The eighth witness in the case where 10 soldiers are charged for murdering three civilians in 2017, told the court how in eliminating the deceased, the soldiers acted in protection of the military image and on the orders of Brigadier Rapele Mphaki.
Major Tsietsi Monyeke, third in command in the Military Intelligence unit, told a Justice Moroke Mokhesi court that Mphaki ordered them to eliminate the three suspects who were embroiled in the shoot-out which took place around the Maseru Border post on May 13, 2017, where two people Private Seliane and a civilian vendor Moiketsi Makhabane were killed while Private Nkonyane had been hospitalised after also sustaining gunshot wounds.
Mphaki has since been incarcerated and is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepana, Lekhooa Moepi, Mahlele Moeletsi, Mahlomola Makhoali, Nthathakane Motanyane, Motsoane Machai, Liphapang Sefako, Nemase Faso and Tieho Tikiso.
The accused are charged for allegedly strangling Lekhoele Noko, Khothatso Makibinyane and Molise Pakela and supposedly tossing their lifeless bodies into the Mohale dam on May 16, 2017.
Monyeke, who at the time held the rank of Captain, said he had been assigned to investigate the matter hence he had driven to the scene with Private Liphoso to see if they could extract any evidence such as gun shells and accounts from eye-witnesses to assist with investigations.
He said it was during the mission that he had met some witnesses including fuel attendants from a nearby filling station who relayed how the experience had unfolded before their eyes.
“We came across a lady who told us that one of the suspects was trying to enter South Africa illegally, when he was retrograded by the police whence he had visibly dropped something in a drainage pit nearby and we found a pistol there.
“Another person also working at the filling station told us that three vehicles had arrived from which a group of troublesome persons had alighted and causing commotion. He said two of them had approached Seliane who was wearing a hat associated with one of the Famo gangs – to which they were obviously indifferent – to grab it from him. He had tried to stop them, as he identified himself to them as a soldier.
“They are then said to have gone in the direction of Captain Doregoe’s Building … and walked towards the street vendors’ kiosk. I talked with the eye-witness lady who said Seliane then followed them to behind the kiosk and a fight ensued. She said the person who had taken Seliane’s hat forcefully had told him to stop following him threatening by saying ‘ha u ntse u ntšala morao, ke tla u fa ‘ma’o’ (loosely translated into “if you keep following me I will give you your mother,” – a derogatory expression to suggest to one being subjected to it that they will be hurt, or at worst killed)” he said.
Monyeke indicated how the following day, he received a call from Major Ramoepana indicating that Brigadier Mphaki would like to meet them in Military Intelligence offices at the Ministry of Defence premises.
“At the meeting, Mphaki said he will not tolerate that soldiers under his command be killed by the famo hooligans. He asked our opinions one by one and they all agreed with him, and when it was my turn, I indicated that in as much as these famo boys are nonsense, based on the preliminary investigations that we conducted and agreement we reached with LMPS, we found that other suspects are not connected to the shooting and I have no objection to their release,” he said.
He continued, however, that Mphaki would have none of that as he had pointed out plainly that it was a non-issue whether or not police felt they had a case against them “…they must suffer for what they did. He ordered that the task to eliminate them is upon us as captains. My understanding was that it is for us to see to it that the suspects are killed.
He took the court through how he had experimented with the day’s events, saying he had been startled by a call from Private Nkonyane who was deployed at Maseru Boarder post along with Seliane at around 18:00 while he was off-duty at Mejametalana Airbase at a recreational facility.
“He said they had been shot-at…then the phone call cut. He later called saying he was shot in the heart. I called Major Ramoepana to inform him about the situation and directed him to call Major Sefako as his team is around town. I then called superintendent Bokopane from LMPS because I wanted him to give me names of people in charge at their office at the boarder gate. I then phoned Lieutenant Mafereka who was deployed at Makoanyane Military Hospital and asked him to organise an ambulance for the two soldiers.
“As I was on my way to the scene, I received a call from Nkonyana’s phone where someone was telling me to as the soldiers were dying. I arrived at the scene and found two soldiers; private Seliane and Nkonyana laying sprawled. I called Mafereka to hear if he had already dispatched the ambulance. I left the injured soldiers there and went to the police post at the border gate,” he said.
He said he observed a woman coming towards the office stationed at the border post and inquired from her about the incident to which she had told him that they had already made arrests and that the suspects were already in custody in connection with the shooting.
“On my way back to the injured soldiers I met two ladies, the other one was crying and I learned that her grandfather had also been shot. By this time, Mafereka and his team had already arrived and picked up the injured soldiers along with the injured vendor to the ambulance, and then sped off to the hospital.
“Colonel Phaila and Mochesane arrived and went to the police post where the suspects were questioned by Phaila while Major Ramoepana was taking notes,” he said.