THE families of two Basotho soldiers who have been languishing in a South African remand prison for the past ten months say their patience is wearing thin.
Privates Rorisang Moepi and Dumile Tšoeunyane have been detained in an Eastern Cape jail since July when they were arrested by the South African army.
The duo is charged with illegally entering South Africa, stock theft, robbery and possession of unlicensed firearms. They however denied the charges, insisting that they were on patrol and only crossed the border to pursue rustlers who had stolen cattle from Lesotho.
Their case has been bobbing in the magistrate’s court since then, with several postponements and change of magistrates.
The government’s efforts to get them released, including sending emissaries to President Cyril Ramaphosa, have come to nought.
The South African army has also washed its hands off the case after the police said this was a criminal issue beyond their control.
Their continued detention has infuriated relatives who say the government is not doing enough to help them. The relatives say they have been denied access to the soldiers.
After initially referring questions to the army, the families are now speaking out.
They say the government has neglected their sons.
Sekhametsi Moepi, the sister of Private Moepi, said they have not been able to visit him.
Sekhametsi said they have been told that the police had denied Private Moepi a referral letter to see an eye doctor. She said he is now blind in the left eye which was injured during the arrest.
Sekhametsi also said they have been informed that Private Moepi is now asthmatic.
She blamed his poor health on conditions in the holding cells in Matatiele.
Sekhametsi said the duo appeared in court last week before a new magistrate because they had requested for the initial one to be removed from the case.
The case continues today.
Sekhametsi said the new magistrate granted Moepi permission to see an eye specialist but the police are yet to follow the order.
She said the Lesotho Defence Force has been supportive but the Minister of Defence doesn’t appear keen to use political means to resolve the issue.
“We think our brothers have been thrown into a pit with wolves. They are now sheep that have to be sacrificed,” Sekhametsi said.
She said some people don’t seem to appreciate that this is a serious issue and the soldiers’ lives are in danger.
“Our hearts bleed because the two were beaten when they were arrested. It is embarrassing that soldiers who risked their lives trying to save Basotho’s animals from being stolen are neglected like they were not working for the country.”
Meanwhile, army commander Lt General Mojalefa Letsoela told a parade on Tuesday that they have not forgotten Privates Moepi and Tšoeunyane.
“We have not forgotten them, and whenever we are told about their matter my heart breaks,” Lt Gen Letsoela said.
He said he recently lost appetite when he got a report about the soldiers as he was about to have a meal.
“I left that food there, I felt it,” Lt Gen Letsoela said.
He said he was appalled because he knew about their deployment plan and he approved it.
The Commander said he is disappointed that “some people say they are criminals when they (soldiers) encounter problems”.
“They didn’t have to be arrested like that”.
The continued detention of the duo has triggered public anger in Lesotho.
What makes this a particularly sore issue is that two South African soldiers arrested in Lesotho around the same time were released within a few weeks after Pretoria intervened.
The soldiers appeared in a Maseru Magistrate Court and were quickly whisked away.