Dream to serve re­alised

. . . as for­mer cop takes helm of Po­lice min­istry

Lesotho Times - - News - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

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.

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