Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing never supported the dismissal of Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli as army commander and his replacement by Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao because due process had not been followed, the SADC Commission of Inquiry heard this week.
Mr Mothetjoa told the commission that then prime minister Thomas Thabane acted unilaterally when he made the announcement in August last year, hence his refusal to accept the changes.
The deputy premier, who was making his second appearance before the commission, also made it clear he was not happy to be summoned once again by the 10-member team led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi.
The commission was suggested by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, and established by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to, among other security concerns, investigate circumstances surrounding the killing of Lt-Gen Mahao in Mokema on 25 June this year.
Lt-Gen Mahao was fatally shot by soldiers who had come to arrest him on suspicion he was the brains behind a foiled mutiny by a group of soldiers against the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) command. Twenty-two soldiers suspected to have been part of the mutiny are in Maseru Maximum Security Prison and being tried by a Court Martial.
Asked by the detained soldiers’ lawyer, Advocate Koili Ndebele, if he ever supported the appointment of Lt-Gen Mahao as army LDF commander, Mr Metsing said he did not.
“I never supported Mr Mahao’s appointment as commander of the LDF. Yes, the former prime minister said he appointed him, but I told this commission before that I did not agree with it. The person who appoints is the prime minister, not the King. If it was the King, there would be provision for him to disagree with some appointments. But the constitution says if the King refuses to approve an appointment recommended by the prime minister (PM), the PM will just continue with the selection and that decision would be considered to have been done by the King,” Mr Metsing said.
Asked by Adv Ndebele why he supported Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command instead in light of the allegations of wrongdoing levelled against him, Mr Metsing said: “As one of this country’s leaders, I have always been firm on what I believe to be the truth. I supported the regularisation of Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command (in May this year) because he had always been in office. I am one of the people who always told the nation that Ntate Kamoli was the commander of the army and never changed my position.
“When the new government took over after the February 2015 elections, cabinet discussed the normalisation of irregularities that had been caused by Ntate Thabane. Cabinet then formalised Ntate Kamoli’s stay in office.”
According to Mr Metsing, he believed Dr Thabane decided to fire Lt-Gen Kamoli after the army commander refused to be used by politicians.
“I don’t know the exact date when Ntate Thabane called a meeting which was attended by the then Gender Minister Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane, who was one of the three leaders of the coalition government, the Director of National Security Service Mr Mohlakala Lerotholi, and Commissioner of Police Khothatso Tšooana. Ntate Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane wanted Lt-Gen Kamoli to implicate me in a plot to topple the government using the army and when he refused, they became angry with him. I suspect that is one of the reasons why they wanted Lt-Gen Kamoli out of the LDF,” Mr Metsing said.
The deputy premier also said it was not true that he threatened Dr Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane to either drop corruption charges against him or he would use the army to overthrow the government.
“Those are lies that I ever threatened my then allies in the coalition government that if they did not withdraw corruption charges against me, I would topple the government using the army. I want this commission to be aware that this country is where it is today because of lies. The reason to lie about me overthrowing the government was purely to tarnish my name, reputation and dignity. The lies were just cheap and dirty politics,” Mr Metsing said.
“If I could explain a little bit more; the summons I received (at the airport) on 31 July 2014 instructing me to appear before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on 1 August 2014, were issued by one Advocate Nthontho. I was shocked when I appeared in chambers at the court that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) did not know about any corruption cases against me. I was not even remanded because there were no corruption charges against me. I want the commission to also be aware that Advocate Nthontho is not an employee in the office of the DPP.
“What I am saying is there are no corruption cases against me whatsoever so I could not threaten to topple the government using the army because of charges that didn’t even exist.”
Mr Metsing also spoke about the testimony of ‘Mamphanya—the wife of the late Lt-Gen Mahao. Ms Mahao told the commission her husband once told her of a call he received from Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, in which the Home Affairs Minister urged him to accept his removal from the LDF command so he could ask Mr Metsing to spare his life.
“My main concern in dealing with this matter is that ‘m’e ‘Mamphanya said two people called her husband and told him that they were sent by Ntate Rakuoane to convince him to accept any government offer so that he could talk to me to spare his life.
“But in the summons here, it is written that Ntate Rakuoane is the one who called Mr Mahao compared to what was said by ‘m’e ‘Mamphanya.
“If I was to deal with what ‘m’e ‘Mamphanya said, I would find it fair and procedural for the two people alleged to have called her husband to testify and explain themselves before the commission, as well as Ntate Rakuoane. There are so many allegations that have been said about me and I maintain that they are a campaign to ruin my name.
“There is a campaign against me going on; it has been done before; it is being done in this commission; they are continuing to do it and I really find that unfortunate. These allegations are a fabrication and if the commission had followed their chronology, it could have been the end of those lies against me.”
Mr Metsing insisted the people who claimed they were sent to Lt-Gen Mahao by Advocate Rakuoane were the same individuals who alleged he had tried to bribe the SADC commission before the 10-member team even arrived in Lesotho to begin its investigation on 31 August.
“I believe they are the very same people who claimed that I tried to bribe you and was planning to kill Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi. It is unfortunate that I did not have the opportunity to ask them their intentions and where they gathered all these allegations.”