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OVER the past few months we have noticed a startling trend of dangerous rhetoric on our radio stations. Our radio stations have always been conduits for what at times has been unpalatable rhetoric.

But this time the purveyors of hate speech and reckless talk seem to have stepped up the ante and we are now tilting towards the precipice. We are now dealing with a toxic brand for which we don’t have an antidote.

Years back it used to be verbal attacks on politicians and political opponents. That wasn’t fair but not potent either. Politicians could take the blows and fight back, for they had the platform and the means to stand their own. Political opponents would push back with equal or worse insults.

Now it is open season and the parametres of the bile-laced vitriol have been extended. Margins have been pushed and floodgates flung open. Ambassadors, journalists and foreigners have now been thrown into the mix.

We are particularly gulled by recent statements suggesting that United States Ambassador Mathew Harrington should be kicked out of Lesotho for allegedly interfering in Lesotho’s internal affairs.

There have also been threats against journalists and foreigners in general.

We believe it is time to encourage tolerance and that we all carefully measure our words.

Tsenolo FM, the radio station that has been accused of spreading hate speech, should know better. That it doesn’t should worry any sane person.

Yet Tsenoli is not the only player in this perilous game. Indeed other radio stations have joined in the stampede. If their presenters are not going hysterical then they are allowing callers to go over the top with their attacks. They are fanning fires they are neither ready nor equipped to put out.

The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) cannot be accused of not trying to rein in such wayward behaviour. Why its efforts seem to have failed to bring sanity on our airwaves is a function of how the law had been couched.

The LCA intervenes when there is a complainant. And therein lies the weakness. Just because a person attacked on radio has not complained doesn’t mean a transgression has not been committed.

Not everyone who is a subject of insults, hate speech and libellous utterances complains. That is because most have no time to listen to what our radio stations are saying about them.

And even if they do they might loath to involve themselves in fights against radio stations that have little respect of human decency, objectiveness and fairness.

So how can the LCA restore order?

That is the difficult part because the regulator has to balance freedom of expression against many other rights that are equally important. We believe a routine sampling of radio programmes might help.

Punitive fines are not recommended unless there are signs of recklessness on the part of the offending radio station.

Perhaps the answer lies in stringent controls on who gets to sit behind the microphone and interact with the public. Indeed our studios are manned by people who don’t have an iota of understanding of how radio stations work, the ethics that should guide their operations and the responsibility they have to society.

We are not saying the door should be shut on talented but unqualified presenters. The point is that there should be a through training for them before they are thrust into the studio.

Once we have trained them we also need to deal with irresponsible prominent people who use radio stations to spread hate speech. Only then can we begin to clean our radio stations.

Let’s start now.

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Stirring a hornets’ nest

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IT would appear the government of Lesotho is set to tweak a controversial law that was meant to reserve certain sections of the economy to indigenous Basotho.

This is not surprising given the hostile reception from foreign businesses operating in Lesotho following the enactment of the law about a year ago.

In a statement last week, the Ministry of Trade said it remained “committed to fostering economic empowerment and inclusivity for all Basotho trading community”.

THERE has been a public uproar following the declaration last week of 12 notorious famo music gangs as subversive and unlawful organisations.

The measure came after a spate of recent murders linked to the famo music gangs in Fobane, Leribe.

The gazette is based on the Internal Security (General) Act of 1984 which gives the home affairs minister vast powers to deal with threats to national security.

Under the gazette, it is now a crime to be a member of any of the 12 “subversive” organisations. Any individual convicted of the crime could be detained without trial for two weeks or be fined between M10 000 and M100 000.

They could also be liable to prison sentences of between five and 20 years.

It is quite clear why the government of Prime Minister Sam Matekane has come up with the gazette. It appears desperate to do something about a situation that is clearly getting out of hand.

Matekane was at his persuasive best two years ago in the run-up to the general elections when he promised to take on a criminal mafia stoking the violence in the famo music circles.

His government’s move last week is one of its boldest moves since he assumed office.

Yet in seeking to solve what is clearly a policing issue, the government might have stirred a hornets’ nest, judging by the swift and vicious responses from a few human rights lawyers who spoke to thepost this week.

For a start, there is a concern, and rightly so, that the new law might be too overreaching as to undermine Basotho’s basic freedom.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the new legal framework is a magic bullet that could deal effectively with the rampant scourge of violence.

The government will also need to balance two competing interests – the need for security and respect of basic freedom of citizens accused of violating the law. That will not be easy.

Especially with a police that is already pushing the boundaries under the current law.

We do however understand that doing nothing under the circumstances was not an option for the government given the massive outcry from Basotho over the deadly violence.

This was clearly a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

We therefore understand the rationale behind the move.

We would like to believe that the government, often accused of recoiling into its own cocoon, could be laying the groundwork for a massive operation by the police to crush the famo music gangs.

But that is where problems could get out of hand.

In seeking to crush the famo gangs, the government must strive to operate within the gamut of the law. Our police already have a notorious reputation when it comes to respecting the people’s basic rights.

The police, in their current state, are in a sorry state to fight the famo gangs. Look at how they have struggled to fight petty criminals in Koalabata.

As one lawyer correctly noted elsewhere in this issue, this is a structural issue that will require a multi-modality approach if the government is to succeed in taming the famo gangs.

The government will need to deal with the structural issues stoking the gang culture in Lesotho. They must deal with the kingpins fueling the violence. Those that are convicted of stoking violence must be condemned to long prison sentences.

The corrupt police officers who are working with the famo gangs must be rooted out.

Political party leaders who are working closely with the famo gangs must also be taken to task over their illicit liaisons.

That way, we could begin to see a shift in the battle against the violence.

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Stay in your lane

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THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) announced that its raid in Liphakoeng last Thursday had yielded illegal guns and ammunition. The army said the raid was part of its Puff adder operation targeting illegal firearms.

The raid came days after the murder of five people in Fobane in a gruesome attack suspected to be linked to famo gangs in Liphakoeng.

News of the raid was received with much praise on radio and social media, with some cheering the army to fight fire with fire. It however soon emerged that in addition to seizing guns, the army unleashed violence that left some villagers with serious injuries.

Spades, gun butts, sticks, boots and fists were allegedly used as soldiers forced the villagers to either surrender their illegal guns or name those who have.

The operation is now a public relations disaster. The allegations of brute force are irrefutable because the evidence from the pictures and testimonies of victims is overwhelming.

thepost has seen dozens of victims who tell gory stories of the brutal violence inflicted by the army.

The incident is a stuck reminder of the dangers of using the army in law enforcement operations. At the core of the problem is the fact that the army is not trained for policing operations and therefore not oriented for law enforcement.

The differences in the orientation of the police and the army are succinctly explained by Colonel Charles J. Dunlap Jr, an American army officer, in his 1999 article ‘The Police-isation of The Military’ in the Journal of Political and Military Sociology. Colonel Dunlap Jr writes that “using military forces for tasks that are essentially law enforcement in nature requires a fundamental change in orientation”.

“To put it bluntly, in its most basic iteration military training is aimed at killing people and breaking things. Consequently, military doctrine has forces moving on a target by fire and manoeuvre with a view toward destroying that target”.

He says this is entirely different with the police which gather evidence and arrest suspects in a process restrained by judicial process. He notes that where the army sees enemies of the state the police, when properly oriented, “sees citizens suspected of crimes but innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”.

Colonel Dunlap Jr concludes that “it is difficult for military personnel trained under a regime that emphasizes combat skills to easily align themselves with the more restrained procedure required for police work in a democratic society”.

Although Colonel Dunlap Jr was writing in the context of the United States, the import of his article perfectly applies to Lesotho’s army and its involvement in law enforcement.

The brutal force used in many operations against civilians is evidence that the army should stay away from police work or drastically reduce their interaction with civilians.

The history of the army’s crime prevention operations has proven that time and again. Aggressively reactionary operations are not effective crime prevention tactics.

Actions are not necessarily solutions.

Raids like the one in Liphakoeng have little long-term impact on what is essentially a long war of attrition among the gangs and a perennial problem of illegal guns.

The real gangsters committing murders and terrorizing the people are most likely to be tipped off before the such operations and skip the country.

As things stand, the soldiers who allegedly assaulted the people in Liphakoeng should be considered crime suspects. Hiding behind claims that this was a sanctioned military operation would not cut it.

The army’s intentions are noble but their execution methods are wrong because they don’t have the skills or orientation for the job. Their enthusiasm doesn’t make up for the fact they have usurped the police’s job and they are bad at it.

We are aware that some senior military officers believe the army should be involved in law enforcement because the police is incompetent. They could be right but that doesn’t make the army competent for police duties either.

In any case, such contempt is unhelpful in the fight against crime. The army should let the police lead the fight against crime while it provides limited and measured support when needed.

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We need new ways to fight famo gangs

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THE people of Fobane are mourning five people brutally murdered last Saturday. The suspects are still at large but the gory incident bears the hallmarks of a famo gang-related attack.
Precisely, the police suspect the killings are linked to famo gangs involved in illegal gold mining in South Africa. That these murders could be linked to famo gangs is not a discovery.

The gangs have left a trail of carnage in villages across the country.

The tit-for-tat murders have escalated over the years.

Yet, curiously, the number of suspects arrested and convicted has not increased at the same pace.

Hundreds have been killed in the gang wars but we are hard-pressed to recall any famo gangster convicted of murder. Those who have been arrested have been granted easy bail and skipped the country. Some routinely sneak in and out of the country to commit more murders.

There is brazen impunity about the murders.

At some point, the police should admit that it has neither the will nor the skills to deal with this menace. Yet that admission would just be a formality because their failure is well known. So is the fact that some in their ranks either belong to the same murderous gangs or supply them with illegal guns.

That complicity and incompetency explains why the police have dismally failed to deal with the gangs.

Politicians should take their fair share of the blame.

Some of them have openly embraced the gangs for political support. It is also known that some of them have received donations from the gangs. Little wonder their condemnation of the gangs appears timid and insincere.
We are disappointed that even this new government appears to have been quickly overwhelmed by this crisis. It doesn’t seem that there is much political will to take the gangs head-on.

We have not heard of many cases in which Lesotho is seeking to extradite gangsters wanted for murders. If anything, we are aware that some of those wanted for murders in both Lesotho and South Africa continue to roam freely. Our parliament is not clamouring for action from the government.

Nor have the been shown any appetite for legislative interventions to tighten bail rules or make the sentences stiffer.

Because there is no law specific to criminal gangs in Lesotho, the police have failed to break up gangs. They know that most of the hitmen are acting on orders but they don’t seem to have the capacity to go after the real bosses.

The investigations don’t appear to be systematic.

The point we are making is that we need new laws and new systems to deal with the gangs.

We might also add that we probably need new police officers for this job.

We cannot continue to behave as if it’s business as usual when gangs are wreaking havoc in our villages. The old strategies and laws have failed. The police, in its current form, has failed.

It’s time to try new things.

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