Some of the 12 youths who were fired from the Police Training College (PTC) earlier this year have come out with guns blazing, accusing the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) of destroying their future.
They were drafted into the police training programme which started on May 1 this year and they were dismissed about 25 days later, on May 25.
When they were fired, the High Court had issued an interim order on the previous day, May 24, prohibiting their expulsion from the college.
The deputy sheriff served the interim court order on May 27 because he had encountered in doing so on May 24 and 25.
The Commissioner of Police (COMPOL), Holomo Molibeli, said a medical examination by a police medical doctor at Katlehong in Maseru had disclosed that the recruits had on their bodies tattoos and markings which are characteristics of a notorious criminal group or a gang called Manomoro.
Molibeli said the discovery prompted the police to conduct a more rigorous character vetting and he was convinced that the recruits were not of good enough character and could not be trusted to become honest, competent and reliable police officers.
â€œWe accept that we have been dismissed. We have put that behind us but we want to put it on record that we have never been gangsters, we are not gangsters and we will never be,â€ the group of five told Newsday.
One of them, Lebaka Matiea said: â€œIt is very unfortunate that we have been affiliated with a group of criminals who terrorized the nation. We want to move on with our lives but who will employ people who were fired from police training because they are gangsters? How will we make a decent living with such a cloud hanging over our heads!â€
They also mentioned that they lived in fear as they are afraid that they might be attacked by vigilantes who were either robbed or assaulted by Manomoro.
â€œWe have heard stories of what Manomoro did to the people. Some people are still angry, what will happen if they decide to punish us because we have been associated with Manomoro by the police?
â€œThe police are supposed to protect every citizen including ourselves but they have exposed us to potential harm. We want to start our small businesses to feed our families but who will buy from people who have been declared Manomoro by the police? That is the painful situation we find ourselves in at the moment.â€ Matia also said.
He was accompanied by Kopano Ramokhoro, Mojela Gugushe, Sibongile Cekwane and Moorosi Kalane.
The 12 dismissed police recruits are Matia, Ramokhoro, Gugushe, Cekwane, Kalane, Moliehi Dlamini, Mokhethi Damane, Ngaka Lenka, Thabang Maime, Lechesa Lepheane, Poloko Sekhohola and Refiloe Kheleli.
They challenged their dismissal in the High Court and on June 29 this year, High Court Judge, Justice TÅ¡eliso Mokoko said Commissioner of Police (COMPOL) Holomo Molibeliâ€™s decision to expel them was irregular and wrongful and therefore, null and void.
Mokoko ordered the reinstatement of the recruits into the police training programme without any loss of status and benefits.
â€œThe respondent is hereby ordered and directed to reinstate the applicants back into the Police Training College recruitment programme without loss of status and benefits and to pay the applicants any arrear salaries which may have been paid in their absence,â€ read Mokokoâ€™s judgement.
He also ordered police to pay the recruitsâ€™ costs.
Molibeli appealed against the high court judgment.
â€œThe court a quo erred and misdirected itself in granting the application on the face of salient facts and evidence and a clear position of law which were all in favour of dismissing the application,â€ he said.
The appeal was heard on October 21 this year and the judgement was delivered on November 11.
â€œFirst appellant, Commissioner of Police, dismissed respondents from police recruits training programme on finding that they had markings or tattoos which are characteristics of a criminal gang,â€ read the summary of the appeal court judgement.
It said the Commissioner of Police was the person with the expertise to make such an assessment and should be permitted to perform his function to its logical end.
It said the dismissed recruits did not deny â€œthe factâ€ that they had similar tattoos and that they happened to seek entry into the police service, â€œone doubts coincidentallyâ€, at the same time.
â€œIt is ordered that the appeal succeeds. The decision of the court a quo is set aside. Each party to bear its own costs in the High Court and in this Court,â€ read the Appeal Court judgment.
The five recruits told Newsday that they accepted the Appeal Court ruling but reiterated that they were not gangsters, a title which they emphasised will eventually destroy their lives.
â€œIf indeed we are gangsters why are police releasing us into the community and not arresting us? Why are we not being prosecuted so that we can prove our innocence?
â€œWhy is LMPS treating us as if we are guilty when no court has found us guilty? We want the members of the public to know that we are not gangsters and are not associated with any gang. We are innocent young Basotho who have just happened to be victims of circumstances,â€ Ngushe said.
When contacted for comment yesterday, police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said the matter has been concluded by the courts and cannot argue it any further, especially outside of courts.
â€œTheir side was heard in court and a ruling was made. There is nothing more that can be done,â€ Mopeli said.