Mourners brutalised

Mourners brutalised

MASERU – A woman lost her unborn baby after she became a victim of police brutality last week.
Police officers repeatedly kicked a pregnant ’Maseqobela Mohale on the belly until she suffered a miscarriage in Matelile last Saturday.
Her crime: wearing a yellow blanket with black stripes, a sign that she belonged to a famo music group called Terene.
’Maseqobela Mohale is now recovering at Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital, where she was admitted after the miscarriage.

“They kept kicking me on the belly despite that I was telling them that I was pregnant and that they would kill my unborn baby,” Mohale says.
“When I told them that I was pregnant, one of them scornfully responded by kicking me even more, saying they were not the ones who impregnated me.”

“They concentrated on kicking my belly.” Mohale cannot speak for long periods as she says she is still in serious pain.
Mohale was with two other women and over 30 men who were travelling in two minibuses and a Honda Fit car to the funeral of a follower of Terene, a famo group led by artist Rethabile Mokete. Mokete is also known as Mosotho Chakela.

The funeral was in Matelile, Mafeteng district but Mohale and other followers could not make it there after police pulled them over and brutalised them. One of the victims, Ngaka Mahao, a famo musician, says they were at Ha-Ramatšeliso when the police stopped them.
The cops ordered them to get out of the vehicles and then started searching them.

Mahao says the police then ordered them to remove their blankets “and we refused because it is not a criminal offence to wear a blanket in Lesotho”.
Instead, wearing blankets is part of Basotho’s culture. Even King Letsie III wears a blanket during official ceremonies.

“They said we should remove the Terene regalia,” he says. “I then said it is not correct for us to attend a funeral naked as that is against our culture, therefore we would turn back to Maseru,” Mahao says. It was not only Terene blankets that they were wearing.

Most of them had Terene t-shirts under the blankets, meaning they would have been left bare-chested if they removed the clothing.
Mahao says he had told the mourners to return to their buses but one of the police officers blocked them.
“A few minutes after that I saw a van full of heavily armed police who then asked about me,” Mahao says.
“Then the station commander started assaulting me with a lebetlela stick,” he says.

“They took everyone out of the taxis and they removed our blankets and started beating everyone, including women,” he says.
At that time, the police ordered them to roll on the ground. They were assaulted with the mabetlela sticks, made specifically for fighting.
The three women, including Mohale, were standing on the side watching as the men were forced to roll on the ground while enduring beatings.
The police officers allegedly forced them to join the men in rolling on the ground.

Mahao says one of the police officers ordered: “I want you to roll until your panties change colours.”
“They made us roll there for more than two hours with women who were very exhausted and hurt,” he says.
Mahao says his attempts to get an explanation for the beatings attracted more assaults.

“Their response to my questions was a black lebetlela stick all over my body,” he says.
“We were taken to the police station and we were half-naked by that time. They only gave us clothes after Chief Chakela made a call to the Minister of Police.”

Chakela is the chief of Terene. He says the police officers refused to give them medical forms so that they could be attended to by a doctor and open a case of assault. They were only given the medical forms at Flight One Police in Mazenod, some 30 kilometres from Matelile.
“After Chief Chakela called the minister, the Matelile police wanted to negotiate that we should not open a case against them but we refused,” he says.
“We are going to take it to the courts of law. They thought we knew nothing about law,” he says.

“They even kicked our 100 DVDs and destroyed all of them. Even our wallets disappeared as we were rolling like animals.”
Mosotho Chakela, leader of Terene, says he is not happy with the incident.
“We are going to file a case against those people who assaulted my people,” Chakela says.
“This is disheartening. I just want them to know that we are not scared of them but we respect His Majesty’s Crown,” he says.
Chakela says he is convinced that there are some police officers who have issues with his group.
“We are prepared to sue them and compose a song about them,” he says.

This is not the first time that famo followers have been harassed by the police.
About eight months ago in Koro-Koro, a famo follower of the rival Seakhi gang disappeared and was later found dead.
Police in Mofoka had intercepted an entourage of mourners who were transporting the body of one of their members from a mortuary to Koro-Koro for burial.

The mourners, just like the Terene ones last Saturday, were wearing their much loved Letlama blankets.
The Mofoka police ordered them to get out of the taxi, ordered them to remove their blankets before forcing them to roll on the ground while they beat them with mabetlela sticks.

The terrified mourners fled in different directions. One of the victims, Thelingoane ’Mota, who had been last seen being chased by a well-known police officer, disappeared. He was later found with parts of his body missing, including the brain.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says the Matelile incident has not reached his desk.
“So far I don’t know anything about it,” he says.

Two weeks ago, he told this paper that police were still working on other murder cases that include Thelingoane ’Mota’s in Koro-Koro.
This was after the secretary-general for the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Bokang Ramatšella, wrote to Police Commissioner Molibeli Holomo demanding investigations into the cases.

Ramatšella listed 17 cases of murder in which he said the suspects were police officers.
In 2011, police in Mafeteng raided public bars where they forced men they believed to be members of Terene and Seakhi groups to roll on the ground while they beat them. Rival wars between the two famo groups have resulted in more than 100 deaths in Lesotho and South Africa in recent years.

Nkheli Liphoto

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