Metsing ‘disturbed’ by Mahao court martial

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Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing at SADC Judicial Commission of Inquiry

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing at SADC Judicial Commission of Inquiry

Bongiwe Zihlangu

DEPUTY Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has told the SADC Commission of Inquiry led by Botswana High Court judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, that he felt uncomfortable with the decision to court-martial former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao.

Mr Metsing said although he was told the court was a military matter, it still bothered him.

“The commander of the LDF, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, informed us that a court martial against Brigadier Mahao had been established,” Mr Metsing said.

“He did not say exactly why the court martial had been set-up, only that Brigadier Mahao should appear before it for some investigations. That disturbed me a lot.

“I wanted to know how a huge thing such as a court martial could be instituted. I was compelled to ask what it meant and told it was just a matter of discipline in the army and that such issues were addressed by a court martial. Then I understood.”

Mr Metsing — who was testifying on Monday and Tuesday this week before the Southern African Development Community (SADC)-endorsed probe into the murder of Brigadier Mahao by the military on 25 June this year in Mokema as he allegedly resisted arrest for suspected mutiny — said Lt Gen Kamoli reported the establishment of the court martial to him because at the time, he was chairperson of the Cabinet Security Sub-committee.

At the same time, Mr Metsing was then deputy prime minister (DPM) of a coalition government formed by his Lesotho Congress for Democracy,  All Basotho Convention led by then prime minister Thomas Thabane, and Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP).

According to Mr Metsing, Dr Thabane, who was prime minister at the time, initially informed him about the court martial, prompting him to seek an explanation from Lt Gen Kamoli.

It has since been revealed that the court martial against Brigadier Mahao was established following his argument with Captain Tefo Hashatsi (who is now Lieutenant Colonel) in January last year, who had allegedly informed about 30 of his colleagues that he had heard of plans to remove Lt Gen Kamoli from the LDF command.

Captain Hashatsi had allegedly gone on to say the commander would only be removed over his dead body, resulting in Brigadier Mahao reprimanding him.

Brigadier Mahao allegedly told Captain Hashatsi that all commanders were appointed by political authorities and that if he was not happy about it, he should resign from the LDF.

But later the same day, on 13 January, then LDF acting commander, Major General Khoantle Motšomotšo, wrote Brigadier Mahao a letter of suspension, with one of the reasons being violating the LDF Act by intimidating a junior officer and “behaving in a manner unbecoming of an officer”.

However, according to Mr Metsing, after the meeting with Lt Gen Kamoli, he later met with Dr Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane during which the then PM expressed displeasure with the court martial.

“The PM said he was not happy with the decision to initiate the court martial against Brigadier Mahao. We then told him that since that decision involved the LDF command, it would be wise to engage him (Lt Gen Kamoli) with a view to finding a suitable way of dealing with the matter,” Mr Metsing said.

Mr Metsing further said after “some days”, he heard that Dr Thabane had dissolved the court martial.

“We asked him why he had dissolved the court and in response, he said in his opinion, it was not necessary to have established it in the first place. We then sought legal advice, which stated the PM did not have the right to have done that,” Mr Metsing said.

“We were told he could only make a decision on the outcome of the case as the confirming authority of sentences issued by such courts. We were told that there were different kinds of cases, and that for some, only the commander could establish courts while the establishment of others was only within the defence minister’s jurisdiction.

“This meant for the court established by the commander, the defence minister could only accept or throw out the resultant sentence, hence the legal opinion that he reinstates the court martial, which he did.”

However, Mr Metsing said after the court martial’s reinstatement, Dr Thabane was still not happy, and said he wanted to find ways to free Brigadier Mahao from the trial.

According to Mr Metsing, Dr Thabane was of the opinion that Brigadier Mahao deserved to be LDF commander more than Lt Gen Kamoli because of his academic credentials.

“At another meeting where the three of us met, Dr Thabane told us he was still thinking of a way he could free Ntate Mahao from the court martial. He said it was because he was of the view that Ntate Mahao was more deserving to be commander than Ntate Kamoli,” Mr Metsing said.

“In a way, he was trying to say maybe even in the beginning, Kamoli should never have been appointed LDF commander. He was not directly saying so; it was just by his conduct. Time and again, he would say of Mahao ‘this man is better qualified, he’s so good’.

“Then we said to him we should accept that the military had its processes and that we should allow them to take their course, as long as they were legal. We also advised him that when the trial ended, he could still make some decisions.

“But that didn’t take away the fact that Kamoli was the substantive commander and that we all agreed that he was the rightful commander of the LDF. Ntate Thabane always said Mahao was more educated and had more exposure because he worked with the African Union (AU) and SADC, among others.

“Then we suggested that if he felt that Mahao’s credentials were impressive, he should consider appointing him his advisor, working with him at his office. That was the end of the discussion on that topic.”

The DPM added Dr Thabane also had another favourite, the now-exiled Colonel Matela Matobakele, and would always say he would be suitable as Lt Gen Kamoli’s second-in-command.

Colonel Matobakele went Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL) in February last year amid speculation he had fallen out with the command after allegedly giving Dr Thabane the names of soldiers suspected to have been involved in the January 2014 bombing of the residences of former commissioner of police Khothatso Tšooana and Liabiloe Ramoholi, who is now Dr Thabane’s wife.

“We raised concern that Ntate Matobakele had deserted the military but Ntate Thabane said he would speak to Ntate Kamoli about bringing him back into the military,” Mr Metsing said.

At this juncture, Justice Phumaphi asked Mr Metsing about his impression concerning Captain Hashatsi’s statement that General Kamoli would only be removed over his dead body.

“Referring to statement made by somebody called Hashatsi, that over his dead body would Kamoli be dismissed, especially at the instigation of other soldiers, what impression did that give you?” the judge asked.

“The impression that it gave me was that there must have been some talk around that issue, perhaps from one of the soldiers that they wanted another commander,” Mr Metsing responded.

Justice Phumaphi: “And Hashatsi wanted Kamoli?”

Mr Metsing: “It was not a question of Hashatsi wanting Kamoli because he was already commander of the LDF.”

Justice Phumaphi: “But he was behind the commander?”

Mr Metsing: “He was behind Kamoli, which was obviously acceptable that the army must be behind the commander!”

Commissioner Gopolang Mogotsi also joined in the questioning: “Don’t you think that Hashatsi’s statement was an indicator of divisions or different thinking in the army, which came to life when Mahao was appointed commander?”

Dr Thabane eventually fired Lt Gen Kamoli in August last year, replacing him with Brigadier Mahao, whom he elevated to Lieutenant General. However, Lt Gen Kamoli refused to vacate office, and last week during his own cross-examination, told the nine-member all-foreign Commission that he did not leave the post because the dismissal did not have “instruments to operationalise the expulsion” and that he had not “reached my compulsory retirement age”.

Responding to Commissioner Mogotsi’s question, Mr Metsing said: “I don’t agree with you because he didn’t make himself commander. If he had gone and pronounced himself a renegade commander, I would say there were divisions. But he did not appoint himself. Somebody appointed him.”

Commissioner Mogotsi: “Following the appointment of Mahao, Kamoli refused to vacate office. Those who were excited about the prospects of a new commander were frustrated. Those who think like Hashatsi became defensive to the commander.”

Mr Metsing: “Don’t say divisions in the military. Maybe you don’t have to refer to divisions within the army, but divisions within government. You had better look at it that way. I am the one who openly said Kamoli had not been removed from the army. We asked SADC to intervene and a settlement was reached.”

Commissioner Mogotsi: “You haven’t said anything about the alleged mutiny throughout your testimony. Is it by choice or because it is before the court martial? Or is it because you don’t know anything about it?”

Mr Metsing: “Like you have pointed out, I’m part of government and we have received reports. But I pointed out that I am not going to address this matter here.”

Commissioner Mogotsi: “With due respect Sir, may I ask why you don’t want to deal with this issue?”

Mr Metsing: “And with due respect Commissioner, can I not respond to that? May I not deal with it as I requested not to?”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Hashatsi is today expected to appear before the Commission whose establishment followed a proposal by government shaken by the death of Brigadier Mahao. SADC then endorsed the proposal at its special summit in Pretoria, South Africa, on 3 July, and gave it specific terms of reference, among them establishing the circumstances surrounding Brigadier Mahao’s death.

In addition to Justice Phumaphi, the Commission also comprises eight other legal and security experts from SADC member-states.

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