The sad story of ritual murders

The sad story of ritual murders

BEREA – THE little girl’s body was found in a donga, a stone’s throw away from the village.
Her throat was slit.  For hours the villagers had combed the nearby veld in search of the two-year-old girl who had gone missing the previous day.
As the situation became desperate murmurs had begun to spread within the search party that the toddler was last seen walking with her maternal grandfather, around dusk.
The grandfather’s explanation was not convincing, said a villager who was helping in the search.

“He told us that he told the child to go back home when he realised it was getting dark,” says a villager who preferred to be identified only as Ramanekane, his first name.
“He was with us in the search and was actually calling the girl’s name like the rest of us.” Acting on a hunch some village elders pulled the grandfather aside and quizzed him.
And soon other villagers had joined in the interrogation.

After hours of refusing the man eventually broke down and confessed, according to Ramanekane who was in the search party and also during the man’s questioning.
What he said stunned the villagers.  “He said his friend wanted a young girl’s blood,” said Ramanekane.
He led the search party to the girl’s body.

“He told us, the chief and the police that they collected the girl’s blood in a cup. He sold the girl’s blood,” Ramanekane says.
This incident happened in Thota-Peli village, Ha-’Mamathe, in the Berea district three weeks ago.

On Monday this week the grandfather appeared for the second time in the Berea Magistrate’s Court where he is facing a murder charge.
Village chief, ‘Maseqobela Mopeli, says it is bizarre that “the man who was entrusted with protecting his niece’s daughter was the one who killed her”.
“He led us to where he had thrown the body on Saturday morning,” Mopeli says.

For the people of Thota-Peli the girl’s murder confirms what they have suspected for the past few months: there are ritual murderers on the loose in the area or there are some people who are buying body parts.  For further ‘evidence’ they point to the case of a village man whose body was discovered earlier this year. The man’s throat had been slit and his private parts were missing, according to villagers.

That is when the fear started, Mopeli explains.  “That was so scary. That case is still under investigations by the police.”
If you retort that the death of the little girl and the man could be isolated cases the villagers will tell you of similar cases.
They heard the stories on radio and from people from other villages, they say.

In May the body of a high school girl in Butha-Buthe was found in a donga with a slit throat.
Her parents had been looking for her after she did not arrive from school.
They had reported her disappearance to the police who allegedly suggested that she could have gone away with boys.
When her dead body was found a few days later, ritual murder was immediately suspected because of the nature of the wound. According to the family, it looked like her blood had been collected. No arrests have been made so far.

In March a man’s mutilated corpse was found in Mokhotlong on a mountain.
The man’s heart and part of his lungs were missing.  In November last year the High Court heard a case in which one Lebohang Pitso of Ha ’Matsa in Qacha’s Nek was facing two counts of murder.  Pitso is alleged to have murdered a 90-year-old ’Mamoloko Seeiso and her seven-year-old grandson.
Testifying in court Sergeant Chale Moloinyana of Sekake Police said they first got a report from the Chief of Ha ’Matsa that two people had been murdered in the village.
After they arrived at the scene, Moloinyana said the police found two bodies lying in a pool of blood. He said they discovered that their throats were slit and part of Seeiso’s scalp had been peeled off.

Investigations led to the arrest of Pitso by the Semonkong Police.
Pitso led the police to Carlton Ville at a place off informal settlement called Khutsong in South Africa. On the roof of the shack he claimed was his home, Pitso pointed the police to a scalp pinned to a knife. He said the scalp belonged to Seeiso.

He allegedly confessed that particular knife together with one that was on the table was used to slaughter the old woman and her grandson.
So do these incidents show that ritual murder cases are escalating in the country?  Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Clifford Molefe says the “cases of people who have been killed and found with body parts missing is a sad reality in Lesotho”.

But he says he would not want to say, with certainty, that ritual murders are rampant.
Molefe says sometimes suspects would hand over human organs to the police.
“But in cases where the police don’t recover any body parts it is difficult to say the incident is linked to ritual murders,” Molefe says.
“Because we do not have any proof of that we cannot speculate”.

However, research has shown that since the 1800s to the 2000s Lesotho has been among southern African countries in which ritual murders have been rife.
In a book titled Medical Pluralism and the Bounding of Traditional Healing in Swaziland, historian Waltrand Ernst includes Lesotho among countries in which people, especially children, have been killed for ritual purposes.

Ernst says colonial reports spoke of ‘doctoring the fields’ in which “human parts were supposedly used to ensure the fertility of the soil”.
“Since the beginning of the twentieth century ritual murders are associated with competition over scarce power positions and commercial interests,” Ernst says in the book.
He adds that the most preferred parts are sexual organs, the right arm, tongue and eyes. “It is thought that mutilation takes place before the killing.”
President of Lekhotla la Mekhoa le Meetlo, an organisation that promotes and defends Sesotho traditions and healing practices, Malefetsane Liau, says “Basotho traditional doctors do not mutilate people for any ritual practice”.

“In my knowledge as a practising traditional doctor I do not know any medicinal value of human body parts,” Liau said.
He however said he could not “wish away possibilities of the presence of fake doctors who do such things, just as there are fake pastors in Christian churches”.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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