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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,, 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.

’Mapule Motsopa

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MP defies party, backs opposition



MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.

His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.

“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.

This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.

“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”

Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.

“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.

The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.

“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).

“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Inside plot to oust Matekane



THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.

The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.

But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.

Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.

Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.

“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.

Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.

He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.

They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.

“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.

Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.

“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.

Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition



THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.

Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.

He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.

“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.

He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.

“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”

Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.

“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.

Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”

“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”

The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.

In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.

“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.

Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.

“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”

The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane

  •  Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
  • Job losses.
  • Lack of job creation.
  • Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
  • Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
  • Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
  • Arrest of MPs by the police.
  • Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.

Staff Reporter

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