21 January 2019

Lesotho: Police Officers Clash

Photo: The Observer
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Operations at the Police Training College (PTC) were this week brought to standstill when 252 junior police officers clashed with their superiors who had assigned them menial tasks which are said to be normally done by new recruits.

Several junior officers yesterday told the Lesotho Times that they were denied pay and assaulted for refusing to re-clean the house occupied by PTC Director, Assistant Commissioner Lintle Phasumane.

So tense was the situation yesterday that the commissioner of police, Holomo Molibeli, and his senior team were forced to hold a meeting with the junior officers at the police headquarters.

Sources privy to the events told this publication that all hell broke loose after the police officers disobeyed an order to re-clean Assistant Commissioner Phasumane's residence.

They disobeyed the order because they felt degraded as such tasks are normally performed by new recruits. The officers were recruited on 11 February 2018 and they completed their training on 22 November 2018 when their pass out parade was held.

"We are now police officers following our pass-out parade in November last year but we have stayed on at the PTC to train as Special Operations Unit (SOU) officers," one junior officer explained.

"But we are still treated as though we are recruits. We were forced to clean the house of Assistant Commissioner Phasumane and upon completion, we were told to repeat the exercise, that's when all hell broke loose.

"All the (junior) officers acted in concert and refused to repeat the cleaning exercise, a decision which resulted in us being beaten up by our senior managers at the college," the junior officer added.

Another officer added: "The junior police officers were indiscriminately assaulted (on Tuesday) and among them was a two-months pregnant woman. All of us including the pregnant officer were made to roll on the ground and do excessive exercises on empty stomachs as we were denied food and access to water the whole day. On top of the physical exercises, the pregnant woman was also told to squat and hold a gun over her head.

"They also frightened us by displaying guns, teargas and pepper sprays. Members of the SOU were called in to reinforce the ranks of our tormentors at the college. Police brutality is real even amongst ourselves."

The source further alleged that the assault and physical exercises were so severe that some of the police officers were forced to seek medical attention. Police officers are normally taken to the AHF Clinic or Makoanyane Military Hospital.

The sources said the punishment was supposed to continue yesterday morning atop the Qoaling Plateau where police recruits often train.

However, the junior officers foiled this by disregarding instructions to go to the Qoaling Plateau and instead trooping off to the police headquarters where they sought and obtained a meeting with Commissioner Molibeli and his management team.

"At about 7am (yesterday) we were told to leave for the plateau where they intended to continue punishing us. But instead of going there, we used another gate out of the PTC and went straight to the police headquarters to request a meeting with our superiors. Some of the PTC senior managers threatened us with mutiny charges but we went anyway.

"The commissioner (Molibeli) addressed us and promised to meet us again in the evening (last night) at the PTC to further discuss our grievances," another source said.

The Lesotho Times crew visited the police headquarters yesterday at about 9 am and found the junior police officers sitting in groups awaiting the return of their three representatives who were in a closed-door session with the police's human resources management.

At about 9:45 am all the junior officers were called into the yard to be addressed by the human resources team. The human resources team's address, where the officers were implored to be patient and wait for the management to come and meet them at a later time, lasted for 10 minutes.

There was brief commotion as the officers took to their heels upon seeing Commissioner Molibeli walking towards the gate of the police headquarters in a blue suit.

Commissioner Molibeli was amused by the incident and in between bouts of laughter, he told the Lesotho Times that "I am unable to give you an interview because I am yet to receive a detailed report regarding this matter".

He said that he had assigned a senior manager to handle the matter because he had to appear before the public accounts committee (PAC).

Half an hour later, the police officers were called back into the police headquarters yard and they formed a parade near the parking site. They were later addressed by Commissioner Molibeli at 10:46 am. The address only lasted three minutes after which the officers saluted him as he was driven off in a police vehicle.

Commissioner Molibeli later said he was still to meet the police officers and only then would he give this publication a comprehensive comment on the issue.

"I still don't have detailed information on the matter. Mine was just to address and assure them that we would have a meeting tonight (last night) to thoroughly discuss their issues. I can only have proper answers after my meeting with them," Commissioner Molibeli said.

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