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No justice in sight for Makutoane family

…as one year on, no one has been charged for their son’s murder

LAST Friday marked exactly a year since the cold-blooded killing of National University of Lesotho (NUL) student, Kopano Makutoane (27), by some rogue members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

And now the Mokutoane family feels that justice delayed is rightly justice denied. To make matters worse, Kopano’s father, Lepekola Makutoane, passed on in February 2023 after a short illness. This means he never saw justice for his slain son.

Kopano was gunned down by Roma Police officers during the 16 June 2022 student protests over the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s decision to cut their monthly stipends by half.

The demonstration turned unruly after some of the protestors began interrupting examinations and throwing stones at university property, causing damage to various buildings.

The police were called in to restore order. Instead of applying lawful means to try and restore order, they went on the rampage firing live ammunition at the students, resulting in Kopano’s death, as well as numerous injuries to others.

Following his gruesome murder, the police and the then premier Dr Moeketsi Majoro promised to investigate the incident and bring the culprits to book. But to date, a year later, no one has been charged over Kopano’s death. This is despite 12 police officers having been positively identified as having partaken in the killing, though the one who actually pulled the trigger killing Mokutoane, remains unnamed.

They were identified as Sergeants (Sgts) Khoete and Seipati, Lance Sgts Makateng and Motaba, Sub Inspector Raleting, Police Constables Lejakane, Khesa,Ranko, Mokhale,Tjatji, Lenka and Makintane.

Only seven of them were said to have been suspended pending investigations. However, to date, none of them has been formally charged or appeared before courts, despite their dockets having been put before the Director of Public Prosecutions, Hlalefang Motinyane, about nine months ago.

Kopano’s murder is still fresh in the minds of his family as if it has just happened. The family blames the police for shutting them out and remaining mum about their son’s case.

“We are hurting as if this incident just happened yesterday. It is still very vivid in our minds and aching our hearts. What makes it worse is the silence on the whole matter as no one has ever come forth and given us any update,” Kopano’s brother, Ntšeke Makutoane, told the Lesotho Times in an interview this week.

“We were lied to by the police and government when they vowed to bring the perpetrators to book on the day of the funeral. We were given false hopes. This has been very emotionally taxing on us, we even lost our father shortly after all this. He died a sad man, longing to see justice for his son and we are trying not to follow suit because this is very painful.

“Our father had filed a civil case demanding compensation for his slain son, but that never made him feel better. He never healed from his son’s death and each day he kept on hoping that those who killed him would be arrested and brought before the courts of law to answer to their inhumane act,” said Mr Makutoane.

He said getting updates on the investigations had proved to be a futile exercise as well as they had been denied a meeting with the lead investigator, let alone get his mobile numbers.

“We have tried on quite a few times to get updates, but all in vain. We remain in the dark of what is happening and how far the case is and our quest to get answers and the suspense is killing us.

“As for the claim, it’s still in the pipeline as our lawyer is still awaiting some supporting documents from the police to corroborate the rest of the evidence. We haven’t taken up the matter with the current government as yet, but are considering that route,” Mr Makutoane concluded.

In December last year, the deceased Mr Mokutoane filed a M4 million lawsuit in the High Court claiming damages against Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli for the murder of his son. In his application he stated that he had done everything by the book to get compensated but all his efforts had been rebuffed by the police boss.

Contacted for comment this week police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said the seven officers remained suspended while their case was still with the DPP.

“The seven officers remain suspended, and their file is now with the DPP awaiting directives. So, once it is at that stage it is no longer in our hands. The time in which cases are allocated directives differ from case to case, so we do not know the status of this one, “said SSP Mopeli.

NUL’s Students Representative Council (SRC) president, Tumo Tsanyane, said they were disappointed that the matter had still not been finalised even though the perpetrators were known by the police boss.

“We are very disappointed that this matter still hangs in the balance. We need it to be pursued because if left unattended it will set a bad precedent. It says we will get the same results if we demonstrate and if this is how things are handled.

“This country will experience more deaths during strikes if this is how things are handled…. ,” said Mr Tsanyane.

On Friday, NUL students convened at the campus to commemorate the death of their colleague and friend.

In February 2023, the office of the Ombudsman released a damning report into the NUL incident, calling on police boss Molibeli to investigate and charge the officers who allegedly killed Kopano.

The Ombudsman, Advocate Tlotliso Polaki, recommended that the NMDS be overhauled to make it efficient and more responsive to its tasks.

It should work towards contracting directly with students without getting tertiary institutions involved as intermediaries in the provisioning of lists of students to be funded. She ordered that this be done within a year.

She also recommended that the NUL and NMDS set clear guidelines for stipends administration including establishing deadlines for application submissions and strictly adhere to agreed timelines.

“NMDS should be overhauled or restructured and be repositioned to operate optimally with clearer levels of autonomy, agility and reporting lines within a year of the report.

“The discrepancies identified and the unfettered manner of managing the students’ bursaries, raises a lot of suspicion over mismanagement of the Fund,” the report read.  It asked the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to investigate the possible abuse of funds in the NMDS’s bursary scheme.

The Ombudsman accused the NMDS director general, Flory Rakeketsi, of “arbitrarily and capriciously” deciding to implement decisions that had not been approved by the then Development Planning Minister, under whose authority the institution fell.

The Ombudsman concluded that the NMDS had acted in “an unfettered manner and was guided by an abuse of discretion” after Ms Rakeketsi unilaterally cut the students’ stipends without the minister’s permission.  She had no authority to implement that decision which violated Section 10 (2) (a) of the National Manpower Development Council Act 1978, the Ombudsman ruled.

The report had also ordered Compol Molibeli to revisit and revise protocols governing the LMPS’s handling of riots, in addition to ordering the police boss and the DPP to prosecute the officers involved in the killing of Kopano Makutoane. It also ordered the charging of police officers involved in other cases of assaults and attempted murder of students during the 16 June 2022 protest.

Adv Polaki had asked that the NMDS, NUL and the LMPS to provide progress reports within twelve months of her report outlining steps taken to implement its directives and remedial actions. It is not clear whether all this has been done.  We will update the story online once we get feedback from Advocate Polaki’s office.