Dream to serve realised
. . . as former cop takes helm of Police ministry
FOR newly-appointed Police and Public Safety Minister, ‘ Mampho Mokhele, her approach in superintending over the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) will not be any different from the way she served the agency for 36 years.
Ms Mokhele told the Lesotho Times in an interview this week that she would continue to be guided by two words – truth and reconciliation – in her quest to improve the working conditions of police officers and professionalising the agency.
Appointed last month by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, after being sworn-in as a senator, Ms Mokhele realised a lifelong dream to serve as a Police and Public Safety minister and address the all too familiar challenges bedevilling the agency.
“When I was a policewoman, I always told people within my circles that when I retire, I would want to be a Police minister so that I can advocate for the LMPS in cabinet and parliament,” she said.
“I know all about the hardships police officers go through like the palm of my hand since 36 years of my life were spent serving in the agency.”
Born in 1957 in Malibamatšo, Ms Mokhele said she initially applied to join the LMPS in 1974 after dropping out of school to seek employment for supplementing her father’s meagre income.
However, the initial application was unsuccessful, with a second try in 1975 finally yielding results.
“I come from a family of four girls. I am the second born in the family and I was very close to my father, who put food on the table by making and repairing horse saddles,” she said.
“Over time, my father’s income continued to dwindle until he couldn’t even afford to buy the equipment he used to make or repair the saddles.
“I then decided to sacrifice my education for my sisters and dropped out of school to seek employment at the LMPS in 1974. That year, I was not recruited, but the following year I made it in.”
With steely determination to achieve her goal of supporting her family, Ms Mokhele was undeterred by the harsh environment she found at the Police Training College (PTC), even when others gave up.
The crowning moment was the pass-out ceremony later that year, in which Ms Mokhele and other recruits pledged to serve their country while clad in blue and yellow uniforms.
Ms Mokhele’s initial posting was in the Crime Investigation Department (CID) which she took in her stride despite being the only woman in the unit.
“While many people would have seen being assigned to the CID as a tough assignment, I chose to see it as a blessing in disguise and worked extremely hard.
“I was later posted to the Leribe Police Station in 1999.”
In Leribe, she spearheaded a programme that would become a stock in trade throughout her career. The programme was meant to reconcile circumcision initiates with community members and also train them.
“When I arrived in Leribe, initiates would bully community members while the initiates also faced discrimination from the same communities which loved them before they went to the initiation schools.”
The initiative not only earned her the respect of the residents of Leribe, but caught the attention of the LMPS management who decided to extend it to Mokhotlong and Butha-buthe.
All the while, Ms Mokhele rose through the ranks as senior inspector and then superintendent. The promotion came with a transfer to Mohale’s Hoek.
“Within a short space of time, I was again transferred to head the Mafeteng district. Because police officers commanding districts were at the level of senior superintendent, I was also promoted to the same rank.”
Mafeteng proved to be a baptism of fire for Ms Mokhele, as she had to grapple with the famo music gang warfare. Like her predecessors, Ms Mokhele’s mettle was tested in the district, more so because of being a woman.
“It was the most challenging time of my career. There were numerous incidents of killings associated with initiates, with initiates from one village fighting and killing others from another village. There were also famo gang killings between the Terene and Fito groups led respectively by Chakela and Selomo.
“People began to question my appointment saying ‘what is this woman going to do here? How can she be the head of a district in which even men failed to lead?’ Eventually, I succumbed to that criticism and began to question myself.
“I only looked at my womanhood and not my capabilities. In an attempt show authority, I chose to be an iron lady but soon realised that it was not working for me.”
Ms Mokhele decided to take the leadership approach she employed in Leribe, Mokhotlong, Butha-buthe and Mohale’s Hoek by meeting and discussing with community members.
Vividly remembering an encounter with one of the famo gang leaders, Ms Mokhele said she had to ignore an insult and look at the bigger picture of being an agent of change.
Eventually, the approach began to pay dividends with famo gang warfare and killings among initiates subsiding.
“Over time, I was able to have civil discussions with the gang leaders. By the time I left the district, there were no more killings and Chakela and Selomo became good friends.”
She was transferred back to Leribe to preach the same message of truth and reconciliation since the district was facing similar challenges.
“Before long, I was again transferred to Butha-buthe district, which was experiencing high incidents of livestock and car theft between Lesotho and South Africa.
“With the benefit of experience gained in Mafeteng, we established various police posts both at the borders and boundaries while at the same time working closely with Qwaqwa and South African police.”
Asked how her family has coped with the rigorous work schedule, she said it took a hefty toll on her four children and now late husband.
“My family suffered immensely from the day I was transferred to Mafeteng. It was not a good experience for me, my husband and my children.”
Her husband’s death in 2010 was a game changer, with a distraught Ms Mokhele making a conscious decision to retire from the service she loyally served aged 54 years.
“The law says a police officer can retire at the age of 55 years. And to properly mourn the death of my husband, I went on leave pending the retirement age. Fortunately for me, I had leave days that amounted to a year.”
Ms Mokhele said superintending as a minister over an agency she served for 36 years had seemed like a farfetched dream.
“At times, we may say words that we don’t really think will come true later in our lives, whether positive or negative.”
Addressing the challenges faced by LMPS officers and professionalising the agency would rank high among her priorities.
“For instance, I always and still stand by the position that the LMPS desperately and urgently needs its own helicopter to carry out its mandate effectively.
“The police service has also lost its way, with LMPS members accused of taking bribes. There is also a huge backlog of cases that have not been resolved, and we have lost the trust of the same public we were mandated to serve.
“I am going to work hard to overhaul the LMPS. It is not going to be easy but I know together we can do it by sticking to the laws that govern the LMPS and Lesotho.”
Turning to her political journey, Ms Mokhele said she decided to contest in the 2012 National Assembly elections representing the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in Maputsoe constituency two years after her retirement.
She later left the LCD and joined the All Basotho Convention. After the 28 February 2015 National Assembly elections, she made it into parliament as a proportional representation legislator for the ABC.
Given that Lesotho is joining the rest of the continent in celebrating Women’s Month, Ms Mokhele said more efforts needed to be made in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV).
“As a woman, I plead with my fellow women to never be afraid of reporting GBV cases in all their forms and take care of one another. We need to stand together and love each other; we are not incapable of standing by each other,” Ms Mokhele added.
Police and Public Safety Minister ‘Mampho Mokhele.