The horrors of child murders

The horrors of child murders

MASERU-FOR ’Matumisang Rantimane life as she knew it ended on March 28. Her son is dead and the father of the child is a suspect. Rantimane is battling to come to terms with the fact that she will never see her son again after he became a victim of a suspected ritual killing.

To make matters worse, the killer could be someone very close – the father of the child. Rantimane arrived home from work on March 28 expecting the usual warm welcome from her son.

But the news that confronted her was of his disappearance, which soon turned into a murder case. She was told by her older son that the boy had just knocked off from school and was forcibly seized before he could even change from his school uniform. The boy, Tumisang Rantimane, was naked when he was driven off from the family home.

“He told me that his brother was supposed to dress up after they removed their school uniforms,” Rantimane says.

“He went outside. Perhaps he was going to the toilet. Instead of returning into the house, he only peeped through the door to tell his brother that he would be back,” she says. Curious, the elder brother went to the door to investigate and to his shock saw the boy jumping into a car that was parked nearby. The car immediately sped off. A search party that included neighbours came out empty handed.

Tumisang’s body was later found on the banks of Mohokare River in Maputsoe over the last weekend. More horror was to follow when the identity of the suspected killer was revealed at a mortuary where the family had been called to identify the body. “The police asked us if this was the boy and we said ‘yes’,” a relative, who cannot be identified, said.

“Then they turned to his father and asked him the same question. They immediately handcuffed him. We were shocked and surprised,” he said.

Rantimane said “someone” had also tipped her off that her son was going to be sold to some people in South Africa. Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the father of the boy will appear before the Leribe magistrate’s court soon. He said police are hunting for other suspects.

This is one of the endless horrors bedevilling Lesotho’s second biggest town after Maseru. Welcome to Maputsoe, the city of gangsters and mysterious murders. The level of crime in Maputsoe is so serious that Police Commissioner Molibeli Holomo is sending a team of police women from the Network of Police Women to embark on a door-to-door campaign sensitising women about child safety measures.  Superintendent Mopeli said the network will hold a public gathering in Maputsoe this Sunday.

Earlier last month, Commissioner Holomo talked about how police were concerned with the disappearance of children in Maputsoe. The children are often discovered dead. The police could not give exact statistics of abducted and murdered children in Maputsoe.

Maputsoe, about 80 kilometres north of Maseru, is a border city between Lesotho and South Africa and it is the second busiest exit to the neighbouring country after Maseru. This is where criminals, both from South Africa and Lesotho, have formed terror gangs that have given the town a bad name and the police a headache. Police believe human trafficking, especially of children, is rampant here.

There are also incidents of ritual murders of children and women, in addition to drugs and light weapons smuggling. Being the closest border to Mapoteng – an infamous haven of illegal marijuana farmers and smugglers – Maputsoe has turned into a city besieged by criminals. A string of police campaigns, house raids and roadblocks in the big textile industry city have resulted in the arrest of hundreds of criminals.

But, as Tumisang’s murder shows, much more work needs to be done to rid the city of vice. The police cannot do it alone, said deputy Public Works Minister Tšehlo Ramarou, who is from a nearby village Pitseng.

“Unless we join hands as residents and the police, we will not win this war,” Ramarou said.

Public Service Minister Joang Molapo, who is also the hereditary chief of Maputsoe Ha-’Mathata, said crime in the area is created by lack of policies that corresponds to its growth. Molapo, the Basotho National Party (BNP) candidate in Maputsoe constituency, said Maputsoe should be treated like Maseru which has police specifically working in its urban.

“Maseru has both the urban and rural police because we as a nation acknowledged that Maseru is the economic centre of the country and deserved a special treatment,” Molapo said.

“Unfortunately the past governments did not give Maputsoe the attention it deserves,” he said. Molapo bemoaned lack of infrastructural support of the small police post in Maputsoe “because all the attention is directed at Hlotse, which is the district capital”.

“Maputsoe has been allowed to be turned into slums and a ghetto and therefore is a breeding ground for criminals,” he said.

“We need to have social investment in Maputsoe, build proper roads deserving of a modern day town, health facilities and proper housing plan,” he said. Molapo said Maputsoe deserves to be treated as a de facto district capital “if we are to deal effectively with crime”.

He said Maputsoe “will grow to become the engine of economic growth or the centre of crime” depending on how it is treated. Many people exit or enter the Kingdom through Maputsoe border because it is easy to access Johannesburg and Durban from there. In 2011, the police embarked on a special campaign to include residents in the fight against crime fuelled by a gang notoriously known as the Tycoons.

The Tycoons have caused terror in Maputsoe since the 1970s. Police helped in the establishment of the Maputsoe Community Policing Forum, which has been instrumental in helping detect movements of gangs in the city. The police, with the help of the forum, managed to deal with 869 cases in Maputsoe alone while the entire Leribe district recorded 2 163 cases from March to October in 2011.

Before the establishment of the forum, people were hesitant to report crimes for fear of victimisation. The layout of the city makes the perpetration of crime easy. In the west and northwest of the town runs the Mohokare River, which divides Lesotho and South Africa, and the town is right on the river bank.

Less than five kilometres across the river is the troubled town of Ficksburg which boasts of hardened criminals who work in syndicate with their Maputsoe counterparts. It has therefore become easy for criminals to illegally cross to Ficksburg and vice versa. Maputsoe is a mix of urban, rural and slum areas. The town attracts many young people from all over Lesotho who end up working in the textile factories.

Smugglers who cross the river to South Africa seek permission from the Tycoons, both living in Maputsoe and Ficksburg, for a fee. Even ordinary citizens who do not have passports or those who have overstayed in one of the countries and do not want any trouble with the border police go to the Tycoons to cross the border easily.

The river “belongs” to them. Police said they are working tirelessly to ensure that normalcy returns to the city.

But for ’Matumisang Rantimane and other victims, this may be a little too late.

Staff Reporter

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