A journey of redemption

A journey of redemption

…the story of Monn’a Thapo

LERIBE – HE was once a feared man and a social outcast who was shunned by many.
He was described as a cruel murderer who killed women and then used his mystic powers to elude the long arm of justice.
But today, after languishing in prison for decades, he is broken and humbled.
And he is asking for forgiveness for the murders he committed.
His real name is Hlomelang Nkoja but many know him as Monn’a Thapo, a nickname bestowed on him by his community because of his heinous crimes and the legend that they spewed.
He has served two long jail terms for murdering two women he claims were his lovers.

Monn’a Thapo literally means a man wearing a mourning cloth.
It is a frightening moniker because culturally it is only women who wear the mourning cloth after the death of their husbands or sons.
How Nkoja got the nickname is not clear but it could be that what started as a rumour became a legend that got spiced up along the way.
That Basotho are superstitious could have helped elevate mere bar-talk into stories that many came to believe to be true.
A myth that should have been frowned upon had entered the national psyche to become fodder for those with wagging tongues.
Some said Nkoja wore a mourning cloth that gave him the powers to elude the police.

The cloth, they claimed, derived its powers from the potions he mixed with the blood of people whose throats he cut. Others said he could transform into different things to escape the police.
“They believed I was capable of changing myself into a housefly and escape from the police,” Nkoja says.
“It is all not true.”

Nkoja says even in prison he was closely watched by warders who believed the fables about him.
But after spending a combined 28 years in prison Nkoja says he wants to put the past behind him. He says he has been on a journey to redemption since his release in July after spending 16 years of what was supposed to be 25 years behind bars for the second murder in 2003.

Nkoja is asking relatives and friends of his victims to “find it in their hearts to forgive him”. He believes part of his atonement will come from encouraging prisoners to ask their victims to forgive them.
That is why he was part of the team from the Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Association (CROA) visiting prisons across the country to encourage prisoners to confess their crimes and ask their victims for forgiveness.

CROA says the project will help the victims to heal and the offenders to be rehabilitated into the society.
The choice of Nkoja as a speaker at the prisoners’ meeting could have been more apt. Most of the prisoners are aware of the legends told about him. They heard them when they were innocent boys and when they entered the prisons.

Now 64, Nkoja speaks softly as he narrates his story to thepost on the sidelines of the CROA’s meeting with inmates in Butha-Buthe.
“I do not have magical powers and I never had such powers,” he says.
He casts a crestfallen figure as he retraces his history of heinous crimes. Nkoja’s first conviction was in June 1986 after he murdered his employer, a US Peace Corps volunteer Liza Sanftleben, whom he claims was also his lover.

Court papers say Nkoja was a gardener at Sanftleben’s home in Hlotse and he attacked her at night in November 1984. It was a gruesome murder.
The papers reveal that he stabbed Sanftleben five times in the chest. The postmortem says she died from acute haemorrhage, haemothorax and lung collapse.

Nkoja then ransacked her house, stealing money, a watch and a radio cassette. He says he was angry because Sanftleben had refused to give him money he needed to help out his friends. He says she was sure that Sanftleben had the money but was just refusing to help him.
“I told her that I needed money because I wanted to help my friends but she refused,” Nkoja says.
“I knew that she had money and when she refused, I killed her, took her things so that I could sell them.”

Although he doesn’t deny responsibility, Nkoja says he believes his loyalty to his friends contributed to his crimes.
“Bad association was my worst enemy. The money I was demanding from her was meant to help my friends. I didn’t need the money.”
Nkoja was slapped with a 15-year jail term for the murder after Justice Baptista Molai found extenuating circumstances.
When he was released in 1998 Nkoja went into marijuana smuggling, his ‘trade’ before prison.
He says his partner in crime was a married woman from Ha-’Makhoroana in Pulane who supplied him with the drug. In 2003 he murdered the woman after a quarrel over a drug deal.

The High Court slapped him with 25 years’ imprisonment.
He was released in July this year on parole during King Letsie III’s birthday, because of his good conduct in prison.
He says he is a changed man and wants to make a positive difference in his community. He wants the relatives of his victims to forgive him.
“I went to Ha-’Makhoroana to ask for forgiveness from the husband of the woman I killed. He cannot forgive me.”

Nkoja says he is now afraid that the man might kill him in revenge.
He is appealing to the community to welcome him “because I have repented and swear that I will not commit any crimes anymore”.
In July after his release, there were hundreds of comments in the social media and radio stations of people complaining against his pardon.
Tales of his magical powers resurfaced.

“I saw a female pig with many piglets on my way to work and wondered if this was not Monn’a Thapo,” said one post on Facebook.
“There is a whirlwind in Maputsoe that is throwing around many plastics. I’m sure it is Monn’a Thapo,” said another.
“I have just seen Hlomelang at the Mafafa market. He bought porridge with pork from a street vendor with M100. The money disappeared miraculously.

He is wearing a pair of khaki shorts, maroon hoses and an orange T-shirt written seja-monna ha se mo qete (you can swindle a man but you can’t finish him),” another one said.
Nkoja says from the prison he took a trip straight to his home in Fobane and never went to the Mafafa market in Maseru.
The comments were feeding into the legends about him.
What is clear is that Nkoja is an evil man trying to turn good.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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