A bitter Christmas to forget

A bitter Christmas to forget

BUTHA-BUTHE – TWO days after the joys of Christmas, villagers in Ha-Shishila in Kao were in grief as police embarked on an indiscriminate revenge attack that killed one person and left the village in fear. The villagers say December 27, 2018 is a day that will forever remain etched in their memories because of the horror they experienced at the hands of the police.
The cries of grown up men who were being mercilessly beaten by the police filled the village. Women and children wailed non-stop, crying for their husbands and fathers who were being brutalised.

Villagers who survived the ordeal say they had never experienced anything like it before.
Poshoane Moloi was one of the unlucky ones who will not be able to talk about the incident. He died as a result of the beatings.
Villagers say Moloi’s death saved them from further beatings because the police, realising that they had killed Moloi, ended the violence they were unleashing.
It had all started with a quarrel between a man and a woman at a local bar in nearby Lihloahloeng a day earlier.
They exchanged harsh words which led to the man slapping the woman.

A policeman who tried to intervene was attacked with fighting sticks by several village men and he ended up in hospital nursing serious wounds.
Police at a nearby satellite post rushed to the scene, arrested the man and locked him in cells.
This enraged some village men who stormed the police post and threatened to burn it down if their friend was not released.

Police spokesman, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said the angry mob overpowered the police and took their friend by force.
The satellite post police asked for reinforcements from the district commander and the December 27 horror was in the works.
One of the victims, Leoma Leoma, said the police banged on his door demanding that he step out in the wee hours of the morning.
His wife told them to wait as the couple was undressed but the police responded with unprintable insults, Leoma said.
One of the cops broke through the window.

The others forced the door down.
“They took me out of the house and told me to lie down. They were already torturing me, they hit me with a hard stick and told me to go to the river where I found a lot of men already there. They were crying as they were being tortured,” Leoma said in a shaky voice.

Leoma said the police continued beating him and other village men, forcing them to roll on the stony hard ground by the river side.
Worried about her husband’s fate, Leoma’s wife, ’Mamorena Leoma, followed to the river.
She said the police beat and insulted her.

“While still beating me, they asked me the whereabouts of one Poshoane Moloi and I told them that I did not know where he was,” ’Mamorena said.
“When I arrived at the river side, the police told me to go to their Quantum minibus that was parked there, saying I should cry in it. I went there but one police officer told me to go home,” she said.
Keketso Fane, a victim and a witness to Poshoane’s death, said there were over 70 police officers, claiming he recognised some of the cops as also having been present when the police killed Terene Pitae last year.

Pitae was killed during a clash between villagers and the police.
On December 27, the police were beating everybody in sight – young and old alike, said Fane.

They had rounded up the whole village and took all the men they saw to the river for the beatings.
Fane said Poshoane’s death saved their lives because when the police realised that he was dead, they stopped torturing them.
Fane said the way Poshoane was killed shocked him.

Tied with a wire, Poshoane’s head was put on a stone while other the cops were using another stone to cut his dreadlocks, said Fane.
This they did after beating him to a pulp, he said.
“I realised that Poshoane’s head was hanging, and after a while, one policeman said to another: ‘Squad mate! This dog hasn’t died yet, Mokoteli said we should kill this dog’. I then realised that he was no longer moving,” Fane said.

The police took his body away and left the village.
“Later we heard that Poshoane was no more,” he said.
A six-month pregnant woman, ’Mathabo Khau, said she was not spared the violence.
Khau described the police actions as “horrific”.

“I could not believe what the police were doing to me,” she said.
“They kicked me like I was not a person. They hit me with their weapons on my belly and told me that they would force me to give birth right there,” she said, her voice trembling with anger.
Khau said the police were insulting her, referring to her private parts.

“The next day, I rushed to the hospital where I was told that they could not hear the heartbeat of the child, I cried,” she said.
“They told me they would do whatever they could to help me save the baby,” she said with eyes full of tears.
She said she was given some medication and later she heard “the baby kicking”.

“I was relieved that my child was still alive, but I am worried about the condition of my child after birth,” she said.
Butha-Buthe police boss, Senior Superintendent Teboho Khesa, sounded unapologetic.
He said they did not deliberately target villagers whose names were on their list but “took the whole village because, for example, if a sheep has lumpy wool all the sheep in the kraal should be dipped” to cure them.

Khesa said he was not pleased with what happened.
“(You) have to stay out of trouble, disassociate yourself from people who are criminals and the police will not bother you,” Khesa said.
“Allow the police to do their job and stop interfering with their business because that itself is against the law,” he said.
The villagers said they have been living in fear since the beatings.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Law and Safety committee, Lekhetho Mosito, led his committee on a fact-finding mission in Kao last week.
Mosito said the committee is willing to help stop the conflict between the community and the police.
Some are not counting on that happening. Several villagers have run away from home and are suspected to have taken refuge in South Africa despite Mosito’s assurances.

Itumeleng Khoete

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