By Lekhetho Ntsukunyane
Two years after the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express editor Lloyd Mutungamiri was shot, his family remains devastated and lost.
Talking to the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) on email this week, it is obvious Mutungamiri’s children, wife and siblings are still engulfed in trauma of the fateful July 9, 2016.
Mutungamiri was critically injured after his assailants shot him outside his home in Ha-Thamae, Maseru in the late evening, just as he was about to enter the residence from work.
A bullet that went through his mouth, shattering his lower right jaw, burning his tongue and the entire mouth, damaging his teeth before lodging behind his left ear, has left Mutungamiri permanently paralysed on the lower lip and left side of the face.
“The bullet also injured some nerves in the process of trying to kill him. This paralysis makes it difficult for him to control his facial expressions,” the family spokesperson, George Mutungamiri said.
As a result, the once hardworking editor who was lively and cheerful can no-longer enjoy meat, not only because he cannot chew, but he has lost the sense of taste on all kinds of food too.
“In the last two horrendous years, he has not been able to eat in public due to his weak jaw. Due to his poor sight, his love for reading and indeed his source of livelihood, which is editing, was painfully stolen from him,” George said. Only justice may bring closure to the family’s trauma, George said.
“We wonder if the walk towards ensuring justice for our brother is going to be achieved within a reasonable timeframe as it appears to be threatened by some endless delays,” George added.
The trial of five members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) on the matter, namely Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Colonel Khutlang Mochesane (57), Mohanyane Phusumane (37), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35), has been dragging before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court since December last year.
The near-fatal shooting of Mutungamiri followed an eventful week at the Lesotho Times where journalist Keiso Mohloboli had been summoned for interrogation by a joint police and military panel in relation to a story about closed negotiations for an exit package for the then army commander, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, with government.
The publication’s boss, Basildon Peta, had also been charged with criminal defamation in connection with a satirical column that criticised Kamoli and the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.
Now, the Mutungamiri family says while they are grateful to today’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s administration “for demonstrating political will and making a good start in 2017, we are also gripped with fear and uncertainty as to what the future holds, with regards to the case.”
The family wonders if the walk towards ensuring justice for their brother is going to be achieved within a reasonable timeframe “as it appears to be threatened by some endless delays.”
The delays, it says, have seen the suspects appearing in court more than 20 times in a space of six months, still with no trial date yet set, “which leaves us wondering whether indeed this is a justice or injustice system. We understand that investigations by the police in the case were thorough and successfully finalised.”
The family says it awaits with heavy hearts to hear in court why the suspects decided to shoot their brother.
“We are also hoping that our brother, who is still suffering from the injuries he sustained from the shooting, will still be alive to hear the suspects explain how he wronged them and if at all what they did to him defines their understanding of what justice is all about, if at all he wronged them,” George said.
The editor and his family, George added, are waiting for justice to help them pick up the pieces of what is left of their lives, “and painfully move on.”
Although they wait, each passing day makes the Mutungamiris lose hope in the Lesotho’s justice system.
“Justice is critical because without it, there can be no healing, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness; justice can help prevent revenge; it reflects fulfilment of an obligation by those who hold power to the victims; it is an international-law based duty; failure of justice weakens legitimacy and the process of democratisation, good governance and the rule of law, which Lesotho is currently striving for; and with justice, Lesotho can break the disturbing cycle of impunity,” George said.
It is the family’s view that, based on their brother’s gruesome shooting, the Lesotho government will be able to prioritise intervention arrangements to support the restoration of the editor, “especially in view of the country’s very weak justice system. Our brother urgently needs help to meet his daily medical expenses, which also include a three-tier operation procedure.”
For the last two years, Mutungamiri and his family have had no peace due to lack of adequate and appropriate support to help them heal and move on with their lives, according to George.
“They now carry along a bad label that has caused them to be stigmatised in some circles and ruined the wife’s efforts to be employed again at the same level she was when her husband was shot. They have lost some friends and their good jobs,” said George.
As family, he added, they had lost a once vibrant and healthy brother who was not only a provider of his own family but also provided financial help to his extended family.
“It breaks our hearts, that our brother, the most intelligent in our family and once our hope, now suffers like this”.