by M. K. Mahlakeng
On 5 September 2017, Lesotho experienced yet another killing of the Lesotho Defence Force’s (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo. This is the second killing of Lesotho’s army commander in just two years. Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, who was appointed as LDF commander to replace the then LDF commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, was shot dead by LDF members who had come to arrest him for allegedly being leading a mutiny to oust the army command.
|The late Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo|
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was gunned down in his office at the Ratjomose barracks by Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and Brigadier Bulane Sechele. The duo who were implicated in Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing had come to confront Lt-Gen Motšomotšo on issues pertaining to the investigation of the January 2014 bombing of the homes of PM Tom Thabane’s wife MaIsiah Thabane and that of the then Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) commissioner (ComPol) Khothatso Tšooana; the May 2014 shooting of Lisebo Tang and Tšepo Jane by former LDF commander Lt-Gen Kamoli’s bodyguards in which the respective Lisebo and Tšepo were sitting in a car that was parked near Lt-Gen Kamoli’s residence; and, the June 2015 killing of Lt-Gen Mahao. All of which were part of the SADC mandate.
The concern by both Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele over Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s facilitation and cooperation with the LMPS in investigating these unique but yet related issues was that they felt exposed to conviction if these matters were investigated further. Moreover, they felt that the commander was, in contrast to protecting army personnel implicated in these events, selling them out. Hence he [Motšomotšo] came to be branded a “sell-out” among several military personnel. Given his close relationship with the duo [Hashatsi and Sechele] and former army commader [Kamoli], Motšomotšo was expected to ignore the SADC mandate and recommendations implicating them [Hashatsi and Sechele] and/or other military personnel in these incidences.
According to the Public Relations Officer who was with Lt-Gen Motšomotšo at the time of his confrontation with Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele, the duo enjoyed frequent access to Lt-Gen Motšomotšo and always had their firearms with them given their status as senior and/or high-ranking officers. During their encounter with Motšomotšo, Hashatsi and Sechele aggressively questioned the former as to why he was cooperating with Prime Minister Thabane and the LMPS, in particular regarding the SADC mandate to investigate numerous members of the LDF involved in atrocities under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s tenure. It is alleged that in his response, Motšomotšo stated that the investigation into these acts is in fulfilment of a mandate by SADC and any aspect relating to the SADC’s mandate is not exempt from investigation.
For many within and outside the military forces, this statement would mean two possible realities. Firstly, Motšomotšo would proceed with the SADC’s recommendations (in an attempt to signal a sense of legitimacy from his part as the new army commander), but eventually create a cover-up to save his colleagues. And/or secondly, he [Motšomotšo] would see the investigation processes through to their finality, to a point where all members of the LDF implicated cases of murder, attempted murder and treason were suspended and/or convicted. This would also be an attempt to signal a sense of legitimacy from his part as the new army commander. However, for Hashatsi and Sechele, the latter possibly appeared to be rising. Following this confrontation with the army commander, Sechele then took out his firearm and fatally shot Motšomotšo. Subsequent to this, Motšomotšo’s bodyguards shot both Sechele and Hashatsi, with the former dying on the spot and the latter succumbing to his wounds and dying later that day in hospital. What was later found at the scene of the shooting was a hand grenade on Sechele and Hashatsi respectively.
Following the killing of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, Major General Lineo Poopa was then appointed as acting LDF commander by virtue of his ranking as second in command to Motšomotšo’s. However, given the intense divisions within the military, his role, popularity and either success and/or demise will be highly tested. Moreover, given his part in the LDF command that killed Lt-Gen Mahao, Maj-Gen Poopa and the LDF’s future raises further concerns.