By Lekhetho Ntsukunyane
Families of the three men who were reportedly kidnapped, killed and dumped in the Mohale Dam by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) are collectively demanding M30 million compensation from the army commander.
Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane were allegedly strangled by the army elements at Setibing, in the outskirts of Maseru, and dumped in the dam to conceal the act on May 16, 2017.
This, following Maseru border gate shootout that had ensued between two soldiers and a civilian earlier that month. The three bodies were later recovered by the South African Police Service (SAPS) divers.
Currently in custody and facing murder charges of the trio are eight LDF officers, namely Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43), Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50), Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32), Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24), Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Motšoane Machai (39), Liphapang Sefako (48) and Nemase Faso (28).
The trio’s families now demand M10 million each in compensation. With their lawyer, Attorney Khotso Nthontho, they have slapped the LDF Commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, with a 30-day ultimatum to pay the total M30 million through a letter of demand dated June 8, 2018.
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCJ) saw the three letters with one of them saying: “We act on the instructions of ’Malerato Noko, mother to the late Lekhoele Noko. The deceased (Lekhoele) was arrested on or about May 13, 2017 together with five other men. The arrest was a result of a shootout between two members of the Lesotho Defence Force and one Motlatsi Rantaoana who had been travelling with our client’s son from a funeral.”
’Malerato, Attorney Nthontho wrote, was informed by rumours on May 16, 2017 that her son had been arrested and kept in custody of the Pitso Ground Police Station in Maseru.
“On or about May 16, 2017 client received a message that her son had been arrested and was detained at Pitso Ground Police Station in Maseru. She immediately left her homestead in Leribe, came to Maseru to enquire more about her son’s arrest. She was informed upon arrival that her son’s name had been cleared by the police as having not participated in the alleged crime,” Nthontho noted.
He added Lekhoele was subsequently released by the police in the presence ’Malerato “and the two were advised by the police to be very cautious and go home straight as they were fearful that the deceased would be kidnapped by the members of the Lesotho Defence Force who were constantly seen in the premises of the police station during the investigation.”
’Malerato, Nthontho said, was further informed by the police that the soldiers had peculiar interest in the matter as the men who had been shot were soldiers and so they wanted revenge.
“Client heeded the advice and left straight to the bus station and took a bus to Maputsoe. Just when the bus passed Lekokoaneng, there came two white double cab vans. The said vans signalled the bus driver to stop. Around ten heavily armed men with rifles disembarked from the vans and about six men in plain clothing and unknown to client started shooting randomly in the air,” he noted.
Nthontho added four men with rifles forcefully entered the bus and were pointing their guns at the passengers.
“They then headed straight to client and the deceased. Client further informs us that the four men beat her badly with the butts of their guns while she tried to protect while she tried to protect her son and she ultimately relented due to the unbearable pain of the beatings. The men then got hold of the deceased and beat him ferociously with their rifle butts. They then dragged his lifeless body towards the entrance of the bus shouting towards client that she will never see his bones. They then threw him in the back of their van and left,” the lawyer said.
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’Malerato had since filed a habeaus corpus application that led to the arrest of the eight soldiers charged with the gruesome murder.
“The unfortunate events experienced by our client, seeing her son being beaten, and being told that she will never see her son, and eventually having to identify her son’s lifeless body have caused her great emotional shock. We are therefore instructed by client, as we hereby do, to demand payment of M10 million as compensation for the loss of her son,” Nthontho said.
The lawyer noted in all the three letters that the money should be paid within 30 days of receipt, failing which his clients will be left with no option but to approach the courts for reprieve.
At the time of print, the army had not responded to the letters.