitated by the fact that their exile did not take away their employment status within the LDF.
“The soldiers who were in exile and those who were detained in the maximum prison still bore their employment status and for that reason, the government made sure to pay the salaries of those who were in exile from 2015 until their return in 2017.
“Those who were in detention were still earning their salaries despite the detention,” Mr Lebona said.
He however, refused to disclose how much the government had spent on the salary arrears, saying salaries were not only private but also a sensitive issue.
In another development, Mr Lebona revealed that a ceremony will held “sometime next week” where the newly appointed army commander, Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela, will be officially installed in his new position.
“The Prime Minister, Dr Thomas Thabane, only arrived today (yesterday) from a government trip (to Ethiopia) and he is the one who will determine the actual date which I believe will be next week”.
Lt-Gen Letsoela takes over from Maj-Gen Lineo Poopa who has been Acting Commander of the LDF since the 5 September, 2017 assassination of Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
In the aftermath of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s assassination, the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) resolved to deploy a standby force to help the LDF manage the ensuing security crisis.
The SADC standby force was deployed to Lesotho on 2 December, 2017. It is made up of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts.
One of its stated objectives is to support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.