Lloyd Mutungamiri, an editor of two newspapers in the tiny southern African nation of Lesotho, has been shot. He is “reportedly stable” in hospital.
The editor of the Lesotho Times and the Sunday Express “was attacked and shot at his place this night [July 9] around 23:45hrs by unknown men”, wrote journalist and free speech activist Tsebo Mats’asa on Twitter.
Mats’asa, director of Lesotho’s Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Lesotho), also released a statement with more information.
“Lloyd was from his office [when he was shot] after completing the Sunday Express issue which is a sister newspaper for Lesotho Times,” reads the MISA-Lesotho statement.
“He is still in hospital [and] reportedly stable though under security. Members of the public and his colleagues were not allowed to see him for security reasons at noon today [July 10].”
Keiso Mohloboli, a journalist with the Lesotho Times and Sunday express, told me via email that Mutungamiri is in a “critical” condition.
“He is our hope,” says Mohloboli.
“He has to pull through so that he can tell us how the attack happened.”
She also tried to visit Mutungamiri, her editor, in hospital but said “for security purposes” only his wife is allowed to see him at the moment.
“His wife was confused and crying,” she said.
Mohloboli added: “He is alive and yes, he is fighting for his life in hospital.”
African Independent, an online newspaper, reports that the editor’s wife, Tsitsi Matope, suspects the army is behind the shooting. Both the editor and his wife, who is also a journalist, are Zimbabweans.
Mohloboli’s assessment of her editor’s health as “critical” and “fighting for his life” – compared to MISA-Lesotho’s more measured words of “relatively stable” – reflects some confusion over the editor’s current wellbeing.
Lesotho Daily News, a Facebook page carrying news and information on the country, says the editor “is now fighting for his life at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Maseru [the capital].”
Mohloboli recently had her own brush with fear when she was arrested over an article she wrote about Lesotho’s controversial and unpredictable army chief, Tlali Kamoli.
She says she was held by the authorities on June 23, then released. The police were pressuring her to give them the names of her sources. Despite her release, she still fells unsafe.
“I don’t know how I am but I am alive,” she says.
Mohloboli suspects the shooting of Mutungamiri may be linked to the publication of her article, ‘Exit strategy for Kamoli’, which appeared in the June 23-29 edition of the weekly Lesotho Times.
Liutenant General Tlali Kamoli, the army chief, was reported to have been offered a “golden handshake” in return for standing down. Mohloboli was reporting on this story.
This article, likely at the centre of these events, was also mentioned in the MISA-Lesotho statement.
“Lesotho Times in the last two weeks issued an apology on its lead story, regarding a lead article titled ‘Kamoli Exit Strategy’ in which the paper admitted that it published the story without verifying information from its sources. The apology was issued following summoning of Lloyd and his reporter Keiso Mohloboli regarding the story.”
The statement carefully continues: “Without linking the shooting of Lloyd with any of the previously mentioned information on this media alert [statement], MISA-Lesotho condemns the shooting of Lloyd and regards it as a threat to media freedom in Lesotho.”
Lesotho’s media is currently battling more than it’s fair share of troubles, and the common denominator seems to be Kamoli.
It was reported on July 8, 2016 that the owner of the Lesotho Times, Basildon Peta, has been charged with “defamation and crimen injuria” over a “satirical column” written by an anonymous writer which is said to have “severely undermined” army chief Kamoli.
Political instability and sporadic violence have become common in the landlocked country, which is completely bordered by South Africa.
In the wake of this recent shooting, Lesotho Daily News has offered background on the current violence gripping the nation. The Facebook page refers to army boss Kamoli as a “rogue military commander”.
“He plunged Lesotho into a political and security crisis by an attempted coup in 2014. He is linked to several extra judicial killings that have taken place in Lesotho including the killing of the previous army commander commander Lt. Gen Maaparankoe Mahao
“The former Prime Minister Tom Tabane lives in exile in South Africa for fear of his life from the rogue military commander.”
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional bloc, wants Kamoli to step down.
Despite this disturbing turn of events, Lesotho is some way from becoming a failed state. When walking down the main streets of the capital Maseru, one feels outwardly safe and there is no obvious threat in the air.
That said, the country of two million people is steadily heading down a dangerous path.
“Intimidation and suppression to media won’t bring back political and security stability to Lesotho,” writes Mohloboli on Twitter, adding that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.
Lesotho was ranked 73rd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2016 press freedom index. Expect this ranking to get worse next year.