THE editor of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express newspapers Lloyd Mutungamiri has been shot and critically wounded at his home in the capital Maseru.
He was shot around midnight on Saturday as he parked his car after coming from work.
His wife Tsitsi Mutungamiri said she heard several gunshots and then screamed for help before going outside after the shots had ended. She found her husband slumped in the car bleeding profusely after one bullet shattered his jaw.
The shooting is the culmination of what has been a few tough weeks for the newspaper company, Africa Media Holdings (AMH), which has faced considerable hostility from the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili which has accused its newspapers of being too critical of it.
Mutungamiri was taken in for questioning by police detectives on June 23 after the Lesotho Times published two reports deemed to have defamed the powerful commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Tlali Kennedy Kamoli. One report suggested that the Lesotho government was discussing a proposal for a hefty R40 million pay-out for Kamoli to exit the LDF.
This would have been in line with a recommendation by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) inquiry into Lesotho’s instability that Kamoli be relieved from his post. Another story was a satirical column which argued that Lesotho would be far better off without Kamoli.
Lesotho Times publisher and AMH CEO Basildon Peta was subsequently summoned to the police station and charged with criminal defamation and crimen injuria over the contents of the satirical column that goes by the moniker Scrutator. He was released on R30,800 bail and surety on Wednesday July 6. He is due back in court on July 19.
AMH said in a statement it was clear the hit on Mutungamiri was a targeted assassination attempt. Nothing was stolen from the editor so a robbery could not have been the main motive. AMH said a detailed statement would be issued on Monday after doctors had pronounced on Mutungamiri’s condition.
But the company expressed serious concern about the Lesotho government’s open hostility against the Lesotho Times. A spokesman for one of the parties in the coalition government went on air recently and asked for Peta to be killed, accusing him of being a spy.
African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma recently condemned the breakdown in the rule of law in Lesotho after an attack on the house of arch-government critic and National University of Lesotho (NUL) pro-vice chancellor Professor Mafa Sejanamane.
The country has in recent times experienced a spate of political killings. In one incident four people were shot dead at Qeme near Maseru. The main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) said the four were its supporters who had attended its rally in the area. And the daughter of an ABC MP was shot dead on June 22 as she arrived home driving the MP’s vehicle. The MP, Lehlohonolo Moramotse, said he was the main target of the attack and the assassins had thought he was the one driving the car.
Lesotho has been on a downward spiral since the assassination of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao on June 25, 2015 and the reinstatement of Kamoli by Mosisili after the latter was returned to power in the February 28, 2015 snap elections.
The elections were called after Kamoli launched a coup attempt on then prime minister Thomas Thabane on August 30, 2014. Thabane, who had fired Kamoli and replaced him with Mahao, fled the country, only to return under heavy South African police guard. He and all the other opposition leaders are now living in exile in South Africa after various attempts to kill them by suspected LDF members. They have vowed not to return as long as Kamoli remains head of the LDF. No arrests have been made in any of the shootings or attacks on suspected government opponents.
A recent SADC special summit on Lesotho gave the country a month to outline time frames for implementing the regional body’s recommendations. – ANA