A mother’s cry for help

A mother’s cry for help

MOHALE’S HOEK – HOW does a mother deal with the trauma of not knowing whether her son is alive or dead?
That is the agony two families in Mohale’s Hoek have been going through since their sons disappeared in May.
’Makhothatso Makibinyane’s son, Khothatso Makibinyane, 20, and his maternal uncle Molise Pakela, 26, went missing after they were released from police holding cells without any charge.

They have not been seen ever since.
Since her son’s disappearance ’Makhothatso has found it difficult to sleep.
The pain has been unbearable.
Her heart has been ripped open.
The fact that she still does not know whether her son is alive or dead has worsened her pain.
What has kept her awake at night is the realisation that her son was most probably abducted by the country’s most powerful and feared institution – the army.

Both ’Makhothatso and her sister-in-law ’Mamathealira Pakela, say they do not know whether they should initiate mourning rituals for Khothatso and Pakela or to wait for them to come back home. In Sesotho culture it is mandatory for close family members to perform certain rituals to appease the “spirits of a dead” relative. They believe that if such rituals are not performed, this can bring misfortune on the family.

Yet at the back of their minds, both ’Makhothatso and ’Mamathealira, who are from Litjepeleng, in Mpharane in Mohale’s Hoek, would like to believe their two sons are probably alive somewhere. But they are also resigned to the fact that they could be dead and were secretly buried somewhere.
Such fears are not too far-fetched following the heart-wrenching story of a police constable Mokalekale Khetheng who was murdered by rogue police officers and buried secretly as a pauper.

His decomposing body was exhumed in August, a year after he disappeared in police custody in Hlotse.
Khothatso, who dropped out of secondary school to undergo initiation, was working as a menial labourer at a construction site in South Africa.
He had left Lesotho for South Africa in January this year.

His mother says her son had begun to send home a few hundred rands to support the family here in Lesotho.
Khothatso’s uncle, Pakela, is married and has two little children. He too was working at a construction site in South Africa.
Trouble for the two began after they were suspected of having had a hand in the fatal shooting of a soldier at the Maseru Bridge in May. Another soldier was injured in the shoot-out.

The soldiers, who were in plain clothes, had approached a group of young men and wanted to search them after suspecting they were carrying unlicensed firearms. Khothatso and his uncle Pakela were members of a notorious famo music gang called Phula-Bobete (Eaters of boiled blood).
As the soldiers tried to disarm the gangsters, a gun-fight ensued. It is said members of the famo group thought the soldiers were members of a rival gang.

Although Khothatso and Pakela were part of the gang, there was no evidence that they took an active part in fighting the soldiers.
It was on that basis that the police later released them without pressing any charges. Even after they were released, some police officers said they still felt some soldiers were baying for revenge. The police say they had to covertly move the suspects from the Hoohlo Police Station where they were kept to the Pitso Ground Station because they suspected that soldiers would attempt to seize them by force.

The police later moved the suspects from Pitso Ground Police Station to the Maseru Central Police after armed soldiers were seen walking close to the police station. The police say the army appeared to have been infuriated after some famo hooligans had killed one of their own whilst injuring another.

’Makhothatso and ’Mamathealira told thepost this week that they believe the army abducted their sons once they left the Maseru Central Police Station. They say what strengthens their belief is that one of the men who was arrested with their sons, Lekhoele Noko, was abducted by heavily armed soldiers who were travelling in a twin cab while going to his home in Leribe.

Noko was in the company of his mother and they were on board a bus when the armed men pulled it over near Lekokoaneng and took him away.
The police say soldiers in plain clothes had been stalking them during their investigations. One of the investigators was abducted by four armed men and was later dumped in Morija two days later.

’Makhothatso says on May 19 her family and the whole village woke up to the sad news that the two were missing after they had been released by the police. She says it was her husband who works in South Africa who informed her that their son and his uncle had gone missing.
’Makhothatso says she then rushed to Maseru where she was told by the police that her son had since been released.
’Makhothatso says she at first thought that her son and his uncle might have probably crossed into South Africa were they were working, only to be told that the two were not in the neighbouring country.

She says she then went back to the police to inform them that the two had not arrived home and that they were also not in South Africa.
’Makhothatso says she then filed a case of missing persons at the Maseru Central Charge Office.
Senior Superintendent Api Letsie of the Central Charge Office testified before High Court judge, Justice Semapo Peete, that they had such a case and that their investigations were still ongoing.

Letsie confirmed the devastating news and said they had intensified their search.
Despite reporting the matter to the police, Makhothatso says she has also reported it on different media platforms.
Yet nothing promising has come forth. She says she then filed a habeas corpus case in the High Court so that those who were involved in the arrest and release of her son and his uncle could give their side of the story.

The family has asked the High Court to order the army commander and the commissioner of police to produce bodies of their beloved ones.
They want to at least see their corpses and give them a decent burial. “My son used to help me a lot,” she says.

’Makhothatso says all she wants is to know what happened to the two after their release by the police.
Police officers testified before the High Court that an Occurrence Book clearly shows that they were released.
’Makhothatso says her son had only gone to school as far as Form B. And when he was supposed to do Form C the following year, he went to the initiation school.

After graduating from the initiation school, he never returned to school to further his studies.
Without a tertiary qualification, ’Makhothatso says her son found it almost impossible to get a decent job.
“My son was only intending to break through poverty that is gripping rural communities when he went to South Africa,” she says.

She says while in South Africa, her son and brother got themselves involved with one of the notorious famo gangs led by ’Mantsoaki a Seakhi breakaway called Phula-Bobete. She says she is convinced that the army abducted her son and her brother.
Pakela’s wife, ’Mamathealira, says her life has been unbearable over the last four months.
She says it is difficult to raise two children alone especially because she is not employed.

Majara Molupe

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