Brigadier Ramanka Mokaloba on Monday denied claims that last year’s removal of Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, and his replacement by Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, created divisions within the military.
Brig Mokaloba, who was testifying before the SADC Commission of Inquiry at State Library in Maseru, further said Lt-Gen Mahao was never his commander and he would always be loyal to Lt-Gen Kamoli.
The SADC inquiry is investigating the fatal shooting of Lt-Gen Mahao in June this year by soldiers who had come to arrest him for suspected mutiny. The 10-member probe team, led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana, is also probing the legality of Lt-Gen Kamoli’s sacking by then prime minister Thomas Thabane on 29 August 2014, and his immediate replacement by Lt-Gen Mahao.
In addition, the commission is reviewing army investigations into the alleged kidnapping of former soldiers and murder of opposition party members by the LDF. The probe team is also looking into allegations made by opposition parties and civic society that Lt-Gen Kamoli’s reinstatement in May this year at the expense of Lt-Gen Mahao, led to divisions in the military as well as political and security instability in Lesotho.
“If we look at LDF officers at the time, they were still in control. About eight LDF members deployed at State House were called back to the barracks but did not comply. This means they committed a crime, according to military regulations, but this cannot be called divisions in the LDF.
“Some of the officers, who could have been more than a platoon, obeyed the order and returned.
“The fact that there are disagreements in the army doesn’t necessarily mean there are divisions,” Brig Mokaloba said.
According to Brig Mokaloba, if there were divisions in the army due to Lt-Gen Kamoli’s removal, soldiers could have easily deserted and taken LDF weapons with them.
“LDF members were given ammunition, lawfully, by their superiors and there was no report that any of the soldiers had deserted with military weapons or vehicles. All the soldiers were still abiding by orders given by the LDF commander.
“If ever there were divisions in the army, the soldiers could have deserted with all the weapons they had been given in different military bases countrywide. And during all the different military meetings held, officers were attending in operational uniform and I never saw any soldier absconding from duty.”
Brig Mokaloba further told the commission that Lt-Gen Kamoli was the only LDF commander he knew and he would continue supporting him. He also poked fun at Lt-Gen Mahao for “taking orders from a radio presenter” during a programme he said was sponsored by exiled Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane.
“Brigadier Mahao was heard commanding soldiers through a radio station and it was established by military intelligence that one politician, BNP leader Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane, sponsored the programme. It was strange that songs played during the programme were political, yet the brigadier was an officer of the LDF. That clearly indicated he was being motivated by those political songs.
“Although I might not be able to quote the exact words of the radio presenter, Puseletso Ramokhethi of People’s Choice FM, she asked Brigadier Mahao to instruct the soldiers and he complied.
“He started shouting, saying ‘Motšomotšo kea o laela e re masole ao a khutlise libetsa a libe libarracks’ meaning ‘Motšomotšo, (LDF deputy commander Major-General Khoantle Motšomotšo) I am ordering you to tell the soldiers to bring back the weapons to the barracks.
“The presenter again told Mahao to instruct the soldiers and he complied.
“I have been abroad and to several African countries for military training, and I never heard a commander of the army being instructed by a radio presenter and that commander complying with the instruction. Then again, I had never heard a commander of the army going to a programme where instructions would be given to the army while political party songs were being played.”
Brig Mokaloba suggested to the commission that “maybe” it was during this programme that divisions emerged in the army.
“That was new and very critical and I think that was when, maybe, divisions could have emerged because it was during the programme that he announced that soldiers must report to Police Headquarters where he had opened an office. He later went on radio to say he was operating from Lesotho Sun Hotel.
“Only about two or three soldiers responded to that call, and these were running away from disciplinary hearings they were facing. In other words, two or three people don’t constitute divisions in the army. But I can’t deny that there were people outside the army who wanted the army to be divided.
“Even at the moment, there are still no divisions in the army but soldiers who have been charged with mutiny. The number of soldiers who were arrested for the mutiny is not even 100, and in detention, there are only 22 now. Compared to the number of soldiers in the LDF, 22 people don’t constitute divisions.”
Support for Lt-Gen Kamoli
Attorney Khotso Nthontho, who is representing the mutiny suspects and other parties before the commission, asked Brig Mokaloba if it was true he continued to support Lt-Gen Kamoli even after he was fired and replaced by Lt-Gen Mahao.
In response, the brigadier said he could not comment on an issue which is still before the Court Martial.
“Anyway, I supported the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli and I will continue to support it. I am not sure and don’t have evidence that Lt-Gen Kamoli refused to vacate office,” he said.
Brig Mokaloba also denied allegations that he threatened to kill Lt-Gen Mahao if he ever set foot in the barracks after his appointment as LDF commander on 29 August 2014.
Escorts to court
Brigadier Mokaloba also denied allegations that LDF members escorting mutiny suspects to the High Court did so with their faces covered.
“Colonel Sechele and Lieutenant Fonane were not covering their faces at the court and the fact that other escorts arrived at the court covering their faces did not mean they went to the courtroom like that”.
However, Justice Phumaphi told Brig Mokaloba that there was evidence before the commission that the Chief Justice “reproached army escorts for going into courtrooms with their faces covered and clearly indicated this was unacceptable”.
But Brig Mokaloba said he disagreed with the statement.
Asked by King’s Counsel (KC) Haee Phoofolo, who is representing the Mahao family and other parties before the commission, if he was aware of the LDF operation which resulted in the ex-army chief’s death, Brigadier Mokaloba said: “I didn’t know there was such an operation on that particular day”.
Advocate Phoofolo (KC) told Brig Mokaloba he was “wanted” for high treason, but the officer said the statement had nothing to do with the Phumaphi Commission.
“On 27 July 2014, you committed an act of high treason and you appear again on a warrant of arrest dated 29 September 2014, for treason committed on 30 August 2014,” Advocate Phoofolo said.
However, Brig Mokaloba said he was seeing the documents for the first time, and then asked the commission to intervene.
“He is lost. Please intervene, honourable commissioner, because I won’t comment until a commission has been established to address this specific issue.”