OUTRAGE OVER EDITOR’S SHOOTING
Lesotho Times editor remains in critical condition
THE editor of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express newspapers, Lloyd Mutungamiri, remains in a critical condition after being brutally shot at his home in Upper Thamae in the wee hours of Sunday morning in what appeared to be a well-orchestrated assassination attempt.
Mr Mutungamiri (50) is now scheduled to undergo specialist reconstructive surgery at a hospital in South Africa to repair his shattered jaw and to remove a bullet that remains lodged near his left ear.
As the world united in condemning the cold-blooded murder attempt, more details emerged of how Mr Mutungamiri narrowly survived the shooting.
Even though he still cannot talk clearly due to severe swelling of his mouth, he was able to provide details of what had happened on the fateful night and to sketch a diagram to depict the methodology of his attackers.
His first-hand version rules out any possibility that the attempt to kill him could have been an ordinary robbery as nothing was robbed from Mr Mutungamiri. His wife, Tsitsi, was in fact able to collect all his belongings including cellphones, cash and a wallet from the car after the incident, suggesting the hit was a result of his journalistic work.
As per his usual routine, Mr Mutungamiri left this newspaper’s offices in Thetsane around 11:35 pm on Saturday after having finished editing the Sunday Express, the sister newspaper to the Lesotho Times.
As he approached his house, Mr Mutungamiri said he saw two men standing by a corner near his house. As the area is a fairly busy one due to a drinking outlet and tuckshop in the vicinity of his home, Mr Mutungamiri said he wasn’t initially bothered by their presence as he has seen people milling around the area during late night hours.
He then stopped his car behind the gate in a parallel position, in readiness to turn right into the yard after manually opening that gate. Once he had stopped near the gate, before getting out of the vehicle, the two men passed by his car one on the left and the other on the right side glancing at him as they walked past. With the benefit of hindsight, Mr Mutungamiri said he thought the move was intended to verify whether it was indeed him in the vehicle as he did not normally use the vehicle he was driving that day.
He said he still did not read much into their movements as he thought they were walking towards either the drinking outlet or tuck-shop near his residence. Mr Mutungamiri then alighted from his vehicle and opened the main gate.
After getting back into his car to manoeuvre the car into the yard, all hell then broke loose. The men, whom he had just seen walking past him had turned back. As he tried to turn his car right into the parking, the one man had passed him and taken a position to his right. The other one moved in front and they started firing.
The first bullet fired from the man on the right shattered the driver’s window hitting him on the face and shattering his right jaw before moving to stop in the left ear-lob. Another one hit his palm as he raised his hand in a desperate attempt to shield his face. He then slumped forward onto the steering wheel. The assailants fired more bullets at the car.
The shots fired by the assailant in front of the vehicle failed to reach Mr Mutungamiri as they bounced off the bullet-proof windscreen. Meanwhile his automatic vehicle accelerated into the yard, ramming into the other car parked in front.
He had bought the vehicle in question from a security consultant who was leaving Lesotho and unbeknown to Mr Mutungamiri, the windscreen was bullet proof and this factor was to be one of his main saving graces.
His wife and children who were still awake and had heard Mr Mutungamiri opening the gate while preparing to welcome him, started crying for help upon hearing the sound of gunshots. But they were too scared to get out only doing so a few minutes after the gunshots had subsided.
The assailants had left, presumably thinking that their dastardly aims had been accomplished due to Mr Mutungamiri’s slumped position and profuse bleeding.
“When I first saw him, I thought he had died,” said Ms Mutungamiri. “He appeared motionless and blood was all over, with teeth scattered in the vehicle.”
She called for help and rushed him to Maseru Private Hospital, where after initial treatment to stop excessive bleeding, they were whisked by ambulance to Tsepong Hospital.
Mr Mutungamiri was subsequently referred to a hospital in South Africa where he is undergoing specialist reconstructive surgery last night to restore his jaw and to remove the bullet still lodged at his left ear-lob and any other bullet fragments elsewhere in his body.
A private security expect who visited the scene after the incident said he was astounded that not a single shell had been left on the scene, suggesting that a very high calibre weapon, not easily accessible to civilians, had been used in the apparent hit.
Mr Mutungamiri says it’s a mystery that he survived.
Claims that this could have been done by common criminals were disconcerting. No legitimate robber would hit a man and leave the person with all their possessions, he said. Equally, no person would waylay a man and shoot him just for the fun of it.
Mr Mutungamiri’s shooting was the culmination of a tough week for him and his company during which he, and reporter Keiso Mohloboli, were summoned to Mabote Police Station for interrogation by more than a dozen detectives over a story in which the Lesotho Times had reported about negotiations for an exit strategy for army commander Lieutenant-general Tlali Kamoli in line with a recommendation by a Southern Africa Development Community ( SADC) resolution that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) head be removed from his post.
They were also quizzed over a satirical column in the Lesotho Times that goes by the moniker Scrutator which had claimed a joke about a mock cabinet invasion by the army commander to exemplify his power.
The satirical column resulted in Lesotho Times and Sunday Express Publisher and CEO Basildon Peta, being charged with criminal defamation and crimen injuria. He was released on M800 bail and M30 000 surety.
The Lesotho Times and Sunday Express had also been the subject of unmitigated vitriol by politicians, led by one Bokang Ramatsella, who claims the newspapers are anti-government and went to the extent of calling for the killing of Mr Peta on radio programmes on a local radio station, Tsenolo FM.
The assassination attempt on Mr Mutungamiri has attracted worldwide condemnation from human rights and press freedom groups who have called for an independent, impartial investigation into the hit and the bringing to book of the culprits.
THE bullets did not leave any shells.
THE assailants’ bullets failed to penetrate the car’s windscreen.
LESOTHO Times and Sunday Express Editor Lloyd Mutungamiri bled profusely following the attack.