The question of how best to deal with a divisive past of mass violence is not a new one. It started in 1992 when we were preparing to return to a democratic dispensation. In the past three weeks this nation has deliberated on the issue of transitional justice on traditional and social media. The Bill is currently in Parliament and it has been endorsed by Cabinet. This week I want us to look at the question of why Basotho need transitional justice.
I was shocked when the All Basotho Convention (ABC) through its spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa distanced itself from the Bill that was passed by Cabinet. It will interest you to know that ABC has a majority control in Cabinet, so how could they advance an argument that there is no need for a transitional justice commission when there are cases in the courts of law already?
I then remembered that next year we are going for General Elections. The ABC had promised Basotho heaven on earth so now that they have failed to deliver, they desperately need a campaign message.
When former Minister of Law and Justice Professor Nqosa Mahao recently rejected the Bill he allegedly drafted I understood that we are near electioneering period. This is the time when lies, betrayal, deceit, duplicity, falsehoods, fraud, hypocrisy, trickery and untruth are in abundance.
I can therefore excuse Prof Mahao for he is under tremendous pressure after forming a political party. Just like the ABC it has dawned on him that an effective campaign needs a powerful message.
William Faulkner once acknowledged that “the past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Those who oppose the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) Bill are being selective in their remembrance of the past. They are content with burying some aspects of the past but very quick to remember Maaparankoe Mahao, Mohau Qobete and Khetheng. They call that justice and they are wrong.
I wish to argue that transitional justice is a response to the widespread violations of human rights. I am very happy that the Mahao, Qobete and Khetheng families will get to know what happened to their sons. But the justice system and its institutions have failed so many Basotho because even today many cases have not been heard in the courts of law.
In 1964, as the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) was preparing for the first local government elections in 1965, the party’s supporters were ambushed and killed at the instruction of Chief Mohlalefi Bereng. Fifteen people lost their lives that day, yet even today their cases have never been heard in the courts of law.
I want to know what happened to them. The courts of law have failed them already. The only hope of ever knowing why they were killed and the victims getting compensation is through the TJC. The commission shall seek recognition for the victims and to promote possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy.
In 1966 Basotho decided to have a prayer on top of Thaba-Bosiu Mountain and as they got there they were killed. Eleven people lost their lives including a gentleman by the name of Ranthoma, yet even today their cases have never been heard in the courts of law. I want to know what happened to them.
In 1970 Chief Leabua Jonathan held on to power after losing elections to Ntsu Mokhehle. He did this though the advice of a man named Frederick Rodge, who came from an organisation that called itself Soldiers of Fortune. Another coup d’état happened in 1986, this one was sponsored by the army and the army took over.
In 1994 his Majesty King Letsie III ousted a democratically elected government. The King suspended certain provisions of the Constitution, and appointed a Council of Ministers to govern the country. Shortly after this coup d’état had happened the police and army killed 10 people who were protesting. Amnesty was given to soldiers and police officers who shot dead at least 10 people.
In 1998 there was a coup attempt that paralysed government, burned Maseru to ashes and killed Kenny Mahase. In 2009 mercenaries acting in concert with some soldiers from Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) attempted a coup d’état and failed to assassinate the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. No one has ever accounted for these injustices.
Today, some people when twisting historical facts claim Leabua Jonathan had won elections. I want to know what happened to them, the courts of law have failed to reveal the mysteries of that coup d d’état, the only hope of ever knowing the cause of the coup d’état and coup d’état attempts is through the TJC.
In 1970 Frederick Rodge and armed forces killed illegal miners together with BCP supporters in Liqhobong and they were dumped in a mass grave in Lipeketheng. A few individuals have argued that it never happened and unfortunately lately it appears that some Basotho believe them.
How will we know the truth if there is no commission where victims and witnesses can testify? The truth needs to be told. That is why I support the establishment of a transitional justice commission.
In 1974 members of the BCP took up arms and decided to attack the police station in Mapoteng, where they castrated a police officer. Police responded with fire and unfortunately 17 people lost their lives. Their cases have never been heard in the courts of law.
I want to know what happened to them, the courts of law have failed them already and the only hope of ever knowing the cause of their death and the victims getting compensation is through the TJC.
On the 7 September 1981 the editor of Leselinyana La Lesotho and a human rights activist Edgar Mahlomola Motuba and his two friends Koeshe and Mohale were abducted and murdered. Their bodies were dumped at Siloe in Mohale’s Hoek. I want to know the assassins, who sent them and why they targeted Motuba and his two friends Koeshe and Mohale.
Their cases have never been heard in the courts of law. I want to know what happened to them. The courts of law have failed them already and the only hope of ever knowing the cause of their death and the victims getting compensation is through the TJC.
I want to know what happened to Selala Sekhonyana, Sello Machakela, Motsomotso, Hashatsi, Sechele.
I am glad Khetheng’s case is being heard but what makes his case so unique and important? Over 70 Basotho who were killed in police custody in the past three years have never had justice. Their cases have never been heard in the courts of law. No one has ever been prosecuted for killing them.
I know it is becoming impossible to prosecute their cases, the only hope I have is that through the Transitional Justice Commission the victims shall be able to tell the truth.
I support the transitional justice because the aims of the TJC are to unearth, clarify and acknowledge past violations, to respond to victims’ needs, to create a culture of accountability and respect for the rule of law, to outline institutional responsibility and possible reforms, to advance the prospects of reconciliation and reduce historical conflict over the past.
In conclusion the commission is a tool of transformative social action, which rests on the assumption that collective remembrance of the past will help prevent the recurrence of violence in the future.
This shall be a vehicle for truth-telling, providing a public platform for voicing victims’ stories and creating a historical record of past abuses through official acknowledgment of the facts. It will combine investigative, judicial, political, educational, therapeutic and even spiritual functions.