‘We expected government to condemn General Mahao’s murder and order the immediate arrest of perpetrators of this foul act. It has done neither, and seems to treat the grieving family and the nation with disdain’
The family of slain former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Maaparankoe Mahao has condemned government for “deliberately distorting information” about the shooting which led to his death.
Brigadier Mahao was shot dead by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members as he left his farm in Mokema on the afternoon of 25 June. The army has since said Brigadier Mahao (47) was killed during a special operation investigating alleged mutiny in the LDF.
The operation, which started last month, has seen several LDF members being arrested and detained at Maseru Maximum Security Prison, amid claims that they are being tortured.
On the day Brigadier Mahao died, Defence and National Security minister Tšeliso Mokhosi issued a statement that he had been shot “following a confrontation” with LDF members who were on a mission to arrest him.
The family has also taken exception to yet another statement it said the government told King Letsie III “and others,” the following: “There were only two vehicles used by the soldiers during the operation; General Mahao drew his gun during an attempt to arrest him; General Mahao was only shot in the arm; and General Mahao walked himself from his vehicle and into an LDF vehicle and again from this vehicle into the hospital.”
However, addressing a heavily attended press conference in Maseru on Tuesday this week, family spokesperson Professor Nqosa Mahao, said the least government could have done was tell the nation what “really happened” on the fateful day.
“As a family, we strongly dispute this disinformation which may point to possible complicity of government in the heinous assassination of our beloved son.
“We expected government to condemn General Mahao’s murder and order the immediate arrest of perpetrators of this foul act. It has done neither, and seems to treat the grieving family and the nation with disdain,” Professor Mahao said.
The Mahao family, the Professor added, had since issued a statement addressed to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Chairperson Robert Mugabe, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the United States and Lesotho governments, King Letsie III and South African President Jacob Zuma “to set the record straight”.
He continued: “It is with heavy hearts that the family announces to the nation and international community the death of Lt General Maaparankoe Mahao. Around 14:45 hours on Thursday 25th June 2015, the General, in the company of his two nephews was driving from his farm in the village of Mokema when he was ambushed by elements of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). Circumstances are such that we do not know when he actually died as his attackers took him away and the family was only officially informed of his demise at about 21:00hrs.
“As the family mourns the premature demise of a beloved husband, father, brother and son, our hearts sink with a hurtful and inconsolable sense of loss. To us, General Mahao was the very embodiment of human decency, a man of unshakeable principles, absolutely incorruptible and with a deep sense of concern for fellow human beings. He did not deserve to die the brutal and degrading way he did.
“The nation has lost a disciplined soldier and loyal servant. He was charismatic and yet consistently humble and respectful to everyone, high and low.
“As we nurse our hurt, we also fully understand the trauma all Basotho are going through on account of his premeditated and professionally executed assassination. We know that we are in this grief together with a traumatised nation, and all those in SADC and the AU with whom he served in his life, now cut short by assassins. The Mahao family says to all: We are sorry!”
Professor Mahao also noted since Brigadier Mahao’s death, “the Lesotho government propaganda machine went into a frenzy of spin.”
The object, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) vice-chancellor added, was to “impute the blame on him for his callous assassination; to confuse the nation and to manage the expected international fallout from this cowardly act through disinformation.”
This, Professor Mahao said, was consistent with the “hostile political climate they (government authorities) and the rogue elements now in charge of the LDF had unleashed on him for some time now.”
Professor Mahao added the family owed it to the former army commander—who was removed as LDF boss last month by the new seven-party government led by Dr Pakalitha Mosisili and also demoted from Lieutenant General to his old position of Brigadier with the premier arguing his promotion on 28 August 2014 had not followed due process—to tell the truth about how he was “callously executed.”
“Our sources of information are our family members who were with him when he was unexpectedly attacked. And these are the facts: At about 14:45 hours on Thursday 25th June 2015, having driven with his two nephews for about three kilometers from Mokema village, all of a sudden, a silver grey twin-cab vehicle wearing no registration number overtook General Mahao’s half-truck vehicle at break-neck speed.
“This vehicle swerved in front of his and diagonally blocked the road. As the General, who was driving, wrestled with his vehicle to avoid ramming into the vehicle ahead, a white twin-cab registration number M 6839 suddenly screeched to a stop exactly parallel the General’s vehicle on the driver’s side and without a word, an estimated three or four rounds shots rang out of what was thought to have been an AK 47 machine gun and hit the General’s right-side of the body.
“Meanwhile, another white twin cab registration A 0734 had screeched to a halt just behind the General’s vehicle. The General’s nephews then jumped out through the passenger door. He too, obviously already mortally wounded, attempted to crawl out through the passenger door. But considerably weakened by the injuries sustained, he fell to the ground flat on his face while bleeding profusely.
“By this time, three soldiers with AK 47 machineguns drawn, had walked out of the vehicle without registration numbers and a light-complexioned soldier wearing a black uniform appeared to take command. This soldier ordered the General’s nephews who had attempted to run away to stop where they were. The soldier then called through his cellular phone and reported “Re mo fumane. Re mo thuntse. Ke na le Sajene Makara” (“We found him. We shot him. I am with Sergeant Makara”.
“After this apparent report-back, two soldiers from vehicle M 6839 walked out, dehumanisingly dragged General Mahao with his feet face-down for about 10 metres through the tarmac into vehicle M 6839 which had moved ahead of the vehicle without registration numbers. The two vehicles, M 6839 and the one without registration numbers, then drove off with the General, leaving behind the soldier apparently in charge of the operation and vehicle A 0734 holding his nephews hostage for an estimated 40 minutes.
“During this moment of pain and despair, we make an impassionate appeal to all of you powerful leaders of our global community that for the sake of the mourning Basotho nation, you move into action before it is too late. The world cannot afford to look the other way when a nation is being driven to the edge of a precipice by a small band of rogues sprawling about, torturing and killing to their hearts’ content.”
The professor added in the name of humanity’s common decency, the rule of law and accountability, the family pleaded for an institution of a “comprehensive international investigation” into the security developments in Lesotho.
The investigation, he said, should involve security and legal experts drawn from AU, Commonwealth and SADC nations.
“We request that the investigations should include the following: All circumstances surrounding the cold-blooded execution of General Mahao; The wave of torture of scores of LDF soldiers many of whom will never again lead normal lives because of brutalities they have endured at the hands of rogue elements of the LDF.
“These soldiers were tortured by their abductors to force them to confess that from August 2014 to May 2015, led by General Mahao, they planned to mutiny against the Command of the LDF. The absurdity and profound cynicism underlying these claims should be glaring for everyone. This is more so because the period mentioned was when General Mahao was the lawful Commander of the LDF commissioned in that position by His Majesty the King.
“The family expresses its fervent hope that their request will be honoured. We hope that only such investigations would lay firm foundations for the return of sanity, peace and stability in Lesotho and arrest further descent into anarchy and impunity. As we deep our banners in our son’s honour, we call upon the world not to allow his gruesome death to be in vain!”
Meanwhile, the family also announced that Brigadier Mahao would be buried on 21 July 2015.
Professor Mahao, who ended his speech in tears, said he wanted to make it clear that the LDF was not welcome at the funeral.
“With respect to the Lesotho Defence Force being involved in our son’s funeral, let’s make it plain and clear; law-abiding disciplined members of the Lesotho Defence Force, as individuals—I emphasise, as individuals—are welcome to lay to rest their comrade, colleague and leader. They should come as individuals.
“As for an institution called Lesotho Defence Force, which we haven’t seen (since the fateful 25 June 2015), we hope they stay where they are. In any case, if this criminal act was in their name, then quite obviously, were they to be present at the funeral they would traumatise my mother, who is in her 80s and has completely been devastated by this criminal killing of her very, very loved son.
“They would traumatise the wife of the deceased, the children of the deceased and us. They would traumatise the nation that we must thank in the way it has overwhelmingly come to offer us its solace and support.”