The wounds that have refused to heal

The wounds that have refused to heal

MASERU – WIDOW ’Maitumeleng Montje looks healthy and jovial but inside she is bleeding.
For her, 2018 is a year to forget, but the experiences she went through are just too harrowing to fade away.
In March last year, she lost her son and barely four months later, her beloved daughter-in-law also died.

Montje received a message that her son, Lerato, had been waylaid and murdered as he walked home from work in South Africa, where he was a mine worker.
In July, her daughter-in-law ’Matšepiso was attacked at home and shot dead. That was even before the Sesotho traditional eight months period for women to mourn their husbands had ended.
In public, the 74-year-old tries to hide her sorrow but inside she is still weeping, having never recovered from the heartbreak.
She was proud of the couple.

Her son was one of the few young men in her rural home of Ha-Mokauli in Rothe constituency who was beginning to turn around his life.
To her, Lerato was a star signalling the future success of the Montje family – a ray of hope that in the near future the family would win the war against the poverty that engulfed it.
Montje used to beam with a smile whenever she looked at the stone house her son had built and the chicken business his wife, ’Matšepiso, was running at home.
Now, all that hope has gone up in smoke and the impoverished Montje is left to care for her grandchildren aged 14 and six.

“After their mother’s death, I did register them with the Ministry of Social Development through the social welfare department and I am depending on it for assistance,” she says.
“If the help doesn’t come then I am afraid they will not be able to further their studies,” she says.
The grandchildren were traumatised so she took them to Maseru for counselling while locking her own sorrows deep in her chest.

“I didn’t want them to see my hopelessness,” she says, adding this is one of the reasons she tries to look jovial, tough as it may be.
Daily, she wakes up to feed the chickens, call out house chores to the grandchildren, talk to people, smile and tell everyone that she is doing fine.
When thepost visited her on Monday, she had gone to an area called Tšoeneng – some 12 kilometres away – to visit her daughter and discuss the future of her 14-year-old grandson whose school fees she is grappling with.

She waited for the news crew on the road side for a ride home where the interview was to take place.
On the way, she revealed that the daughter residing in Tšoeneng was sickly and therefore could not readily help with paying the school fees.
As for the six-year-old, he will go to the local primary school for free as per government policy.

Montje says the M700 old-age pension she receives is not enough to even pay school fees for the 14-year-old grandson, who is about to enrol in Form A.
She is both desperate and anxious for the government support.
“I am hopeful that I will be helped since school re-opening is around the corner,” she tells thepost.

Many other families in the area share similar experiences after last year’s series of merciless killings.
’Matšepiso was among six women who were massacred execution-style in July.
The unidentified gunmen moved from house-to-house, mowing down all they met under the cover of darkness on that fateful Monday night.
By the following morning, at least five women had been shot dead, with another woman sustaining serious injuries.

The police then said they had launched a search for the attackers, who were suspected to have crossed the nearby Mohokare River into South Africa.
There was unrest and lots of family feuds in the area, leading to loss of lives, according to the police.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says investigations showed that big and small guns were used in the shootings.
Pump action shot guns, 9mm and 7.65mm pistols were used, says Mopeli.

The MP for Rothe, Mohapinyane Mohapi, said the conflicts in the area date as far back as 2000 with the advent of famo music gang fights that wreak havoc both in Lesotho and South Africa.
While most of the famo gangs originate from Mafeteng district, they appear to have spread across the country.
Mohapi says the police often frequent the area to hold talks between the gangs to build peace. Rothe is currently under constant army patrol.
But that is hardly a consolation for Montje and other villagers.

They constantly fear that the attackers might return and finish what is left of their families once the soldiers leave the area.
“Wherever they are, they shouldn’t be allowed to live as they are murderers,” says Montje forcefully.
“They should get what they deserve – death.”

She adds: “Arresting them is pointless because they will be granted bail or even worse, serve a few years and still walk around like nothing happened.”
Sipho Tsemase, a 25-year-old resident of the same village shares similar fears.
His parents Makhaola, and ’Matankiso were also shot dead last year and he is now fending for his two younger brothers.
Tsemase does not have a permanent job and says looking after his brothers is proving a tough call.

Makhaola, his father, had just retired from the mines in South Africa and when he came home he bought sheep for rearing.
Tsemase says some people came and killed him accusing him of stealing the sheep.
“It pains me because that was the sheep he bought in 2009 after leaving the mines,” he says.
Makhaola was killed in February last year.

Then during the July killings, ’Matankiso was shot dead.
“It is pointless to arrest them (murderers) as they will not even spend a long time in jail,” Tsemase says.
The suspects were his neighbouring relatives who are not full time residents of Ha-Mokauli and now have all left with their children.
“We never thought they would do this to us,” he says.

Chief of Ha-Mokauli, Sekhonyana Sekhonyana, says over 10 of his residents were shot dead last year and none of the suspects has been arrested.
“I was told that investigations are still on-going,” he says.

“We are only staying here because we do not have any other option and other residents have already deserted the village fearing for their lives.”
The chief says the presence of soldiers in the village has brought a positive difference.
“I have not received any reports about people being shot since their arrival,” he says.

“We had the best Christmas after many years,” he says.
But for Montje and others who have lost their loved ones, their best days are long gone. Only painful memories remain.

’Mapule Motsopa

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