IT took more than 15 months of dodging and ducking by the police to hide what had happened to their colleague, Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng who had disappeared in their hands.
It took about 15 months for the Mosisili regime to devise and attempt to hide the well-known secret of the murder of Khetheng; it took more than 12 months for an urgent habeas corpus application in the High Court to be finalised.
But it took just two weeks for the new Acting Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli to have suspects in the murder arrested, charged and the body of PC Khetheng exhumed. This is a sign that Lesotho’s criminal justice system is broken. It is however redeemable. The arrest of several senior police officers for murder is indicative that the cancer which was spreading within the police service can be stopped.
Of all the abhorrent things which happened in Lesotho since 2015 when the Mosisili regime took over, none was as fundamental in undermining the rule of law as the systematic dismantling of the police service and creating in its place a murderous militia made up of army, intelligence, and police officers. The establishment of a Joint Police and Army Unit signalled the beginning of the end of a professional police service which did not see civilians but enemies of the state. It has since emerged that both the National Intelligence Service agents and the police were now being trained on military intelligence as opposed to their traditional skills. I applaud the Acting Commissioner of Police for having dispensed with that a week after he took over.
The Khetheng case is one illustration of how far the rot had gone in turning a law enforcement organ into a criminal unit. Though some of the suspects in PC Khetheng’s kidnap and murder were generally senior officers, the bigger question will remain whether they were their own agents or whether they were under superior orders to murder PC Khetheng. For purposes of this article, we are trying to understand the modus operandi of this criminal syndicate. If those who committed crimes were willing idiots, the question will remain why the majority of untainted police officers became complicit? How can one explain the fact that it only came to the courage of one of the most junior policewoman, ‘Mabohlokoa Makotoko to break ranks thus providing a lead to the arrest of the syndicate? But more importantly, who is accountable for the existence and protection of this criminal gang which kidnapped, tortured, killed and hid PC Khetheng’s body for almost 10 months? It is no use jailing the foot soldiers if the mastermind goes free!
The plot to kidnap Khetheng
March 26th 2016 is the day that PC Khetheng was arrested by four police officers during a feast in Sebothoane, just outside Hlotse in Leribe where he was taken to. He was apparently out on bail for an alleged arson in Mokhotlong where he was based. His arrest from the beginning, as evidence emerged later, was not accidental. In two unrelated cases at the Lesotho High Court, the elements of the plot against PC Khetheng emerged. First was the application for a habeas corpus by PC Khetheng’s father which was launched in June 2016 after he received unsatisfactory responses from Leribe police regarding the whereabouts of his missing son. The second case was an application in the High Court by PC Makotoko who was challenging her transfer from Hlotse Police Station to Tlalinyane police station after refusing to lie about the whereabouts of PC Khetheng.
PC Makotoko, whose evidence became central to both cases, revealed in an affidavit that she feared for her live should she be transferred from her station where she is well-known and has insights into the disappearance of PC Khetheng. She suspected that she would be killed if she were to be transferred before the case of PC Khetheng had been finalised in the courts. This statement on its own was significant since it revealed that the police kill those who may reveal their evil deeds.
PC Makotoko spelled out that it was generally understood that PC Khetheng had been killed. She did not reveal the suspects. But by confronting Mofolo, Head of CID in Leribe, it was clear that she was pretty certain that Mofolo either killed Khetheng or handed him to those who killed him. Mofolo was handed both PC Khetheng and the handcuffs, and the latter was never seen alive thereafter. A trainee at Police Training College would have solved that case within weeks!
The plot to hide traces of him had been laid a long time before PC Khetheng was arrested. This is why police were instructed to arrest him but not bring him to the police station. In evidence in the High Court, PC Makotoko testified that their senior at Hlotse Police station, telephonically instructed them to move around with PC Khetheng after his arrest rather than to take him to the police cells. They did not do so since they were hungry and wanted to go for their lunch.
She testified that after arresting PC Khetheng with three other police officers in Sebothoane on March 26, 2016 they brought him to their police station in Hlotse where they handed him to the then Inspector Mofolo who was heading the Leribe Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
She explained that when they were about to enter the police station gate, they found Inspector Mofolo already waiting for them by the gate. He asked them to hand to him the vehicle key and they left PC Khetheng with him while they took two other suspects they brought from Ha Khabo into the charge office. PC Makotoko further testified that Mofolo asked for a handcuff which she gave him and indicated that was the last time she saw PC Khetheng. The lead was clear. Mofolo was a key part of the plot to arrest PC Khetheng, and hide his whereabouts. He was apparently desperate that police records should not show that he ever arrived at the police station. Being head of the criminal investigation division in the district, Mofolo knew that the paper trail is an important part of investigations. His tactics and those of his accomplices, succeeded in warding off investigations on PC Khetheng’s whereabouts for over 15 months. The attempt to hide their tracks might have succeeded but for the bravery of the two female police officers who refused to dishonor their badge .Their two male colleagues pathetically accepted to lie for their seniors. With heads down after their arrest, they apparently have confessed that they lied under oath in the High Court.
When the plotters were now faced with an application for habeas corpus in the High Court, their well-rehearsed strategy of obfuscation became clear. They would make bland denials and attempt to delay the case until; hopefully the Khetheng family gave up. It was a well-known strategy of government lawyers in the past few months to attempt to delay cases if they felt they were on flimsy ground. We therefore expected that they would attempt to block the habeas corpus application from speedily proceeding. It would be cases of the police are studying the matter; there was snow in the mountains where Khetheng used to work; or the Commissioner of police has been away. The funny thing about the snow issue in court was that Khetheng was arrested or kidnapped in Leribe not in Mokhotlong. The snow issue was clearly just to ensure that the case did not proceed speedily. Delaying cases is such a well-rehearsed strategy that I had dared one of the lawyers involved in the case after one postponement, that the case would be made to drag until 2017. He did not believe me, but it did.
Over and above the usual delaying tactics, the police claimed that PC Khetheng had been dismissed for desertion. In an opposing affidavit, Officer Commanding Hlotse Police Station Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu alleged that PC Khetheng absconded from duty from 11 March 2016 and never reported back to work. Whether he was still a serving police officer or not was irrelevant. The Khetheng family wanted his body to be produced by those who knew where he was. While this did not really matter in a habeas corpus application, the police assertions were meant to justify why they had not launched an investigation on the disappearance of a serving police officer. He was no longer in the police service, he argued.
To confound this matter even further, the response of the Commissioner of Police Molahlehi Letsoepa, to the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) was more astounding. In their Annual General Meeting, the Union wanted to know the fate of PC Khetheng. Rather than respond to the query, Commissioner Letsoepa said the missing cop was not a member of LEPOSA and he could not comment on the matter as it was before the courts of law. This is startling! Whether PC Khetheng was a member of the union or not is not relevant. A law enforcement officer under Commissioner Letsoepa had disappeared but he felt that his best bet is to hide behind union membership. If he did not know more than he has been ready to talk about, why did Letsoepa attempt to transfer PC Makotoko and later fire her for insubordination? The investigations are likely to reveal more than what we presently know.
Torture, murder and hiding corpse
The elaborate plan to hide circumstances surrounding PC Khetheng’s disappearance in Leribe have failed and the body which the family has identified as that of Khetheng is now under DNA checks. The matter which, however, has come to the fore as preliminary viewing of the body has revealed is that Khetheng was severely tortured and probably died of that or a suspected gunshot on the head. The post-mortem results will probably not be made available before the trial. But to the naked eye, PC Khetheng died a gruesome death. The murder trial will probably give an indication of how he died and what were the motives for such a gruesome death. This sadistic killing, by police on another is unbelievable even though it is true. The police had become sadistic killing machines!
It is not clear yet, where and how PC Khetheng was killed, but his body was dumped at or near a rural police station in Maseru, at least 120km from where he was last seen in Leribe. The discovery of the body at Ha Mokhalinyane did not trigger any alarm bells since PC Khetheng’s disappearance had not been made known to police and the public. As fate had it, the scene was attended to by a professional policeman who was meticulous on records and details. This was to become crucial when the body was discovered where it was buried.
PC Khetheng’s picture and his clothes were to be matched with the body and clothes in the grave after exhumation. Again as fate had it, the policeman who headed that Mokhalinyane Police station, was part of the five-member team which is now conducting investigations on PC Khetheng’s disappearance. What was the plan to dispose of the body is also what has shown the hand of those who planned the killing.
After the body was found near Ha Mokhalinyane Police Station, it was sent to the Lesotho Funeral Service mortuary in Ha ‘Majane and kept there for three months. The body was then moved to another Lesotho Funeral Service mortuary in Ha ‘Mant’sebo until it was finally moved to the Maseru mortuary a day before unknown corpses which had been there for more than two years were to be buried at Lepereng cemetery. All these movements could not have been made by the Leribe police since this area does not fall within their area of operation. It was all done by the CID personnel probably in Maseru Head Office.
Another puzzling thing about these movements of PC Khetheng’s body is that he had been dead less than two years, yet his body was tucked in with those of unknown people who had died more than two years. The complicity of some of the staff at Lesotho Funeral Service in this crime is obvious. If PC Khetheng’s body was not in Maseru at the time preparations for the burial of unknown corpses were being prepared for burial, how is it that the plaque with his details was already inscribed with those which had been in Maseru for over two years? As investigations proceed, I hope they will be able to provide clarity. The weekend three of those employees of Lesotho Funeral Service spent with the police, before they were released today should have provided indicators of who was in charge of that operation.
There is a saying that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. As I recall, two senior police officers, Mofolo and Tšukulu who had been rewarded with promotions after the grisly murder of PC Khetheng have now been charged with murder. It took them just one day in police custody to lead investigators to the place they had buried PC Khetheng. Knowing what they had done to PC Khetheng, they probably feared for the worst if they did not cooperate. Indeed, sources indicate that an even senior police officer has confessed to a magistrate about the killing of PC Khetheng. That indicates that there are some at the pinnacle of the police management who are also expected to be arrested. Speaking to policemen in Mazenod, Acting Commissioner Molibeli indicated that “…more people are still going to be arrested in connection with Khetheng’s death…”
I have attempted to bring to the fore the fact that these macabre killings in Lesotho had spread but are now being committed by the police. But more importantly, the previous government attempted to politically defend and protect the criminals who kidnapped and murdered PC Khetheng. In Parliament in response to a question by a Member of Parliament for Mokhotlong on Khetheng’s disappearance, the Acting Minister of Police, who unfortunately is a lawyer by profession, obfuscated and tried to ultimately use the well-worn-out argument that the matter is now in the courts. He denied that the government had anything to do with his unknown disappearance.
In the courts, the government employed a Senior Council to defend against the Khetheng family’s application to have the body of Khetheng produced. They used every delaying tactic to ensure that Mofolo who was last seen with Khetheng did not testify. When he was supposed to do it was too late. But Tšukulu who headed the Leribe Police Station testified claiming that he has no knowledge of the whereabouts of Khetheng. Both have now been charged of murder. It shows that those who dishonour the badge are not only at the junior levels of the police. Indeed the two female police officers in Hlotse are worth more that Mofolo and Tšukulu combined in honour. They deserve an award for bravery if there is one like that.
Like in the LDF, the recent promotions of policemen have revealed that those who commit crimes were rewarded with hefty promotions. Indeed some of those promotions which were processed and announced on Sunday 04 June 2017, a day after the elections, have now been cancelled. The bulk of the beneficiaries have questions to answer for several high level crimes.
But who ultimately is accountable for this miserable state of affairs in the collapse of the criminal justice system? Does this end with the police? Aren’t those political bosses who facilitated and protected criminals also accountable? History will judge!
- This article was originally published on Prof Sejanamane’s blog lesothoanalysis.com His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lesotho Times.