How tavern fight escalated into a crime that shook the nation
The killings of three civilians in Mafeteng in 2012 allegedly by the members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) special forces unit started as a clash involving off-duty soldiers at a tavern, according to a witness.
The killings gained the attention of the United States of America’s department of state which publishes annual human rights reports that cover internationally recognised individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.
The U.S. department of state submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations (UN) member states to the U.S. congress in accordance with the foreign assistance act of 1961 and the trade act of 1974.
In the 2012 report for Lesotho, the department stated: “In one instance, the LDF failed to execute an arrest warrant against five members of the LDF Special Forces unit based at Mafeteng, Ha Motanyane Barracks.”
The report said the suspects were Second Lieutenant Lintle Nyakane, Private Sebilo Sebilo, Private Khauhelo Makoa, Private Tšepo Thlakeli, and Private Thebe Tšepe.
It said the men were accused of killing three allegedly armed civilians after they left a local bar in April.
The soldiers were responding to a report by other, off-duty soldiers that armed civilians were in the bar, it added.
“It was not clear whether the accused were on or off duty. Despite the issuance of arrest warrants and court summonses for the five soldiers to appear in civilian court, the LDF did not yet turn them over to civilian authorities or provide an explanation for failing to do so,” read the report.
More than a decade later, the criminal trial is continuing in the high court and the sixth state witness, Mohlominyane Ratsebe (28), told the court that the killings started as a clash in a bar.
Nyakane, Makoa, Sebilo, Tlhakeli, and Tšepe are accused of shooting and killing three civilians, Thabang Mosole, Monyane Matsie, and Pakiso ‘Ntala’ Letatabe at Ha Motanyane in Mafeteng in the morning hours of April 7, 2012.
Ratsebe said he was a teenager, 17 years old when the incident happened.
He said Ralinne Mokete, the three victims, and himself left home on April 6, 2012, to buy alcoholic beverages near the Van Rooyen’s Border Gate for ‘Masina Mosole who was planning to host a traditional feast at her house the following day.
“We drove ‘Mathato Mafereka’s car and Mosole was the one driving. We were going to buy beer at Van Royeen but we did not get it. We proceeded to Mafeteng town,” Ratsebe said.
When they got to town, they went to Jankie’s tavern.
“It was around 21:00hrs or 22:00hrs. We wanted to buy liquor in cases but we were not allowed, they said we can only buy in single units,” he said.
He said his friends then sat down to have a few drinks. He was not a drinker. From Jankie’s tavern, he said they went to Ha Semona, another tavern located in Matholeng.
They hoped to get liquor for ‘Masina’s traditional feast at this bar.
“We entered the bar and Thabang went to join the queue of other people who were buying. It was around midnight,” he said.
“When Thabang was in the queue, the gentleman who was in front of him boldly hit him. Thabang then confronted him and asked why he hit him and did not apologise,” he added.
Ratsebe explained that the man who hit Thabang was a tall dark guy.
“When asked why he hit Thabang, he showed attitude. I was next to Thabang at that time. Some other guys stood up to fight and I pulled Thabang and we went out to the car,” he said.
After this small confrontation, he said they drove off to Ha Leponesa, their village. On their way home, he narrated, they were blocked by a white Corolla 4+1 taxi.
“Four men came out of the 4+1. It was not the first time I saw them, I recognised the one who was fighting Thabang at Ha Semona,” he said.
“Two of them were carrying guns. They said: ‘ke bona bana bao re ntseng re ba batla’. Once I saw guns I ran away with Ralinne. We left Thabang, Monyane, and Ntala in the car and ran to Ha Lepolesa,” he added.
“We heard gunshot sounds when we were running. We went straight to my home. We heard in the morning that Thabang, Monyane, and Ntala were dead. When we asked what happened, my grandmother said they were shot.”
During the cross-examination, advocate Kabelo Mohau KC, took the witness through the statement that he (Ratsebe) made at the Mafeteng police station on April 7, after his friends were killed.
Mohau said the statement Ratsebe made before the court did not correspond with his initial statement.
According to the lawyer, Ratsebe told Mafeteng police that: “At 8:05 pm, we left for Matholeng. We went to Ha Maphatšoe bar, then we went to Ha Bulara, then went to Matholeng, Ha Semona. There they bought beer and drank. That is where Mosole had a conflict with another person in the bar until when Thabang wanted to fight him.”
Ratsebe, however, denied that Mosole started the fight.
“Understandably so because it happened in 2012 and you might have forgotten about it, but this statement you made a day after the incident,” Mohau KC said.
The trial continues before Justice Polo Banyane.