Exiled soldier, Lance-Corporal Tankiso Mokhele, grieves for his late wife
IT is exactly 13 months since Lance-Corporal Tankiso Mokhele fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring South Africa.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officer maintains he had to leave his family, friends and job after receiving threats from his superiors.
He refuses to discuss the nature of the threats and who exactly made them, insisting doing so would endanger his loved ones back home in Lesotho.
Homesick and desperate for an amicable solution to his predicament, Lance-Corp Mokhele says he is now undergoing mental torture following the death of his wife in June this year.
Lance-Corp Mokhele could not even attend the funeral of the love of his life ‘Mamokhele due to fear the LDF would arrest him and to make the situation even worse, he only came to know about his wife’s death one week later and from a third party.
His two children have since been taken in by a relative, and Lance-Corp Mokhele says he cannot take it anymore.
“I left my family in October last year; I had to run for my life and my wife was already having serious eyesight problems at the time.
“I don’t want to go into the details of what made me flee the country, suffice to say my situation at work was getting worse by the day.
“And due to security concerns, I could not communicate with my family; I did not want to give the army an excuse to victimise them simply because they were talking to me because I knew they were looking for me.
“But because of the communication breakdown between me and my wife, I did not know that her situation had deteriorated so much that she eventually lost her eyesight,” said Lance-Corp Mokhele from his “hideout” in South Africa.
Lance-Corp Mokhele said he only came to know of his wife’s death at the Lesotho embassy in Johannesburg.
“I did not even know that she was dead until I was told about it first by Lesotho High Commission Defence Attaché Colonel Tau Ntšohi and then High Commissioner ‘Malejaka Letooane.
“To say I was shocked would be an understatement; I was stunned. I was told my wife had gone blind by the time she died and had also been diagnosed with depression and I could not be there to share the last moments of her life with her.
“I had been the sole breadwinner and when I left, there was nobody else to provide for her and our two children. I am told she wanted to look for employment and support our children but could not because she had gone blind, and she was just 43 years of age. I think she could not cope with the situation, and that should have driven her to the edge.
“I did not even attend her funeral for fear of being arrested and that breaks me every day because I was not able to pay my last respects to the love of my life and the mother of my children. I was not there when she needed me most,” Lance-Corp Mokhele said.
“I don’t want to imagine what my children are going through because they are being taken care of by relatives, not their biological parents.”
Lance-Corp Mokhele said his unemployed sister-in-law, ‘Matumelo Motšeleli, is now taking care of his children. Together with her husband, Lebohang Motšeleli, the couple also took care of the burial of Lance-Corp Mokhele’s wife. However, Mr Motšeleli has also since left the country for South Africa.
“I will be grateful to these great people for the rest of my life; they have problems of their own but they took it upon themselves to help my family,” Lance-Corp Mokhele said.
Down and out in the Free State and not knowing where his next meal is going to come from, Mr Motšeleli says he decided to leave Lesotho soon after the burial of Lance-Corp Mokhele’s wife.
“I have been here since June and my wife is bearing the responsibility of looking after our two families on her own,” Mr Motšeleli said.
“Soldiers were all over the place and surrounding Lance-Corp Mokhele’s Ha Thetsane home during his wife’s funeral. They searched the place and the mourners could not understand what was going on; it unnerved everyone present.
“I think the soldiers thought Mokhele would attend the funeral and then arrest him but he did not come.
“After the burial, I decided to leave. I don’t want to go into details of why I decided to leave in case I put my family’s lives in danger.”
Mr Motšeleli further told the Lesotho Times that life has been tough for him in South Africa and all he wants now is to return home.
“I am jobless and in exile; I have two children and my wife is a street-vendor in Maseru. Out of the little profit she gets from selling airtime, soft drinks, fat cakes and snacks, she has to put food on the table for the our two families and also cover our children’s school needs. It has not been easy for us but that is the reality we have to face,” Mr Motšeleli said.
Narrating how life has become but a nightmare since the death of her sister and her husband’s departure for South Africa, Ms Motšeleli told the Lesotho Times from her Khubetsoana vending site: “I was already going through hardships because I had to cover for my sister’s medical expenses but her presence would give me courage and a reason to carry on.
“Now that she is gone, I am helpless but at the same time, I have to be a good mother not only to my two children but hers as well.
“I don’t really know when Lance-Corporal Mokhele’s issue will come to an end because the soldiers still come to his home and ask us his whereabouts.
“I always tell them that I don’t know where he is but they harass us by taking pictures and videos of us and the surroundings without asking for permission or explaining why they would be doing it.
“They don’t hide their identities; I even know their names but I will not reveal them for my safety and the children’s safety.
“Sometimes we don’t even sleep at home for fear they might turn up and do something terrible to us.”
Ms Motšeleli also said she has to go home very late, at around 10pm, due to her vending business.
“Business is not good during the day so I have to stay here until very late in the evening because taxi drivers and conductors buy a lot when they are knocking off.
“Because I go home late, I don’t get a chance to be with the children and mentor them because if I don’t sit here on the streets until this late, I won’t make the money I need to keep all of us alive.
“I am struggling and I always ask myself why me? Why is this happening to me? Why?”