Communities along the newly constructed Ha Seshote-Polihali Dam road which connects Leribe to Mokhotlong want the construction of the road to be halted immediately after their protest turned into a police atrocity. When the Lesotho Highland Development Authority (LHDA) 2019 started construction of the Phase II road from Ha-Seshote to Polihali Dam, the communities were excited at the prospective benefits of the road. However, they are now disappointed after police officers brutally assaulted them on May 10, 2022.
Community members report that members of the Ha-Lejone police and the Lesotho Defence Force mercilessly annihilated the community members when they staged a protest for compensation for their assets and against a power outage that had lasted three weeks. About 40 men and women, some of them very old, and the chief of the village were tortured by being made to perform degrading and physically daunting exercises like squats and rolling on a gravel road, while they were also immersing them in the river. The security agents also hurled profanities while thrashing their victims.
In an interview this week, one of the victims 70-year-old ‘Matsotang Selialia said her body was still sore and she could not exert herself in any way. “I cannot begin to describe the pain I am experiencing; my knees cannot carry me anymore. Given my age, what those people did to me was as disrespectful as it was dehumanizing. What makes it even more disturbing is that it was carried out by people we are supposed to trust,” Selialia said angrily.
She asked for compensation funds to seek medication. She also suggested that the wayward police officers and soldiers be suspended with immediate effect. Another victim ‘Marethabile Maieane (38), said she struggles to relieve herself due to injuries she sustained to her buttocks and other parts. She worries about losing her job at a local restaurant; she has not been able to report herself at work due to her condition.
The chief of Liseleng, Kose Sekonyela, said the protests were triggered by blasting activities done by a company identified as HSPY Joint Venture in April. “Without engaging the community, the owners of HSPY, Dion Mapinde, and Mark, unilaterally appointed Community Liaison Officer (CLO) who is proving to be very ignorant.
“We used to be warned beforehand when the blasting activity was about to take place. However, it came as a surprise when we explosions from the rocks in our area. The blasting destroyed people’s houses and affected our livestock. It also caused a power outage which disrupted people’s lives. “I tried to approach the CLO who promised to promptly attend to the matter. But the activity did not stop hence the community decided to take matters into our hands,” he said.
Sekonyela insisted his people were well within their rights as they wanted to be heard. He was particularly incensed that, instead of hearing the people out, HSPY decided to call in armed policemen and soldiers to do its dirty work. “I am not happy with the incident, even though those police officers later came to apologise to the community on Sunday. It is wrong to torture people when they fight for their rights,” he concluded. Human rights lawyer Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela stated categorically that the community’s rights had been blatantly violated, and reiterated that everyone has a right to life and to liberty, as well as freedom from slavery, torture, discrimination
and a fair trial.
“As a lawyer, I regard what the police officers and soldiers did as illegal. I totally condemn what they did, especially to the chief and the women who I have heard were being kicked around and forced to on the ground without considering their privacy as females,” Sekonyela said. Sekonyela poured scorn on claims that the community
members were in breach of the Penal Code and disturbing the peace. He has instituted legal proceedings on behalf of the community, against the security agencies. The matter will be heard by the Thaba Tseka magistrate’s court on Monday.
Meanwhile, Seinoli Legal Centre’s liaison officer Mothusi Seqhea condemned the heavy-handedness of the police and reiterated that such assault and torture were a glaring violation of the victim’s rights. “As Seinoli Legal Centre it is our mandate to assist the communities that are affected by large development projects. Therefore, we are going to provide legal assistance to the Liseleng community to ensure they get justice,” Seqhea said. In another development, LHDA public relations manager Gerald Mokone urged the Liseleng community to allow the road construction process to proceed while LHDA addresses its concerns. He also promised that the blasting activity will be done the right way.
Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) chairperson Lenka Thamae says the organization is going to report Lesotho Mounted Police Services to the Commonwealth Secretariat after policers officers brutally assaulted protestors at Liseleng in Thaba-Tseka. Addressing a press conference in Maseru this week, Thamae pleaded with the minister of water to go and apologies to the Liseleng community which was assaulted and degraded on May 10, 2022. He said the community was protesting the Lesotho Highlands Water Project for compensation for their properties that have been affected during the construction of the road that leads to Polihali Dam.
“SOLD cannot condone this behaviour that was displayed by the Lesotho police officers by abusing people when they fight for their rights. There are documentaries and studies that show that Lesotho police officers are dirty.
“We want the police to also go and apologise to those people; we demand that people who were injured in the fracas be taken for medical attention and compensated. “We have also heard reports of police molesting community members over their fields and assets that have been affected by the construction of the road that leads to Polihali,” Thamae said.