Lesotho: Fresh Turmoil Hits the Thabane Family

The murder trial gripping Lesotho began on June 14, 2017, when Lipolelo Thabane, the estranged wife of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, was shot dead in her car on her way home.
18 February 2020

Murder-accused First Lady, 'Maesaiah Thabane, should not have been granted bail because she is an "extremely dangerous person" who has no qualms in enlisting the services of gangsters in the famo music industry to kill her opponents. This according to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's grandson, Thomas Thabane Jr and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Paseka Mokete. Thabane Jr is the son of Dr Thabane's second son, Potlako Thabane. Yesterday, he teamed up with Khauhelo Molapo, Thuto Makhooane and Thato Sibolla to file an application in the Court of Appeal for an order to set aside Acting Chief Justice 'Maseforo Mahase's controversial decision to grant 'Maesaiah bail last Wednesday. Messrs Molapo and Makhooane are Dr Thabane's nephews.

'Maesaiah stands accused of the 14 June 2017 murder of Dr Thabane's former wife, Lipolelo. She has also been charged with the attempted murder of Ms Sibolla who was travelling in the same vehicle with Lipolelo when she was gunned down in cold blood at Ha-'Masana, Maseru. Ms Sibolla sustained some injuries in the incident which occurred just two days before Dr Thabane's inauguration for his second stint as premier.

Shortly after being charged and remanded in custody by Maseru Magistrate Nthabiseng Moopisa last Wednesday, Ms Thabane was controversially granted bail by Justice Mahase. According to authoritative judicial sources, the bail application was supposed to have been heard by the judge on call for bail applications and other urgent applications as per practice. That judge on call last week was Justice Keketso Moahloli, not Justice Mahase. But the acting chief justice railroaded herself into the matter and hurriedly freed 'Maesaiah.

Thabane Jr and Messrs Molapo and Makhooane were all raised by Lipolelo and they are aggrieved by her murder. Ms Sibolla is aggrieved by the bail decision because she survived the shooting incident which claimed the life of Lipolelo.

They have now all petitioned the apex court to review and set aside Justice Mahase's decision to grant 'Maesaiah bail on the grounds that it was unprocedurally done. They argue that Justice Mahase should not have presided over the bail application in the first place.

Justice Mahase, Ms Thabane, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police are the first to fifth respondents respectively in the apex court application.

In his founding affidavit, Thabane Jr says that he and his co-applicants were not surprised when they learnt that 'Maesaiah was the prime suspect in the Lipolelo murder because she stood to benefit directly by becoming the First Lady in her place. Prior to her gruesome killing, the High Court had ruled that Lipolelo was the rightful First Lady as her divorce to Dr Thabane had not been finalised by the court.

Thabane Jr also argues that Ms Thabane is an "extremely dangerous person" who should not be out on bail as she is capable of mobilising famo gangsters to kill witnesses.

"The situation is extremely dire and there is need for intervention by this honourable court to salvage the situation," Thabane Jr states.

"The accused ('Maesaiah) is clearly an extremely dangerous person with an evident mercurial character and with the propensity to engage assassins and gangsters of the famo music in order to meet her ends. The second respondent ('Maesaiah) enjoys the status of being a spouse of sitting prime minister and hence enjoys the shield of the institutions of government. For that reason, she is both powerful and dangerous and poses a threat to all those who bear the potential of testifying against her in the serious murder case that she is facing. Her release irrespective of her status undermines the rule of law... "

Thabane Jr's characterisation of Ms Thabane as a "dangerous and bloodthirsty individual" is supported by DCP Mokete who submitted an affidavit stating that the First Lady was capable of "recruiting assassins to kill innocent persons" and inciting people against the police for investigating her part in the 2017 murder of Lipolelo.

"She (Ms Thabane) is a flight risk as she fled the country when she was called to the police for questioning (on 10 January 2020)," DCP Mokete states.

"She is a very dangerous person who is capable of recruiting assassins to kill innocent persons for her own benefit. She is a friend to very dangerous famo music gangs who are fond of killing any person irrespective of the reasons. Witnesses in the case where 'Maesaiah is an accused are at high risk. The remaining co-accused who have not been arrested are likely to resist lawful arrest and fight the police as 'Maesaiah is very influential to instigate people to disobey the law.

"'Maesaiah now knows the seriousness of the crime she is facing before the High Court which carries a death penalty and as such it is highly unlikely that she will not stand trial. She is likely to disobey her bail conditions. If she flees the country, 'Maesaiah is likely to get financial assistance from ministers and businessmen who helped her when she fled the questioning on 10 January 2020," DCP Mokete states.

In their affidavits, Mr Molapo and Mr Makhooane concur with Thabane Jr's submissions and similarly oppose the granting of bail to 'Maesaiah.

On her part, Ms Sibolla states that she has been living in fear after learning that Ms Thabane is a suspect in the Lipolelo murder and her own attempted murder. She said she had therefore fled the country for her own safety.

"I wish to state that the pain I went through both emotionally and physically was and remains unbearable and cannot be cured by anything other than justice... Ever since that attack and gruesome murder of my friend, I have been living in constant fear for my life mainly because I harboured the view that the executors of the murder were unknown and the motives behind it were unknown.

"The second respondent ('Maesaiah) is (now) the suspect in this murder case and has been charged accordingly. I reasonably believed that being an eyewitness and the main victim, I would be consulted by the prosecuting authority when a petition for bail was moved by second respondent. To my utter dismay, this was unfortunately not done. I investigated the matter and discovered that the second respondent ('Maesaiah)) was released under very suspicious and controversial circumstances and knowing the ordeal that I went through, I sought answers from the prosecuting authority who in principle was and is bound by law to protect my interest as a direct victim who escaped death at the hands of these villain executors.

"I wish to inform the court that upon first learning that the second respondent (Ms Thabane) is a suspect in the case and knowing the depth of her institutional power and the manner in which we were accosted and shot at, I immediately resolved to flee from this country for my safety and left for South Africa where I am currently based," Ms Sibolla states in her affidavit.

In his court papers, Thabane Jr also attacks Justice Mahase for unprocedurally granting Ms Thabane bail and hints at legal action against the judge over the matter.

"We are seeking legal advice in order to cause disciplinary action to be initiated against the learned Acting Chief Justice whose conduct leaves quite a lot to be desired," Thabane Jr states.

"The manner in which the bail proceedings were conducted calls for a review against the granting of bail in favour of the second respondent (Ms Thabane). We have established that the third respondent (DPP) is indifferent towards the staging of a review against the (bail) order given in highly questionable and controversial circumstances. It is worth noting that the second respondent is the wife of the sitting Prime Minister to whom third respondent (DPP Hlalefang Motinyane) is beholden administratively because he is the one who appointed her in terms of the constitution.

"Since the third respondent is indifferent to the lodging of an appeal, my co-applicants and I remain prejudiced by that order and as victims we have a right guaranteed under the law to shoulder the responsibility of staging this review," Thabane Jr states.

"Despite opposition to the bail petition, it was granted nevertheless. This is exactly how the second respondent; wife of a sitting Prime Minister was freed from the claws of the correctional facility.

"The petition (bail application) was not signed for by the petitioner (Ms Thabane). This effectively means that there was no petition before the court as and when the (bail) order was granted by the court. The verifying affidavit and certificate of urgency are dated 4 February 2020 and signed on the same date notwithstanding the fact that the second respondent was charged on 5 February. There was clearly a disjuncture in the facts which called for learned judge (Mahase) to exercise her judicial discretion with circumspect. I respectfully aver that she elected not to do so but to act in a haste and grant the order nonetheless."

Thabane Jr says the bail application was granted on the grounds that Ms Thabane had to seek medical attention in South Africa despite that she did not submit any evidence to support her claims that she needed medical help. He also argues that Ms Thabane was unprocedurally released without meeting the bail conditions which included paying the M1000 bail deposit. The payment was only made on 6 February 2020, a day after Ms Thabane had been released from custody.

He further argues that the bail was granted without according the DPP Hlalefang Motinyane and the Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli an opportunity to be heard.

According to Advocate Mamello Ntsane, a senior superintendent commanding the legal services of the police, Justice Mahase refused to grant them a request to oppose bail on 6 February 2020 on the grounds that she and Ms Thabane would not be available for the proceedings on that day. He said Justice Mahase instead ordered them to appear before her and argue the matter on 7 February 2020. But then the bail had already been granted (on the 5th of February 2020), rendering the whole matter mute and purposeless.

Ms Thabane is due in the Magistrates' Court on 18 February 2020 for her routine remand.

All the respondents including Judge Mahase, Ms Thabane and the DPP had not filed their responses at the time of going to print last night.

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