It has been a very busy few weeks in Lesotho. Included in these developments was a major cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, as well as the launch of new politically-charged court cases. Among the most interesting of these cases is a defamation action brought by the minister of law and justice, Nqosa Mahao. In a newly-filed case he seeks to challenge a newspaper story that carried allegations against him made by a senior police officer. The allegations were that he, Mahoa, was involved in deliberately trying to ensure that Lesotho’s former Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, was wrongfully accused of murder.
For some time, there have been rumblings in Lesotho: given the allegedly water-tight case implicating former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in the murder of his former wife, why had he still not been charged? Included in this evidence was said to be the ‘fact’ that his own mobile phone was used at the site of the murder.
Late last month, Lesotho’s Sunday Express ran several stories dealing with this issue. In one story the director of public prosecutions blamed the police for the delay while the police blamed her. They said the investigations they had presented to her were ‘water-tight’; she said more work was needed. In another story, it emerged that the country’s police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, was at loggerheads with his deputy, assistant police commissioner Motlatsi Mapola. And that central to their antagonism was the political role each blames the other for playing.
In a sensational break from usual practice, Mapola gave an interview to Lesotho’s Sunday Express newspaper, expressing his apparent frustrations. In that interview he said that a faction of the ruling All Basotho Convention, led by its deputy leader and the Minister of Law and Justice, Nqosa Mahao, had ‘connived’ with the police commissioner to ‘fabricate’ evidence and allegations against Thabane.
Asked for comment at the time by the paper, Mahao strongly denied the allegations. But he also threatened to sue to the assistant police commissioner for these claims against him.
Now the minister has set a defamation action in motion. He has instituted a claim for R3m, against Mapola, the newspaper, its editor and the journalist who wrote the story that quoted Mapola.
Mahao said he had been defamed by Mapola’s claim. It was communicated ‘in a malicious and injurious tone’ and subsequently published by the paper. The claim was to the effect that he, Mahao, had ‘actively anchored and led a political faction that deliberately and falsely implicated’ Thabane in the murder of his wife. Further, Mapola had said that Mahao had done so ‘for political gain’.
According to Mahao’s claim, these were ‘defamatory remarks’, aimed at lowering him in esteem and portraying him as ‘a politically ambitious person who would go to the … length of using the highest-ranking head of the law enforcement agency … for both personal and political gain.’
Further, the publication of these claims had the effect of portraying him ‘as a liar, a manipulator and a politician that abuses his public office for both personal and political gain.’ He was depicted as ‘both irresponsible and of low moral character’. Moreover, because the claims were disseminated to the whole country, they had the potential to ‘affect him as a career politician’. His long-standing professional reputation as ‘an academic of note’ and as a ‘career politician’ was gravely prejudiced.
The remarks also impacted negatively on his chances in the impending race for party leadership. ‘Further, as an aspiring candidate for national elections, the report [has the potential to] damage his chances in the forthcoming national elections.’
In the dramatic interview run by the Sunday Express, and to which Mahao is objecting, Mapola said that Thabane – who resigned in May 2020, before his term of office expired – had been falsely implicated in the murder of his former wife. The two had been fighting a bitterly contested divorce at the time of her killing.
Molibeli, the police commissioner, had claimed that investigations showed Thabane’s mobile phone was used to communicate with the killers. But in his interview with the newspaper, Mapola said this was not so. He claimed that a faction of the ABC, led by Mahao, its deputy leader, had ‘connived’ with Molibeli to fabricate these allegations against Thabane.
Both Molibeli and Mahao have strongly denied Mapola's allegations.
Mapola made other claims against the minister and deputy party leader that were carried in the Sunday Express. These included the charge that Mahao had ‘falsified’ the findings of an inter-ministerial probe into 'instability' in the police force. According to Mapola, the findings were changed to ‘protect’ the police commissioner. Mapola said that Mahoa wanted to protect him as they ‘used’ him to advance their political interests against those of Thabane.
Mahao’s repeated response, when asked by the Sunday Express for comment before publication, was this: ‘Just write whatever he (Mapola) said, so I can sue him.’