A 36-year-old Mosotho woman died on Saturday night following a hit-and-run car accident which also left her companion, an Angolan soldier with broken bones.
The Angolan soldier, who is part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force, is still nursing serious injuries at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
The SADC Standby Force which is also known as the SADC Preventative Mission to Lesotho (SAMPIL), was deployed in Lesotho on 2 December 2017 as part of regional efforts to create a conducive environment for the implementation of constitutional, security sector, public service, media and governance reforms in line with the recommendations of the regional body.
The mission consists of 207 soldiers, 24 police officers, 15 intelligence personnel and 12 civilian experts and two of the 207 soldiers who were allegedly drunk on Saturday night when they were involved in a car accident in Maseru.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the hit-and-run accident occurred at Ha Foso, Berea near the Agriculture Show Grounds where some of the SADC troops are accommodated.
“We received a report that at around 10-11 pm on Saturday night, a green car, of a Bantum model, hit a 22-year-old Angolan soldier who is in Lesotho under the SADC standby forces. The soldier was in company of a 36-year-old woman who was also hit by the car and died on the scene of crime,” Supt Mopeli said.
He said the Angolan soldier and his lady friend were crossing the road from the camp side, allegedly to find a suitable place for romantic trysts as the deceased was reportedly a sex worker.
“The soldier was allegedly in company of other SADC soldiers and there were also Basotho women in their company when the hospitalised soldier left the group in company of the deceased. It is suspected that the sex workers have relocated their business to Ha Foso and that the 36-year-old was part of the sex workers,” he said.
He added: “The Angolan soldier was taken to Makoanyane Hospital while the woman died on the spot.”
Supt Mopeli was however not aware if the soldier had been transferred to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital or not. He was also not aware if there were any more SADC soldiers who were involved in an accident over the weekend.
For his part, SAMPIL Press Officer, Adao Rodrigues, on Tuesday said two Angolan soldiers were hospitalised with broken bones.
“Based on the information that I got yesterday, it is true that there are two Angolan soldiers who are in hospital,” Mr Rodrigues said, adding, “Their legs were broken in the accident and they are being treated in hospital”.
Mr Rodrigues however, said he was not aware if any disciplinary action was taken against the soldiers as alleged by some sources privy to this development.
He said for now the focus was ensuring they were nursed back to full earth and any measures against them , if at all, would only considered thereafter.
“I am not aware of that (they were disciplined) and any kind of measures will be taken after they have been nursed back to good health. Demotion is very unlikely,” he said.
Last November, SADC Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo told the media that they had drawn up a “strong code of conduct” for the SADC Standby Force to avoid a repeat of past incidents where some SADC troops were accused of improper associations with locals, particularly women during their tour of duty in 1998.
“Our troops are being deployed with a concrete mandate and a very strong code of conduct because we don’t want things that happened in the past to happen again,” Dr Matondo said ahead of the 2 December 2017 deployment of the standby force.
He said the concerns over the past misdeeds of SADC forces had been raised by opposition parties and civil society organisations.
“That is why we are saying that this time around we are making sure that our troops behave the way they are supposed to behave, to uphold the highest standard of morality that is the hallmark of SADC.”
There had been some concerns in the country that there could be a repeat of the 1998 episode where some SADC troops reportedly lured local women into sexual liaisons in exchange for money and foodstuffs.
This followed the September 1998 deployment of 1000 SADC soldiers from South Africa and Botswana “to intervene militarily in Lesotho to prevent any further anarchy and to create a stable environment for the restoration of law and order”.
The instability which was caused by mutinous members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who seized arms and ammunition and expelled or imprisoned their commanding officers.
The soldiers took advantage of the dissatisfaction of some opposition political parties who refused to accept the results of the May 1998 parliamentary elections which gave the-then Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, an overwhelming majority of 79 out of 80 seats.
Government vehicles were hijacked, the broadcasting station was closed, and the Prime Minister and other ministers were virtually held hostage.
The Lesotho police had lost control of the situation and the South African Defence Force (SANDF) feared that a military coup was being planned.
The SADC forces were deployed in key areas and communities of interest for eight months, and many of them were accused of giving money, foodstuffs like beef and peanuts in exchange for sex.