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Justice for Makutoane

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The brazen killing of a National University of Lesotho (NUL) student, Kopano Makutoane, last Thursday has seen an outpouring of national grief and soul-searching. We can also sense palpable anger from ordinary Basotho against the police.

Makutoane, who by all accounts was unarmed, was gunned down by the police while protesting at the Roma campus against a decision by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) not to pay part of their allowances.

By virtue of not being armed, we would like to believe that Makutoane and his fellow students, posed no real danger to the police. What we saw last Thursday was a naked, vicious and disproportionate use of lethal force by the police.

The police’s brutal response to the students’ protest, is a clear sign that something is off with our police. Sadly, there is a well-documented history of the viciousness we saw at the university last Thursday.

That is what is stoking the people’s anger. Our police appear to have consistently demonstrated that they have very short memories.

They have also stubbornly refused to learn from history. They have demonstrated time and time again that they are impervious to learning simple lessons of history. The result is that they are repeating the same old mistakes, with devastating consequences for Basotho.

In 2009, the police shot and killed a first year student, Matšeliso Mary Thulo, during a student protest at the NUL. That should have been a wake-up call. But that incident appears to have been conveniently forgotten.

Thirteen years later, we are now confronted with just a change of name, under the very same old setting. This time it is Makutoane. We are talking here of a life that has been cut short in its prime. The young man had a bright future ahead of him.

His family, perhaps, saw him as their only ticket out of grinding poverty. But all that was put to a grinding halt by a bullet fired by a mad officer who never took a minute to contemplate the gravity of his actions as he pulled the trigger.

It is this gross lack of respect for human life that is deeply worrying. Our verdict is that we have a murderous police whose preferred modus operandi is to resort to violence at the slightest of provocations.

It is a reputation our police have unfortunately built over years. We have police officers who have no sense of contrition. They have no shame.

What else explains the repeated acts of violence perpetrated against innocent civilians time and time again? The rate at which our police kill is deeply worrying. The shortcomings we have highlighted here are systemic. They are institutional. It is a culture within the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) that must be uprooted, root and branch.

In setting up an investigation, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro is tacitly admitting the rot within the police that has seen the police becoming a law unto themselves. That investigation must identify who authorized the operation and the culprit who pulled the trigger.

Once identified, the rogue officer must be brought before the courts so that he faces justice. But all too often we have seen the well-heeled and well connected in society getting away with murder, literally. That must not be allowed to happen in this case.

Nothing short of a swift conviction and a long jail sentence thereafter will assuage the people’s anger.

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