The killing fields of Mafeteng

The killing fields of Mafeteng

MAFETENG – Less than a week after burying his spouse, Mahlomola Sekata was also dead — like his wife from a gunshot. As a devout member of the Terene famo gang, maybe he should have known better than respond to an invitation to meet a woman. Villagers say Sekata was preparing dinner for his 10-year-old son when a woman allegedly called him outside his house a few days after his wife was shot dead. He responded, went outside to meet the woman and there he met his death days before his planned return to his mine job in South Africa.
Elsewhere they are called honey traps. In Lesotho’s gang war lingo, they are known by the famo music proverb seropo se etsoa ka mosali (a woman is used as a snare to lure men to their deaths).
It is term that was coined by Terene famo gang leader, Rethabile Mokete, also known as Mosotho Chakela, in one of his lyrics.

Sekata was a devout follower of Chakela. Police associate his murder with the unrelenting famo gangs’ war between Terene and Seakhi in the neighbouring Ha-Lebona and villages in Ribaneng in Mafeteng.  Singers and fans alike have died in the 10-year-old war. As the gang wars rage on in the seemingly lawless village, women are most affected. In the famo gang wars, women often end up as either honey traps to lure rivals to their deaths or widows.

The vicious gang wars have left a trail of widows and orphans on their path. A villager, Nthofela Ranthimo, says famo artists’ wars start at South Africa’s lucrative but brutal illegal mines.
“They kill each other at the mines and here at home,” Ranthimo says. The gangs are a law unto themselves. “The most annoying thing is they get arrested and walk free the next day,” Ranthimo says. As a result, the community is now on the edge.

Some have since given up on life and view themselves as sitting ducks, waiting to be shot dead in the gang wars. A nurse at the nearby Ha-Koeshe village clinic, Ketso Letlala, says some patients stopped taking their medication at the clinic “because on their way anything can happen”. “People fear for their lives here,” he says. Ha-Lebona and Ha-Koeshe are a mere two kilometres apart, separated by a donga that marks the gang’s territorial boundaries.

If gang members are not fighting, they are raping women in the donga, according to some villagers who spoke to thepost. Women feel powerless, for now. A woman from Ha-Lebona told thepost that gangsters tell their female victims to “throw yourself onto the ground because if we do it you will get hurt”. “If a poor woman throws herself on the ground she gets beaten up for being too ready for sex and if she refuses she still gets beaten up for refusing to have sex with them,” she says. “Then they line up for you and rape you one after another,” she says.
Villagers say they want a police station closer to the community.

The nearest police station is in Mafeteng town, about 30 kilometres away. When thepost visited Ha-Lebona last Friday, a truckload of Terene men wore their yellow and black blankets and hoisted their wooden fighting sticks, singing makhele (famo self-praise songs that promote violence). They were on their way to the Sekata family home for a night vigil ahead of his burial the next day.
Police Minister ’Mampho Mokhele was in the village on the same day to address villagers on the importance of partnering law enforcement agents to stop crime.
Sekata’s death prompted Mokhele to hold the indaba, after fears his death could spark a surge in famo killings.

Her target audience were young men from both gangs. Only 15 attended. The rest were elderly men, women and children. Hardly the audience she was hoping for.
“Many young men go into hiding when they see the police because they fear arrest,” a villager told thepost at the indaba. “This is because many of them have guns and they are afraid that the police have come to raid the village,” the villager says.

Infamous famo wars between the gangs have a history of deaths in Mafeteng, Maseru and even across the border in Bloemfontein and Welkom in South Africa.
Mafeteng has a huge concentration of Basotho who work in the mines in South Africa. A huge chunk of the miners are also found in the gold mining town of Welkom in the Free State.
An internal split in Seakhi has resulted in more deaths within the group due to infighting, although the war between the traditional rivals continues relentlessly.
The group split into two, with Thabana-Morena men wearing the black letlama blanket while Taung men wear the red one.

Thabana-Morena is the birthplace of Seakhi, which was founded in early 2000s and rapidly spread to the nearby Taung in Mohale’s Hoek. Terene, which is headquartered in Bloemfontein, was founded in Likhoele. Both Lesotho and South African governments have tried to mediate between the warring gangs in vain. Thabana-morena MP and former cabinet minister Selibe Mochoboroane convinced the gangs to sign a truce in 2012.

The truce never held as the killings continued. Former minister in the Prime Minister’s office, Molobeli Soulo, also tried to help the two warring sides strike peace deals but his success was short-lived as gang members continued shooting each other dead. The Principal Chief of Likhoele, Chief Lerotholi Seeiso, also tried but failed to stem the killings.
The first to fully engage in unity efforts was premier Thomas Thabane between 2005 and 2013 when he was Police Minister and later leader of the All Basotho Convention party.
Mokhele was then police commander in Mafeteng district and she took credit for reducing the killings, at least temporarily.

Addressing the villagers last Friday, Mokhele repeated her pleas for peace. “I once acted as a mediator between famo artists, Chakela and Selomo and they became friends,” she says.
The late Selomo, whose real name was Lephatšoe Lebajoa, was gunned down at a gate of one of the hotels in Maseru in what some believed to be a famo related attack.
Selomo was the leader of Fito, a gang that went under after his death. Mokhele, a retired officer, said concrete steps were needed to stop the killings.

A cop for 36 years before retiring, Mokhele is thinking of employing unconventional methods to get attention for the dire situation. She plans to encourage women to strip naked in full view of Mafeteng police boss Senior Superintendent Hlalele Rampai. “One day women of this village will walk naked early in the morning if you do not join hands with police to stop the killings. I will send Rampai with a straight forward order,” she says.

Nkheli Liphoto

Previous Taking the bull by the horns!
Next Thabane briefs Ramaphosa

About author

You might also like

Litšiba unpacks why SMMEs collapse

Lemohang Rakotsoane MASERU SMALL Businesses Minister Thabiso Litšiba has blamed the lack of clear policies for the collapse of SMMEs. Litšiba told a press conference yesterday that lack of coordination

MPs clash over missing police officer

Staff Reporter MASERU THE government says a police officer, Constable Mokalekale Khetheng, who went “missing” in March has deserted. Labour Minister Thulo Mahlakeng, who had stood in for Police Minister

Explosive tape over mine tender

Staff Reporter MASERU – AN explosive tape revealing details of what happened during a closed-door meeting between Mining Minister Lebohang Thotanyana and two prominent businessmen has exposed the rot in