Caged, isolated for years
…The story of six children locked in yard for a decade
MASERU – NO school. No friends. No birth records and zero access to healthcare.
This is the captive life that six siblings near Maseru have been living for years – thanks to their parents’ religious beliefs that resulted in the children spending more than a decade locked in the family yard.
The siblings are finally free after a local chief and neighbours came to their rescue.
The parents, aged 44 and 46 years, appeared before the Maseru magistrate’s court two weeks ago.
The court heard that the couple’s first born, a boy aged 17-years-old, went to school up to Grade Seven before the parents cut short his schooling to “protect him from being taught nonsense”.
The rest have never set foot in a classroom.
The father, who entered the courtroom clutching a Bible under his arm, was remanded in custody. The children’s mother was released on free bail on condition that she would enroll the minor children at school and report to the police when needed.
This paper is not publishing their names or their village in the Maseru city to protect the identity of the children.
According to the charge sheet, the children, who are aged between four months and 17-years-old, have been kept prisoners in the family yard with no opportunity to venture out since 2011.
The crown alleges that the couple “subjected the said children to cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that may negatively affect the children’s health”.
The crown accuses the couple of subjecting the children to practices that could negatively affect their lives, welfare, dignity, physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
These include failing to take the children to health facilities when they fell sick and not enrolling them in schools.
The children have however not been removed from the custody of their parents hence the court ordered the mother to register them for school.
The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act provides that “a child has a right to live with his parents and grow up in a caring and peaceful environment unless it is proved in court that living with his parents shall … lead to significant harm to the child”.
It also states that a child shall not be subjected to any cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, welfare, dignity or physical, emotional, psychological, mental and intellectual development.
The same law states that the government should provide “special protection for a child deprived of family environment and ensure that appropriate alternative family care or institutional placement is available in such cases”.
The Act says a child is in need of care and protection if they have been or there is substantial risk that the child will be physically, psychologically or emotionally injured or sexually abused by the parent or guardian or a member of the extended family or any other person.
The Act provides that a police officer, the Department of Social Welfare, a chief or member of the community who is satisfied on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care and protection may take the child and place him in a place of safety.
It is the role of the State, through its agencies, to ensure the supervision of the safety, well-being and development of any child placed in alternative care and the regular review of the appropriateness of the care arrangement provided.
The couple was arrested by the local chief with the help of neighbours who handed them to the Lithoteng police on August 10.
The police found that the children were “never allowed to socialise or interact with anyone except with each other”.
They don’t have birth certificates or health booklets because of their father’s “Christian beliefs”.
The crown alleges that the husband helped the wife give birth at home because he would not allow her to go to a clinic.
Two children died at birth, meaning the couple could now be having eight children in total had those two survived.
The woman, after being released on condition that she enrolls the children into school has not yet done so and the Ministry of Social Development is worried that she might be jailed for contempt of court.
The couple will appear again in court on September 14.
Their neighbour, ’Mateboho Mohale, said the family arrived in the neighbourhood about five months ago.
She said she saw the children in the yard during school holidays and did not suspect anything suspicious at first.
When the schools reopened and she saw them still locked up in the yard, she became concerned and approached the parents.
“We approached their father to find out what the problem was so that we could help as neighbours. But he never really wanted to talk to us,” Mohale said.
“Therefore, we involved the assistant of the village chief (name withheld to hide the village’s identity) for intervention in the matter,” Mohale said.
The chief’s assistant summoned the man but he still refused to talk.
He also allegedly blocked them when they wanted to talk to his wife.
“He refused saying we could not talk to his wife as he is the head of the family and his wife is a nursing mother,” Mohale said.
When the chief’s assistant pressed for answers, the man shocked everyone when he equated taking the children to a health centre to subjecting them to body piercing.
“By that he was referring to vaccination,” said Mohale.
It is mandatory in Lesotho for children to be vaccinated against potentially life-threatening diseases.
The man allegedly also told the chief’s assistant that he would not take his children to school because they would be taught nonsense. He preferred to teach his children himself.
It is a criminal offence in Lesotho not to take children to school for primary education.
The chief’s assistant escalated the matter to the chief, who in turn informed the police.
At the police station, it was discovered that the couple had a pending case for similar behaviour but the police had not worked on the file for 11 years.
Neighbours say the children were shy, looked afraid and would sometimes run away when approached by outsiders.
“All we strive for is for these children to go to school, be healthy and fresh in their minds. That is our main concern. He can keep them in the yard but he should also grant them their right to education,” Mohale said.
The chief’s assistant said she got involved after about ten villagers approached her.
“I tried to intervene but failed. We did not care about his lifestyle but our main concern was the children,” the chief’s assistant said.
“His previous file entailed the same issue we went to the police to report and unfortunately, that case had not been solved,” she said.
The chief’s assistant said she at first did not suspect anything sinister about the man as he used to come to her office seeking assistance.
“I saw him as a respectful, clean and humble man. I didn’t know his wife until they were reported to the police. We hope justice will be served for these children,” she said.
The Ministry of Social Development’s Senior Child Welfare Officer, Tumo Likoetla, said the case was referred to them by the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), whom they work with regarding children’s issues.
He said they visited the family as a follow up to check on progress.
“In an interview with (the mother), she revealed that she had not found a school because she did not look for any,” Likoetla said.
“She said she could not do anything without her husband’s approval. She has no signs of mental illness but abuse,” he said.
Likoetla said when he assessed the woman he found that “everything to her is about her husband and what he says goes without her changing anything”.
“She is so defensive of him and before answering some questions, she had startled reflexes,” he said.
At first, she told him that she was against the idea of her first born not attending school and she once reported it at the same police station when the boy was still young.
“But there was no progress with the case, therefore she didn’t do anything about it. As time went by she adapted to her husband’s religious belief,” Likoetla said.
The husband was the breadwinner through dish installations and repairs and he transferred the skills to his first born who only went to school up to Grade Seven.
Likoetla is worried that the court might send the woman to jail for contempt.
“We made her aware of the likelihood of contempt of court charges,” he said.
Likoetla however said should she get jailed they “will ensure the safety of children not necessarily taking them to an institutional care, which is the last resort for us as social workers”.
“We start with alternative care when a child is in crisis and we have already identified four potential guardians from relatives,” he said.
“We will meet with them and make them see the importance of children growing within a family.”
An online health magazine, noisolation.com, states that when a person is not able to sufficiently interact socially this can result in experiencing social isolation.
It says healthy social relationships are vital to the maintenance of health, and their deprivation often results in feelings of loneliness.
“Loneliness is linked to people experiencing higher levels of stress,” the magazine says.
Studies have found that among adolescents the source of depressive symptoms is more often friendship-related loneliness than parent-related loneliness, it says.
“This would seem to be because friends are the preferred source of social support during adolescence.”
It says the effect of isolation on mortality “is four times larger than obesity, and it is more prevalent”.
The magazine says social isolation and loneliness are major social issues.
“By social interaction, support, and contact they receive, children who have experienced social isolation are shielded from physiological illness, cognitive impairment, and feelings of loneliness.”
It says studies on social isolation have revealed that a lack of social relationships can impair the development of the brain’s structure.
The beauty queen of Lesotho
MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.
It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.
“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.
“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.
Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.
“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.
Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.
“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.
“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.
“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.
Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.
“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.
Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.
“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.
Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.
“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.
“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.
Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.
“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.
“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.
One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.
“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.
The stock-theft menace
MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.
If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.
That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.
Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.
Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.
These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.
The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.
Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.
Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.
S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.
But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.
Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.
S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.
In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.
These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.
Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.
The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.
S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.
After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.
The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.
He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.
Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.
He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.
To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.
Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.
“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.
He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.
Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.
He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.
He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.
When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.
S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.
S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.
He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.
He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.
“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.
He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.
“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.
He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.
Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.
He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.
He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.
“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.
He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.
He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.
“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.
And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.
The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.
A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.
It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.
According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.
It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.
And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.
Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.
In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.
This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.
The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.
“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”
The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.
It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.
And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.
Matekane to launch microchip project
MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.
The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.
Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.
“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.
He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.
The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.
That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.
The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.
The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.
The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.
Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.
The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.
The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.
Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.
The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.
Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.
Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel
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Purge of was long overdue
Matekane to launch microchip project
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