One cannot talk about Lesotho’s political instability and leave out the name Colonel Tefo Hashatsi out or discuss factions within Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) without dropping his name. He is one of the top army officers implicated in the assassination of former LDF Commander Maaparanko Mahao in 2015. Two years later Hashatsi and his ally Brigadier Bulane Sechele repeated the same operation and shot dead the newly appointed commander Lieutenant General Khoantle Motsomotso. But this time around they were not that lucky as they were killed after a gunfight with Motsomotso's bodyguards and other soldiers. The shootout is reported to have lasted for nearly 40-minutes. They fulfilled the scripture in Mathew, when Jesus told one of his followers who had cut off a man’s ear: "Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.” The idea of karma or poetic justice for those who live by violence is a very old one. But more recent history suggests it also often comes to pass for political and military leaders in the modern era. History has shown that a number of historical figures in recent times whose record of violence in life and in office reached its apotheosis in their own violent demise. The most obvious are Muammar Gaddafi, Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Jonas Savimbi. On Tuesday Hashatsi and Sechele fell on their sword and perished. According to sources in Maseru, things took a nasty turn when Motsomotso told them they would have to submit to the arrests. Instead of obliging they shot him and were in turn shot by his bodyguards, the source alleged. Prime Minister Tom Thabane has announced that those implicated in the assassination of Mohao will be prosecuted in line with the Phumaphi SADC report. The sinister figure of former army chief Lt-General Tladi Kamoli also lurks behind Tuesday’s dramatic events.
Who is Hashatsi?
Born in Mafeteng colonel Hashatsi was one of Prime Minister’s Pakalitha Mosisili’s trusted allies and Retired General Tlali Kamoli’s right hand man. Hashatsi is remembered for his statement that LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli could only be dismissed “over his dead body”. He was one of the hostile witnesses during the SADC Commission of Inquiry on the Kingdom of Lesotho political crisis hearing as he kept on answering questions with no comment or just nodded his head. In December 2015, Hashatsi applied for urgent court application in Lesotho to have the Commission set aside and stop making any findings in relation to him. He argued that the Commission was unlawful and has operated in a procedurally flawed and prejudicial manner. Hashatsi has been implicated in the operation leading to Mahao’s killing and was called to testify before the Commission. According to Southern African Litigation Centre when he first appeared in court, Colonel Hashatsi was uniformed and armed but on the second day he came unarmed escorted by an armed officer. As squadron commander of Special Forces, the reserved Colonel Hashatsi was tasked with the arrest of soldiers who were suspected on mutiny, including the assassinated Mahao. In 2015 and 2016 Hashatsi steered another controversy when he paid lobola for Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Special Forces officer Lieutenant Pauline Galeatle in Molepolole. The two met during their training in Tanzania. BDF rejected the proposed wedding for security reasons as Galeatle was member of a special forces commonly known as commando. She was later moved to Francistown from Thebephatswa Airbase. During the lobola negotiations in Molepolole, Hashatsi is said to have crossed into Botswana with LDF registered car.
A controversial figure in the LDF, Brigadier Sechele nearly lost his life when an army officer Kokolia Matooane Moremoholo shot and injured him in 2011. At the time he was still a Lieutenant Colonel before rising through the ranks to become Brigadier during the reign of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. He was the leader of soldiers who allegedly assassinated General Mohao in 2015 and didn’t deny it during the Phumaphi commission. A stubborn officer, when he appeared before the Phumaphi Commission, he claimed to be representing all the soldiers who were implicated into the killing of General Mohao but Justice Phumaphi had none of it. He declined to answer whether he led the troops that shot and killed Mahao and to state the handcuffs 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. Brigadier Sechele was the deputy commander of General Motsomotso before he was informed that he will be relieved of his duties and face prosecution.
Behind the killings
The three officers Motsomotso, Sechele and Hashatsi were close allies of the controversial former LDF Commander General Kamoli and former Prime Minister Mosisili. In August 2014, when Thabane was prime minister, the then LDF chief Tlali Kamoli launched a coup – which was eventually aborted. He was assisted by Motsomotso, Sechele and Hashatsi. This led to Thabane fleeing the country to South Africa. Thabane replaced Kamoli with Mahao who was not a favourite of the top army officers. They hatched a plan to assassinate him. In June 2015 Mahao was waylaid and killed leading to political chaos in Lesotho. The three officers were accused of being behind the killing. SADC instituted a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the assassination and it became clear that they were involved in the assassination. Mosisili reluctantly refused to prosecute them for Mahao’s assassination and only asked Kamoli to resign as army commander. Those close to the Lesotho politics reasoned that Mosisili was just a symbolic commander in chief of the armed forces. The effective head was Kamoli even after he left the barracks. Mosisili and his allies only provided political cover to the international community. When Motsomotso was appointed the commander, Kamoli and his allies thought they are still in charge of the army and were to cause change of government soon.
According to highly placed sources in the LDF, Motsomotso changed allegiance from Mosisili to Thabane after he was appointed the LDF Commander. This came about after SADC made it clear to him that they will not tolerate any coup. The message was delivered by South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. “The coup thing is clear... We will not allow it to happen. Not in our backyard. That’s not a threat. That’s just the way it is,” she warned after Thabane’s party won the elections amid fears that the army might not accept the new government. The change in allegiance of Motsomotso left Kamoli axis politically and militarily stranded and the fear of being prosecuted started sinking in them. Another development that showed that they were in for a big shock was when one of their ally who was seconded to National Security Services (NSS) as Director General, Colonel Tumo Lekhooa’s contract was terminated by the new government. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in September last year by Kamoli and immediately seconded to NSS. His secondment to NSS was to ensure that they are in the loop on what was going on as intelligence is the foundation of any government. Last week Thabane promised the wife of Mahao that those who played a role in the assassination her wife will be prosecuted. On Tuesday Motsomotso was instructed to arrest Brigadier Sechele and Hashatsi as they have to face prosecution. They did not take kindly to the betrayal of Motsomotso leading to the shootout.
Metsing, Mosisili flee
A few days before the assassination of LDF Commander, former Lesotho Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing fled the country to South Africa, claiming that there was a plot to kill him. The plan, he claimed, was to have him arrested and then have him die in police custody or through assassination. Metsing and Thabane used to be political buddies. Metsing’s LCD used to be in a coalition with ABC of Thabane until 2014 when Metsing accused Thabane of failing to consult and broke away from the coalition. This led to a turbulent year that included a nine-month suspension of Parliament, a quasi-coup attempt. Before being ousted, Thabane’s government was investigating Metsing for corruption in government road building tender. The investigation appears to have resumed now that Thabane is back in power. Another political leader who fled Lesotho recently is former Prime Minister Mosisili and former LDF Commander Kamoli. The three leaders were close allies of Hashatsi and Sechele.