‘Saving’ the herd-boys

‘Saving’ the herd-boys

THABA-TSEKA-GIRLS are leaving a school in Thaba-Tseka district “in numbers” for fear of being raped by local herders of livestock, a health official in the area has claimed.
The herd boys sometimes threaten the girls with death, says a nurse at the local health centre.
There are no clear statistics of how many girls left the school in the recent past. The principal was said to be “far away and unreachable” for comment.
But Relebohile Mosehle, a nurse at Mohlanapeng Health Centre, says the herd boys, whom she referred to as lacking a human sense of compassion, used to rape the girls at the privately owned hostels.

The school does not have its own dormitories for students.
Mosehle recalls many of the sad cases associated with the boys in Mohlanapeng that she has handled.
“They were like wild animals and not humans at the time,” Mosehle says.

Mosehle recalls incidents where girls staying in a rented hostel would be raped continuously by the herd-boys who were supposed to be at the cattle post looking after their own herds.
“It was a painful situation and at one point we had to have a public gathering regarding the house breaks and rapes that happened to many of our girls at schools,” Mosehle says.
She says the girls seldom reported the incidents of rape because they received threats from the perpetrators.
Also, the girls did not know how to report when they never got to see their rapists’ faces.

“They would come to the clinic seeking health services and when screening and testing is done we would find that they had STIs (sexually transmitted infections),” she says.
Mosehle says the girls would only tell the nurses that they were raped when they were cornered with questions.
At times, the girls would fall pregnant and were unable to identify the person responsible for the pregnancy.

“They don’t recall the faces. This was heart breaking,” Mosehle says.
Mosehle says it was clear that there was need for civic education on HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive rights and gender based violence.
She says the herdboys, although they knew that they were committing a crime, believed that they had a right to treat a girl or a woman as they pleased.

Mosehle says she has had her own share of ill-treatment from herdboys despite her profession.
“They would just stop in front of me with their dogs on their heels. I felt scared enough to wet my pants but would gain courage from the oddest of places and tell them they would get in trouble if they even tried to harm me,” she says.
“I used my age to frighten them away. Still this was not a good life.”

Mosehle is in her mid-thirties.
Mosehle says herd-boys only go to the health centre when they are in a critical state and this puts their lives in danger.
“Some of them come with dog bites that have gone for months without medical attention.”

She adds that they hardly volunteer for HIV testing or routine health checks at the clinic.
thepost visited Mohlanapeng clinic in mid-March, a time when the cold front begins to build up in the mountainous parts of Lesotho.
Many of the herd-boys, some as young as 10, are still at the cattle posts, their huts pitched on the slopes of the mountains.

As night falls, some of them can be spotted, chit-chatting on the guard rails of the meandering roads that twist and turn round the mountains.
The herd-boys are either locked in serious chatter about mundane things, playing with sticks whilst dressed in their dark blankets and gumboots.
Most of the herd-boys dropped out of school to care for livestock. Very few can read.

Because they have very little formal education, the herd-boys are a marginalised group in Lesotho.
Most have very little appreciation of major societal issues such as HIV/AIDS, sexual reproductive health, labour rights as employees and other basic rights.
Most decisions that affect their lives are made by politicians often without their input as they are often with their livestock far away in the mountains.

Away from society, the herd-boys often grow into a law-unto-themselves. Some resort to violence and crime to secure what they want, often setting themselves on a collision course with society.
That was the story with the herd-boys at Ha-Tšiu in Mohlanapeng.
It took massive efforts by Help Lesotho, a non-governmental organisation that was founded in 2004 by a Canadian, Dr Peg Herbert, to educate them about women’s rights.
Since the programme began, most herd-boys in Ha-Tšiu have changed their behaviour for the better, according to some villagers.

The programme has trained over 600 herd-boys in Thaba-Tseka and over 1 000 in Butha-Buthe.
The training targets herd-boys aged 24 years and younger, according to Help Lesotho’s Grant Implementation and Impact Manager, Sello Matsoso.
Lebohang Tsunyane, a 21-year-old herd-boy, dropped out of school when he was in Standard Five to take care of his father’s sheep and goats.
Tsunyane married his sweetheart last year.

He says he hopes God will bless his marriage so that he can have at least three children.
Tsunyane remembers how he used to harass young girls when they were coming to fetch some water and firewood.
“I and a couple of my friends would draw a line on the ground and we told them that we “loved” them and that if they said no to our proposal they would be in trouble,” Tsunyane says.

“We would take their bundles of firewood by force,” he says.
This was a norm until Tsunyane and some other herd-boys underwent training conducted by Help Lesotho and Sentebale, a non-government organisation led by the Principal Chief of Matsieng, Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

Sentebale has a programme for herd-boys that addresses barriers to education.
The NGO worked in closely with the Ministry of Education’s Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC) and the Lesotho Association of Non Formal Education (LANFE).
Sentebale says it wanted to step up its efforts to help herd-boys.
“I am a herd-boy and I know the daily challenges of a herd-boy,” Chief Seeiso says.
“I know of many challenges they face. I warn women in villages to stop promising our young boys milk,” he says, in a statement full of sexual undertones.

In Sesotho culture, when a woman promises a young man milk, it means she will provide sexual services to him.
Chief Seeiso says their programme, together with the one that Help Lesotho offers, is meant to give herd-boys the dignity they deserve.
“Most of these herd boys are treated like slaves in their workplace. Only when they are being treated with decency will they become responsible citizens,” he says.

Chief Seeiso says they are working hard to set up night classes in all districts to ensure that all herd-boys get an education.
“Everyone has a right to be educated,” he says.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s country representative, Dr Marc Derveeuw, says the UNFPA will continue to support programmes such as these because they change lives.
“We need to adhere to the requests of the herd-boys because their lives matter too,” he says.
“We will go back and see how we can find more funding for programmes such as this. I am very aware of these challenges that Chief Seeiso is talking about and our call is to reach out to the marginalised.”

Parents who spoke to thepost said they are very happy with the many positive changes their sons had made.
“They now respect girls and women more,” one parent says.
“They are able to communicate their needs with their employers better than before and they are more helpful in community development projects,” another one says.

Another parent says he now realises that he treated herd-boys in an unfair and inhumane manner in the past.
“I now know that it is not right to send a herd-boy to a cattle post with just maize-meal without giving them complementary meals,” he says.
“We didn’t care to buy them protective clothing for winter or gumboots until now. The programme helped herd-boys as well as us.”
Another parent requested that more funds be allocated to the development of football fields for the herd-boys.

Rose Moremoholo

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