The sad tales of exile

The sad tales of exile

MASERU – TORTURED by the police and forced into exile over a leaked document, the only thing that kept Assistant Superintendent Bereng Ramahetlane feel alive was a famo song.
Famo is a music genre often associated with killings. But for Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane, it was a famo song that brought him to life.

From his hideout in neighbouring South Africa, he cried many times – usually uncontrollably. And then he would play the late Mokhathi Malefane’s prayerful song, Roba Mohoke and he would be filled with hope.
The lyrics: “Ke lla sa ’mokotsana sello. Ha ho na motho ea nkutloelang bohloko, ke bina Eloi’’ especially touched him.
“I was so desperate,” says Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane, who was a top officer at the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and is fighting to get his job back.

The lyrics to the song literally mean “I cry uncontrollably. No one pities me, I sing Eloi,” a famous biblical take from Jesus Christ’s life.
“I used to sing the song in exile as a form of prayer to God asking him not to abandon me,” he says.

Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane skipped the country in August last year after being tortured by the police during an interrogation over a leaked official document.
Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane is now back in Lesotho, after returning home on Wednesday last week. His return was part of a deal between Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
He was beyond belief when he was informed that he would be returning home, he said.
“The news came like a dream,” he tells thepost.

Although Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane is back home to his loved ones, those days in exile are hard to forget “especially when I thought about my girls whose mother died in 2004”.
His first born is in Form D, while his second is doing Form B. The last daughter is in class 3.

They all attend expensive private schools.
“Life was just a nightmare because I was not getting my salary.”
“They (children) have never been away from me for such a long time,” he says. “That was very painful.”
He says during his absence some business people “of goodwill” chipped in to pay tuition, clothing and food for his family.

Superintendent Ramahetlane describes the allegations that he leaked an official document as ridiculous.
“To say I leaked the government gazette yet I was not part of the team that amends laws makes my heart to bleed,” Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane says.
And he is not going to allow anyone to get away with impunity
“I intend to take this matter to court. I demand answers,” he says.
He surely does, especially for a man who went from being a Mosotho elite to a beggar in a foreign country.
“In exile, things were so tough that I was surviving on hand-outs from friends,” he says.

Some would give him M100, barely enough to keeping him going.
“I envied people who were eating potato chips and fat cakes,” he says. “People who have not been in exile cannot understand what I am talking about.”
At least he was alive, having escaped torture, which he describes as a gruesome experience.

He says he thought he was going to cooperate with the police when he was called in. But what followed was horror.
During the interrogation, police officers ordered him to sit on a wheeled office chair surrounded by mean-looking cops.
He was asked to surrender his identity document, diary, phone and driver’s licence.
“The police told me that strong able-bodied men had fallen on that chair.”

They proceeded to aggressively ask him different questions at the same time.
“I did not know which one to answer first.”
He says he was stripped naked in the presence of some female police officers, an incident he describes as his “worst humiliation”.
Then the beatings began, as the police officers sought to force him to confess to leaking the document. He maintained his innocence but he knew that alone was not going to save him.
When the chance to escape presented itself, he took it without hesitation.

Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane says he was asked to go out when his co-accused, Mohau Lebajoa, a technician from the Government Printing Works was called in for questioning and torture.
He says he was on the third floor of the police headquarters.
Lebajoa’s screams of pain coming from the room that he had just left sent a chill down his spine.
“I went down the stairs in fear. I went to the gate where l found some Special Operation Unit officers (SOU),” he says.

He says he asked them about one senior police officer and they responded that he had just gone out.
He says he did not want the SOU officers at the gate to suspect that he was fleeing.
As soon as he went out, he took to his heels and caught a 4+1 taxi.
That is how he skipped the country into exile and informed one local radio station that Lebajoa was locked up in police holding cells.
Now he wants his confiscated documents back but they are nowhere to be seen.

Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane says he has approached police management to help him get his documents back.
He also wants to go back to work.
“Preparations are now at an advanced stage to reinstate me at my work,” he says.
Indeed, his superiors seem to be warming to the idea of him returning to work.
Speaking at a welcome function for the two returnees, Acting Minister of Police Prince Maliehe said investigations by security agents had found no wrongdoing on the part of the duo.

Majara Molupe


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