A SOMBRE atmosphere gripped Ratjomose Barracks when government officials, army officers, clergymen, the media and other stakeholders converged for a cleansing ceremony in the wake of last September’s assassination of former commander, Lieutenant General, Khoantle Motšomotšo.
Army commander, Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela, Retired Major General Lineo Poopa, Defence and National Security Minister, Sentje Lebona were among those who witnessed the emotional ceremony that was conducted by Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi OMI and other clergymen.
The ceremony was conducted ahead of tomorrow’s official handover of the reins of command to Lt-Gen Letsoela who was appointed army commander on 23 January 2018.
Those present were treated to emotional accounts of the 5 September 2017 events when army officers, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi stormed Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s offices, interrupting his meeting with Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Public Relations Officer, Lt-Col, Mashili Mashili before gunning down the army commander in cold blood.
“Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was sitting there while Lt Colonel Mashili sat on that other chair,” Brigadier Khomo Mohobo recalled while pointing to the slain army chief’s office chair.
“Brigadier Sechele stood there (pointing to the right corner of Lt-Gen’s desk) when he uttered the words, ‘Motšomotšo u oa re rekisa’ asking why the army commander had decided to sell them out.”
This was in reference to the fact that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had agreed to the investigation of Brigadier Sechele and Col Hashatsi and other army officers implicated in crimes that furthered instability during the tenure of former army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is currently in remand prison awaiting trial for murder and attempted murder.
“The commander (Lt-Gen Motšomotšo) told them to go outside and wait for him to call them and that is when Brigadier Sechele pulled out a gun and shot him. He died while still on his chair.”
Soon after Brig Mohobo’s narration, Archbishop Lerotholi and clergymen stretched their hands in the direction of the spot where Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was killed and prayed to God to cleanse the barracks off the blood spilled on 5 September 2017. The archbishop also sprinkled holy water on the spot as a sign that the place had been cleansed.
They repeated the same ritual in the direction of the spots where Brig Sechele met in his untimely demise at the hands of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards.
Brig Mohobo said Sechele died on the door leading out of the office block. He said Col Hashatsi was found lying down few meters away from the command office block’s entrance and he had hand grenades. Col Hashatsi later died in hospital after also being shot by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards.
Archbishop Lerotholi and the other clergymen then laid hands on Lt-Gen Letsoela, his deputies and 10 army officers who working directly with Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
Rtd Major Gen Lineo Poopa, who acted as commander after Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s assassination until Lt-Gen Letsoela’s appointment on 23 January this year, also narrated his experiences on the fateful day of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s assassination.
“I was the first to enter his office, followed by Brigadier Mohobo. I found the commander on his seat, dead and the events of that day are etched on my mind. I can’t shake them off.
“Immediately after informing government of what had happened, I addressed a parade here and I didn’t know what I was saying. I am told I repeatedly said “the commander has been shot and he is dead on his chair.”
For his part, Lt-Gen Letsoela vowed to restore the good image of the army.
He said Lesotho’s security forces comprising of the LDF, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, the National Security Service and Lesotho Correctional Service should closely work together for the betterment of the country.
He also called on the army to desist from involving themselves in criminal activities. He also said the soldiers were not above the law and they would be punished for engaging in violence, murders and other criminal acts.
“Just because we are holding guns and are able to shoot doesn’t make us better people than others. We must pray to God to be the centre of our command and help us achieve what is expected of us,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said.
“If we as soldiers that don’t live by the oath we have taken, Police Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, and his officers will investigate and prosecute us. I will not stand in their way,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said, adding that no one except King Letsie III was above the law.
Speaking at the same event, Defence and National Security Principal Secretary, Rtd Col Mothae, expressed optimism that the cleansing ceremony would usher in a new era for the army which was peaceful and free of bloodshed.
“We don’t want the repeat of the bloodshed and I plead with everyone to take this cleansing ceremony as a fresh start and self-introspect. Your loyalties must always lie with the LDF command and the country, not anyone else,” Rtd Col Mothae said.
Minister Lebona echoed Rtd Col Mothae’s sentiments, saying the ritual represented a fresh start for the LDF as “the evil spirit will never be seen or experienced in this place again”.
Mr Lebona pleaded with the soldiers not to involve themselves in party politics.
“It is better for you to retire from the army with a clean record than to involve yourselves in party politics. Stop taking politically motivated orders as you will be left to deal with the consequences by yourselves,” Mr Lebona said.
He also urged Lt-Gen Letsoela to consider erecting a statue in honour of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, saying this would remind soldiers to be loyal to their commander.