By Staff Writers
Maseru, Jan 7 (The Night’s Watch) – The sentence which is appropriate for the people who killed former army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao is nothing short of death, Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told the High Court on Monday.
Mahao was ambushed and shot on June 25 2015, allegedly while resisting arrest by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) sent to arrest him for supposed complicity in the mutiny plot.
His family has always differed with this account and claimed he was murdered in cold blood, citing the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) then conducted judicial commission of inquiry into the killing. It found that Mahao did not resist arrest and it therefore recommended a stern action against his killers.
The suspects were arrested and charged in November 2017.
They are: Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko, and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Former LDF commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was joined as the 9th accused in January 2018 and stands accused of various counts of murder of Mahao.
During the plea hearing on Monday, the lead prosecutor Abrahams said “if the suspects are found guilty” of the diabolic crime, “the prosecution will ask for the death penalty”, which is carried out by hanging in Lesotho.
All the suspects pleaded not guilty to the charges they are facing.
Last year Kamoli blamed the death of Mahao on the “unfortunate decision” by prime minister Thomas Thabane to expel him in August 2014.
He said if he was not “suspended from full duty” and posted outside Lesotho, Mahao “could not have possibly met his untimely death”.
The claims were made in papers filed in the High Court in which Kamoli sought release on bail from prison. His bail application was dismissed.
Kamoli submitted to the court that he had “no involvement at all in any matter that had to do with the demise” of Mahao.
He claimed further in the papers that “If it was expedient that Mahao ought to have been arrested”, he could have arrested him “singlehandedly”.
He said there had never been “a point in time at which even a single witness” made allegations against him of having had a hand in either the operation or any process that led to the arrest of the late Mahao.
He indicated that this was the reason he was not served with the docket “that concerns the alleged murder of the late Mahao” even after spending, “in terms of chronological count”, three years in detention awaiting trial.
He indicated further that he had not seen a single witness statement that connects him “in any iota” to Mahao’s death.
Lesotho still retains the death penalty but scholars argue that it only exists on paper.
According to one scholar, Lebohang Matsoso, Lesotho has not used the death penalty since 1992 and death sentences are normally commuted to life sentence.
“It is a fact, however, that no person has ever been sentenced to hang for either treason or rape in the mountain Kingdom. But one must caution that the death penalty remains on the statute books for these offences. It is therefore safe to conclude that Lesotho is a de facto abolitionist,” Matsoso said.
He further indicated that there have been numerous death sentences passed in Lesotho both before and after independence in October 1966.
For example, he said, two senior chiefs were hanged for ritual murder at dawn on Wednesday 3 August 1949.
One was Chief Bereng Griffith Lerotholi, principal chief of Phamong. The other one was Chief Gabasheane Masupha, principal chief of ‘Mamathe in Berea district.
Capital punishment in South Africa – Abrahams’s home country – was abolished on June 6, 1995 by the ruling of the Constitutional Court in the case of S v Makwanyane, following a five-year and four-month moratorium since February 1990.
Abrahams was invited by the government in 2018 to prosecute soldiers accused of murdering Mahao.
Widely known as “Shaun the Sheep”, Abrahams was criticised for lacking independence while he was South Africa’s national director of public prosecutions between 2015 and 2018.
According to the Mail & Guardian, he drew particular fire for failing to pursue corruption charges against then-president of South Africa Jacob Zuma and his inaction on the Gupta family, despite mounting evidence of their criminality and undue influence over the state.
Mail & Guardian also reported that Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, enjoyed close links with the Gupta family during his first stint as prime minister between 2012 and 2015, awarding diplomatic passports to Atul Gupta and two Gupta associates as well as appointing Atul Gupta as a special adviser.
There is however no evidence to suggest that this influenced Abrahams’ appointment in Lesotho.
In August 2018, the South African Constitutional Court nullified Abrahams’s appointment as National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head, ruling that Zuma’s removal of his predecessor, Mxolisi Nxasana, in 2015 was an unconstitutional abuse of power and that Abrahams’s subsequent appointment was correspondingly invalid.
He quit to resume private practice.
Prior to his appointment in 2015 when Mxolisi Nxasana stepped down as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Abrahams had been a senior state advocate in the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit.
Kamoli was initially ousted as head of the LDF by Thabane in August 2014 and replaced him with Mahao but Kamoli refused to step aside, challenging the legitimacy of his dismissal.
The army then attacked police stations and the State House, forcing Thabane to flee the country claiming the attacks were an attempted coup. Not so, said the military. It claimed the police were planning on arming UTTA – the Thabane-led All Basotho Convention (ABC)-aligned youth movement.
It was not so much a coup but a preventative anti-terrorism operation, the army said.
The home of Mahao was also attacked and his cars were riddled with bullets.
Kamoli, Mahao and Khothatso Tšooana, then Commissioner of Police, were later sent outside the country on special-leave by the Sadc Facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa as he tried to resolve the security crisis.
Kamoli returned home before his two colleagues. This was after Thabane lost election that was held in February 2015 and was ousted from power by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Mahao and Tšooana arrived in the country later.
Mosisili reinstated Kamoli to his position as LDF commander in May 2015 and backdated the reinstatement to august 2014 when Thabane fired him.
Mosisili also reversed Mahao’s appointment, saying Kamoli’s dismissal and Mahao’s appointment were illegal.
Shortly before Kamoli’s reinstatement, the army started arresting a handful of soldiers accused of having a hand in the planned anti-Kamoli uprising while a legion of other soldiers fled the country and hid in the neighbouring South Africa.
Mahao however, would not buckle to both family and external pressure to flee. He was murdered in a daylight shooting outside his village on June 25, 2015. NW