Botswana High Court Judge Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi, who is currently the chairman of SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Lesotho crisis, is showing why he was appointed to lead the commission on the political turmoil currently besieging the mountainous kingdom.
Phumaphi is said to have developed a thick skin especially when dealing with the army which has a disdain for the commission.
When the commission began the hearing LDF, led by the most feared commander Lt. General Tlali Kamoli, requested Justice Phumaphi and his team to seek permission from SADC to set aside three of its terms of reference.
The army wanted the Commission not hear evidence on the alleged mutiny in the Lesotho Defence Force. LDF informed the commission that a court martial will investigate the mutiny issue.
Phumaphi put his foot down and told the army that this will not happen as part of the commission is to investigate the August 2014 mutiny.
The army also wanted to represent all the soldiers who were supposed to appear at the commission to have access to all reports of those who gave evidence in camera but Justice Phumaphi had none of it.
Last week Thursday South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa rushed to the mountainous kingdom after General Kamoli and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing threatened not to appear before the commission due to its alleged tough stand against the pro-government officials.
On Friday, General Kamoli, who thought Justice Phumaphi has softened his stance towards the army, had a rude awakening when Botswana judge refused to have his evidence be heard in camera.
According to sources in Lesotho, Kamoli resorted to refusing to answer questions preferring to say, ‘no comment’ and later testifying in Sesotho rather than English.
One of the tough questions that Justice Phumaphi is set to have asked Kamoli was if it was true he ordered the disarming of the police officers in the August 30, 2014 mutiny. General Kamoli reportedly refused to answer the question.
When the commission resumed this week under a tight and heavy security, another army officer Colonel Bulane Sechele appeared before the commission and like his boss General Kamoli refused to answer critical questions.
At first, Colonel Sechele claimed that he was representing the LDF and all the soldiers who were supposed to testify but Justice Phumaphi turned down the request. Colonel Sechele also declined to answer whether he led the troops that shot and killed Mahao and what handcuffed was used after they shot him.
According to sources in Lesotho, one of the questions was whether he was there when Mahao was killed and if he ordered his killing.
In some instances, the disciplinarian judge has threatened to throw out some lawyers representing some parties warning them they have to know who is in charge of the commission.
On Wednesday another army officer Tefo Hashantsi, who was part of the officers that shot at Mahao, testified but according to sources spent the better part refusing to answer if he was involved in the killing of former commander.
Efforts to get comment from Prime Minister Phakalitha Mosilili’s spokesperson Motumi Rakejoe hit a snag as he promised to return the call but failed to do that.
When this publication called him again he did not pick his phone as it rang unanswered.
The Patriot on Sunday wanted to establish whether it is true that government is not happy with Justice Phumaphi’s hard stance on the army and some senior government officials.
Spokesperson for the SADC Commission on the Lesotho Crisis Phumlani Dlamini denied allegations that Judge Phumaphi is too hard on the army officers saying that is just a public opinion.
“This is a judicial process and obviously they will be some intense interrogations and that is normal,” said Dlamini.
Regarding the security to the commission members, Dlamini said that they have been welcomed well by the Lesotho Government and given all the necessary help they want.
“The issue of the commission fleeing the country was not true and was just spread by some people on social media to score cheap political points,” said SADC Commission on Lesotho Crisis spokesperson.
He said that there is no way the Lesotho government can threaten their security as they are the ones who asked SADC to appoint a commission of inquiry.
The Francistown-based High Court judge was appointed the chairman of commission in August by the regional block to investigate the killing of former Lesotho Army Commander Maaparankoe Mahao and the mutiny that took place in August 2014 and since then he has been clashing with Lesotho Defence Force high command.
Recently the facilitator in the Lesotho crisis South African Deputy President Ramaphosa praised Justice Phumaphi when briefing South African parliament about progress in Lesotho. Ramaphosa said that he was impressed by the statement made by Justice Phumaphi during his swearing in when he informed all those who are going to testify that he is not going to entertain hearsay but wants hard facts.