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Bloody ‘battle’ in Matelile

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MASERU – THREE killed in cold blood. Two gravely injured. A hut and a car burnt to ashes. Five houses left with broken windows.

And grudges that will last for generations.

That is the carnage and damage left in Matelile’s Ha-Tebelo village following an attack by a mob of men from the neighbouring Ha-Ramosoeu last Saturday.

Ha-Tebelo residents now live in fear.

The horror started at an initiation graduation ceremony in Ha-Tebelo when a former police officer, from the same village, gifted a gun to an initiate who was leading the graduation songs (mangae).

The initiation school is in Ha-Tebelo but also had initiates from Ha-Ramosoeu. Mothofeela Billy, the 79-year-old owner of the initiation school, said the members of the initiation committee stood to stop the young man from receiving the gun.

Area councillor Hanyane Ramantšane who is also the chairman of the initiation committee in the area, says he stood up to reprimand the former cop.

“He did it again with the second boy who was singing and I chastised him again for this behaviour,” Ramantšane said.

He said it was at this moment that a man approached the former officer and tried to wrestle the gun from him. The two men started fighting with sticks.

Ramantšane said when the former cop lost the fight his son pulled a gun and shot the man who had defeated him.

“He shot him in the stomach and the man fell on the security fence near the gate.”

Ramantšane said the ex-cop, his son and other men fled the ceremony in a white Toyota 4×4 van. The shot man, who was admitted at Scott Hospital in Morija, was from Ha-Ramosoeu.

Ramantšane said shortly after the shooting, men from Ha-Ramosoeu descended on Ha-Tebelo in several cars and started attacking people. The Toyota 4×4 van that had fled the ceremony had disappeared.

The angry mob soon set its sights on a similar vehicle whose owner had nothing to do with the shooting or the ceremony.

The vehicle belonged to Lehana Ntaote, a civil servant who is said to have gone to the village for his farming business.

The mob then started shooting at Ntaote who, seeing that he was under attack, tried speeding. He however could not outrun the several vehicles that were in hot pursuit. Ntaote abandoned his vehicle and started running through the village.

Mareka Mareka is the villager who hid Ntaote in his house.

“I called him and said he should not run to any place outside the village because there are open fields,” Mareka said.

“I told him to enter my house and instructed my wife to lock him inside.”

The men from Ha-Ramosoeu arrived at Mareka’s house a few minutes later and demanded to search his house.

“I asked them to tell me the name of the man they were looking for, insisting that there was nobody in the house,” Meraka said.

“I said they would not open any of my houses without my approval or else they should kill me first.”

The mob left Mareka’s house and unleashed terror on the villagers as they searched for Ntaote whom they mistakenly thought was one of the men who had fled the ceremony.

’Makhotso Molise, whom Ntaote abandoned his van next to her house when he set off on foot, said the mob was cursing as they torched the car.

As the vehicle was consumed in flames, the mob accused Molise of hiding the men they were looking for in her houses.

When she refused to open her house the mob smashed several windows with stones. Molise, 43, was in the house with her children, including one who uses a wheelchair when the men attacked.

“They were using obscene and vulgar language.”

She says one of the stones narrowly missed her head as she was peeping through a window. They also smashed the windows of her Toyota van that was parked in the yard.

Meanwhile smoke was billowing from the rondavel she uses as a storeroom.

“They said they wanted a boy who had been hidden in the hut.”

Molise says the attack on her house lasted three hours.

When they eventually came out of the house, after the police and the army arrived, they found the hut’s thatched roof engulfed in flames but they managed to save some farming equipment. She said the attack reminded her of 2021 when her 19- year-old son was fatally shot at their home.

Another victim of the attack, ’Mahlompho Motheo, 45, was in her yard when she saw the mob approaching Ntaote’s house.

Motheo said as soon as the vehicle was in flames she screamed and ran into her house. She drew the attention of some of the men who started approaching her house. Motheo said she and her family hid under the table as stones flew in through the windows.

“The first stone came followed by the second and third. I thought I was dying,” she said, adding that she only came out of the house when the army arrived.

The next victim was the 76-year-old Tatiso Soole who has a hearing impairment.

Soole said he did not hear what the mob was looking for when they approached him. They hit him with stones and sticks, leaving him for dead.

He was only discovered on the next day sprawled a few paces from his kraal and was taken to Scott Hospital.

“I don’t know what happened, I still don’t know what they were looking for,” Soole said.

Their next victim was a 19-year-old woman who the men hit with sticks after she said she had not hidden anyone in her house.

A villager who witnessed the attack said the men were about to descend on her with sticks but one of them said they should stop because he believed the woman.

“That is what saved the poor girl from being killed,” the witness said.

The mob then went to the Ha-Tebelo area chief Koali Seeiso’s house and insulted him.

“These children insulted me with my mother,” Chief Seeiso said.

He believes that the attacks were pre-planned because there was already tension at the ceremony even before the shooting incident.

“There were squabbles already,” the chief said.

Billy, the initiation school owner, said when the mob arrived at his home they wanted to kill him as well as his traditional doctor, instructor and nephew.

“I managed to escape through another door and took refuge at the chief’s house,” Billy said.

When he later went back to his home he found his son, 37-year-old Moroa Billy, dead.

There was also another man who was writhing in pain in a corrugated iron shack adjacent to Billy’s main house.

They rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead.

Billy said the man, whose name he didn’t know, had wounds all over his body.

“This child whom I did not even know has died too,” Billy said.

“I’m told his home was in Ribaneng and he had come to the graduation ceremony.”

Chief Seeiso said the traditional doctor reported that he ran away with one graduate and hid among the trees on the slopes of the Matelile mountain.

The initiation instructor said he took the rest of the boys and hid in the village.

“I cannot say more but I escaped through my own wisdom,” he said.

Billy’s daughter-in-law said some of the men in the mob were wearing blankets associated with a famo music gang.

Chief Seeiso said many of the gangsters in his village are known to support the Seakhi gang which has its headquarters in Thabana-Morena.

“The other gang often comes here announcing that those who wear the letlama blanket (Seakhi) are women,” the chief said.

He believes the Saturday violence welled from the rivalry of famo gangs rather than the incident at the ceremony.

Matelile is the home of Terene, the largest of the famo gangs.

Ramantšane, who is a councillor, said the incident at the ceremony “just triggered what the Ha-Ramosoeu people were waiting for”.

“They wanted to cause a fight in the village but we had successfully denied them any such opportunity because of how we expertly run the whole ceremony,” Ramantšane said.

He said the ex-cop’s gun present was just a smokescreen.

Ramantšane blamed the police and the army for delaying to come when they were called.

“I invited the police on Friday during the day and we agreed that they would be here for three days but they were with us for only one day,” he said.

Mareka, who saved Ntaote’s life, said soldiers, who have a post just over a kilometre from Ha-Tebelo, “could take less than 30 minutes on foot coming here”.

“I fail to understand what took them so long to come when I called telling them that the entire village was under attack and people were being killed,” Mareka said.

Mareka, who is leading the village crime prevention group, said it took over two hours for the soldiers who were travelling in a van to come to their aid.

Chief Seeiso said the soldiers who arrived at his home “were visibly drunk”.

“One of them even spoke in English saying ‘I don’t care’, perhaps thinking that I did not understand English,” he said.

Chief Seeiso said the third victim of the violence was a man but he doesn’t know if he was shot or beaten.

“I arranged that he be taken to hospital and he was declared dead on arrival,” he said.

Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed the incident but said he didn’t know if any of the suspects were arrested.

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola said the soldiers in the area had to abandon other activities to deal with the violence in Ha-Tebelo. He said soldiers were not at their camp near the village when the incident happened.

“It is true that we got there late because we had attended to other places in the area,” Lt Col Lekola said, adding that when they got there they managed to put the situation under control.

He said incidents of violence and other crimes have reduced since the army was deployed in the area.

“Guns were common here. We had confiscated a lot of them,” he said.

Majara Molupe & Caswell Tlali

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Dead on arrival

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My sister delivered a stillborn baby when she was on her way to the clinic,” ’Matemoho Letšela, 23, barely holding back tears.

Letšela says her sister, whose name she withheld, suffered birth-pangs when she was alone at home in Khonofaneng village in Mokhotlong.

She was then rushed down the slopes of a mountain by some passers-by on foot, striding on the slopes of a rocky mountain, crossing deep gorges as she sought to get to the Molika-Liko Health Centre some eight kilometres away.

When she arrived at the clinic, the baby was declared dead on arrival.

Welcome to Mokhotlong, Lesotho’s mountainous region known worldwide for its big and clean diamonds where the people do not have basic services.

Letšela said her sister collapsed when she was on her way to the clinic and was only seen by some passers-by.

By the time passers-by saw her, it was already too late for her and her baby.

She was eight months pregnant. 

“She was still far from the clinic and away from the villages,” Letšela says.

“She had no one to help her until she lost her baby. She was helpless the whole day until it was too late for her to survive,” she says.

 “She had already lost a lot of blood and could not make it to the hospital.”

Letšela shared her sister’s story with thepost during a tour conducted by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to assess the impact of their assistance in Mokhotlong and Quthing districts a fortnight ago.

Letsela pleaded with the government to provide services in Mokhotlong’s hard-to-reach areas to avoid unnecessary deaths like her sister’s.

“My sister was eight months pregnant so the long walking distance might have been the cause of her early delivery and ultimate death,” she says.

She says there are still some villages in her area that are way far from where she stays, villages like Lichecheng where a patient must travel early in the morning, sleep on the way and reach the clinic the following day.

Cars cannot reach those remote areas, she says.

At Letšela’s area, they only have one bus that travels from home to town at 9am and will be back late at 8pm.

Even though they would love to always catch a ride whenever they are going to the clinic, sometimes they just do not have the money.

Letšela is three months pregnant now and says she cannot wait to reach 37 weeks so she can go and stay at the accommodation facilities provided by the clinic.

 “That is the advice from our midwives and I am willing to take that offer,” she says.

“I don’t want what happened to my sister to happen to me.”

When thepost met Letšela at the clinic last week, she had left her place at around 4am walking alone to the clinic and arrived after 10am.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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