The decision by Lesotho’s Acting Chief Justice to grant bail to the wife of that country’s Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, is to be challenged as an urgent matter in the apex court of appeal. Relatives of Thabane, including a grandson who shares his name, have lodged the appeal claiming the ACJ granted bail under ‘suspicious circumstances’. Thabane’s wife, Maesaiah Thabane, has been arrested by the police in connection with the murder of Thabane’s previous wife, Lipolelo. When she was asked to report to police for questioning, Maesaiah fled Lesotho to South Africa but later returned. The Thabane relatives are joined in their appeal by the survivor of the shooting, Thato Sibolla, who was in the vehicle with Lipolelo at the time that unknown gunmen open fire on it.
Why was the third wife of Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, released on minimal bail, after normal court hours, without the police giving their view on the issue and when the crime of which she was suspected was a serious matter of murder and attempted murder?
These and other questions are being asked by relatives of Thabane. They are so concerned about the release of Thabane’s current wife Maesaiah, the woman they believe could have ordered the killing of Thabane’s previous wife, Lipolelo, that they want the appeal court to reconsider and set aside the bail granted by the Acting Chief Justice, Maseforo Mahase.
The first name among the bail challengers is Thomas Thabane. He is a grandson of the Prime Minister and is named after him. He says he was raised by his grandparents, Thabane and his second wife, Lipolelo, through his childhood and into adult life.
He says the ACJ presided at the bail petition and ordered Maesaiah’s release on bail ‘in suspicious and controversial circumstances.’
In his view he, and others who suffered directly because of Lipolelo’s murder, should not have been denied the right to attend and give evidence in the bail hearing.
On 5 February, Maesaiah appeared in the magistrates court. She was charged and an order was made that she be held in custody. But hours later, Maesaiah’s high court application for bail was brought before the ACJ who released her on minimal bail of R1 000, and on condition that she not interfere with any witnesses.
Though Maesaiah said she should be released from custody because of her health condition, there was no medical evidence offered in support, said Thabane junior. And once bail had been granted, she was released even though payment was not made until the following day.
Thabane’s grandson also said the ACJ should have heard the prosecution and/or complainants on whether bail should be granted. The ACJ further did not question Maesaiah’s evidence even though it was ‘riddled with fundamental inaccuracies’.
He raised the subject of ‘the relationship’ between the prime minister and the ACJ, mentioning a separate case in which it is sought to have the fitness for office of the ACJ probed, and a second pending case to prevent the prime minister from having the ACJ confirmed as Chief Justice. Because of these cases he had a reasonable apprehension of bias by the ACJ, he said.
In another affidavit, the deputy commissioner of police, Paseka Mokete, said he had informed the office of the director of public prosecutions that if Maesaiah should ask for bail, the police would ‘vigorously’ oppose it.
This was because she was a flight risk as seen by her fleeing Lesotho when the police called her in for questioning. She was ‘a very dangerous person’, able to recruit assassins to kill innocent people for her own benefits. She was friendly to ‘very dangerous famo music gangs’ who are willing to kill anyone. Witnesses in the case would thus be at high risk.
Now that she knew she faced a charges that carried the death penalty, it was ‘highly unlikely’ that she would stand trial, said Mokete. However, none of this material was placed before the ACJ, nor was anyone called to give evidence, even though the police intention oppose bail had been filed.
Other relatives of the murdered woman joined with the Thabane grandson in launching the appeal against bail. So did the only survivor of the attack in which Lipolelo was killed, Thato Sibolla.
Sibolla said she and Lipolelo were personal friends of long-standing. They were in a car together when it was hit by a spray of bullets. She said that as she was an eyewitness to the fatal shooting she fully expected to be consulted by the DPP about any bail application.
She said when she heard that Maesaiah was implicated in the killing, she decided to flee the country and hide in South Africa. This was because she feared for her own safety, given the ‘depth of the institutional power’ wielded by the accused.
She had been shocked to hear that Maesaiah was released on bail of R1 000 and on condition that she reported monthly, that she did not interfere with witnesses and that she stood trial.
So what, you might ask, could have persuaded the court to grant bail?
Read Maesaiah’s application, and you cannot help but be struck by the flimsy argument put up for her release from custody. Her status is highlighted, along with unnamed health issues and the good work being done by her office as first lady.
She is ‘the first lady in the Kingdom of Lesotho’, the petition begins. She is ‘a married woman’ and the spouse of the Right Honourable the Prime Minister. Moreover, she is ‘sickly’, as a result of ‘the turmoil that has since erupted when all things leading to her incarceration happened.’ She is ‘under medical surveillance’ and goes for check-ups in Bloemfontein, across the border in South Africa.
While being detained in custody, she ‘is leaving behind her husband, the Prime Minister of Lesotho who, as a matter of fact, has been affected’ by her detention.
While in custody, she also ‘leaves behind her office, the office of the first lady’, an office which has launched projects that help many disadvantaged people, orphans, as well as people suffering from cancer.
Moreover, she was ‘given a prescription’ but the medicine was not ‘readily available’ at ‘the hospital’. ‘She was warned also that regard being had to the scarcity (of) medication at the moment she might even be called to the hospital for a closer care of her condition at any time.’
She said she was completely innocent of any involvement in the murder being investigated by the police and that she had fled Lesotho since she did not believe she would be treated ‘fairly and well’ by the police. She also claimed she was not a flight risk and that leaving the country after the warrant for her arrest was issued was not an indication that she 'meant to evade justice’.
Maesaiah, the attorney general, the DPP and the other respondents have not yet filed their answers to the appeal application. But Lesotho’s judicial and political problems seem to get increasingly connected and to grow worse week by week.