Lesotho: Letsoela Dragged to Court Over Court Martial

A female army officer has been charged with misconduct after she allegedly accused senior army officers of engaging in improper relations with subordinate female officers.

Corporal Motheba Makoae is alleged to have said that Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) generals had a habit of "turning female clerical staff into their wives" and as a result the female officers no longer cared about their work. However, she did not name the LDF generals who engaged in the improper relations with subordinate female officers.

The allegations against Corporal Makoae are contained in her court application to have LDF commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, barred from convening the court martial to try her for misconduct.

Among other charges, Lt-Gen Letsoela wants the court martial to try Corporal Makoae over her alleged claims that one Captain Griffiths, a female clerical officer, had "turned the office of the Chief of Defence Staff into her own and the reason for her behaviour was probably that the LDF Generals often turn their clerical staff into their wives hence the clerks tend not to care about their work".

"Sometime in March 2019, the accused (Corporal Makoae) unlawfully and intentionally uttered words about Captain Griffiths who is deployed at the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)'s office, to the effect that the said officer (Captain Griffiths) had turned the office of the CDS into her own and that the reason was probably that LDF Generals often turn their clerical staff into their wives hence the clerks tend not to care about their work.

"The words (by Corporal Makoae) were uttered in the presence of some private soldiers deployed at the office of the Deputy Commander LDF (Major General Matela Matobakele)," the charge sheet states.

Corporal Makoae also stands accused of disobeying a lawful command given to her at a meeting held by Major-Gen Matobakele on 14 March 2019. It is said that she disobeyed instructions to work directly with one Private Jonase and teach the latter clerical duties.

Corporal Makoae is also accused of unlawfully and intentionally uttering disparaging words to Major-Gen Matobakele, insinuating that Private Jonase had been hand-picked to work in the Deputy Commander's office because of the short dress she had worn to work.

Corporal Makoae was initially sent for a summary trial on the misconduct charges but Lt-Gen Letsoela signed a convening order for a court martial to be convened to try her on 28 May 2019.

Lt-Gen Letsoela appointed Lt-Colonel Damane as Court Martial President while Major Lekoatsa, Captain Letsie, Lt Ranyenye and Second Lt Mosiuoa were appointed as members of the court martial. Major Masehle was appointed as Judge Advocate.

However, Corporal Makoae, who has already appeared before the court martial, is now challenging the convening of the court martial in a High Court application that will be heard on 15 October 2019. She filed her court papers on Monday.

Lt Gen Letsoela, Court Martial President, Court Martial Judge Advocate, the Prosecuting Authority, Minister of Defence and National Security and the Attorney General are cited as first to sixth respondents in the matter.

Corporal Makoae argues that Lt-Gen Letsoela should never have convened the court martial because the responsibility to do so lies with the Minister of Defence and National Security, Tefo Mapesela, and not the LDF boss. She argues that there is no evidence that Mr Mapesela ever delegated the task of convening the court martial to Lt-Gen Letsoela.

She also argues that there could be a conflict of interest arising from the fact that Major-Gen Matobakele is involved in the case and therefore it was wrong for Lt-Gen Letsoela, who is Major-Gen Matobakele's boss, to convene the court martial.

She wants the respondents to "show cause" why the High Court should not interdict and prohibit the court martial president from proceeding with the criminal trial against her. She also wants the court to order Lt-Gen Letsoela to serve her and the Registrar of the High Court with the reports submitted to him by Major-Gen Matobakele who she says is the complainant against her. She however, denies the allegations levelled against her.

"There is a dispute over the allegations in respect of insinuations that one Private Jonase had been handpicked work in the deputy commander's office because of the short dress she was seen putting on," Corporal Makoae states in her court papers.

"It is clear that the deputy commander (Major-Gen Matobakele) is the complainant and star witness in this matter. I have not been furnished with his witness statement and that is strange and unprecedented.

"It is essential for a fair trial that he makes a statement to enable the commander and the Minister of Defence to decide the issues in such a way as is reasonably necessary for the due administration of justice.

"In my considered view, the first respondent (Lt-Gen Letsoela) undertook a decision to convene the court martial that involves an inquiry into the lawfulness of a command, order or the credibility of the deputy army commander Major-Gen Matobakele. With the greatest respect, Major-Gen Matobakele is the next in command from the first respondent and this on its own talks to the apprehension of institutional bias such that in the interest of justice the case should be heard in a civil court, not military one owing to the closeness of the first respondent (Lt-Gen Letsoela) to Major-Gen Matobakele.

"The very fact that the matter involves the top ranking official next in line to the commander is the more reason why the minister (Mapesela) ought to have exercised his powers in terms of the law to disallow the court martial trial.

"There is no evidence that Honourable Tefo Mapesela sanctioned this route in terms of delegating his functions to the Commander, hence I specifically call upon him to respond to this matter because he cannot be deemed the confirming authority of something he did not subscribe to from its inception.

"The decision (to convene the court martial) was ultra vires (outside or beyond the powers of) the commander (Lt-Gen Letsoela) because he is conflicted. It stands to reason that the matter must have been reported to him directly as the immediate boss of the complainant (Major-Gen Matobakele) and I guess he must have directed the Deputy Commander (Major-Gen Matobakele) to make a report to him.

"He must have been satisfied that the complaints of the deputy commander had a sufficient basis in fact to warrant my representations and of all those implicated in saying junior staff had been turned into wives of superiors," Corporal Makoae states.

Corporal Makoae also wants the court to order Lt-Gen Letsoela to serve her and the Registrar of the High Court with the reports submitted to him by Major-Gen Matobakele who she believes to be the complainant against her.

"I maintain that this country is a constitutional democracy and the LDF operates within the same space where its actions should be guided by constitutional principles. It is accordingly required that the deputy commander must be heard in evidence because my lawyers now know his implicated participation in the whole trial.

"The reluctance of the crown to avail him for cross-examination has no merit. No justification was proffered for keeping his views and statements in the shadows considering that his reputation, dignity and good name are the subjects of the charge sheet. I accordingly call upon the deputy commander to file an affidavit in this matter because whatever he shall say will guide this honourable court to exercise its discretion on whether or not to remit the issue of short skirts to summary trial or not," Corporal Makoae states.

She is also unhappy with the court martial's refusal to postpone her trial on the grounds that she is heavily pregnant. She said she was shocked and perplexed that her application for the postponement of the trial was denied on 20 June 2019 in the grounds that she appeared in good health.

"In rejecting my application for postponement of the case to a period after my maternity leave, the judge advocate held that pregnancy cannot be a ground for postponement especially when there are no complications... The above indifference to pregnancy brings me to highlight the point that pregnancy is a valid health-related reason for being absent from work... I am due to deliver next month around October 2019... I fear for the health of my (unborn) child who is very much likely to be affected by the surrounding stress that I am under due to the trial which is putting my employment on the line," Corporal Makoae says.

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