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Mokhothu’s famo gangs dilemma

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MASERU – FAMO gangs are known for brutal killings. They have killed their opponents and even their families.
They can be hired as hitmen. Their music is laden with explicit lyrics that insult and eulogise violence.

It is therefore logical for politicians to greet them with a ten-foot pole.
They are the kind of people whose support you might crave but you should never openly associate with.

They are a toxic company that brings serious reputational damage to anyone who either embraces or tolerates them.
Yet, given their numbers, they bring votes.

All it takes is the leader’s instruction on which political party to vote for and they will all troop to the polling stations.
So how does a politician keep a healthy distance from them without alienating them?

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu must have agonised over that dilemma.
His solution is a novel one.

He is embracing the gangs but making it clear that only those who are good deserve to be in his arms.
That is a tricky distinction to make for organisations as notorious as Terene.

But Mokhothu is risking it all by playing a delicate balancing act.
He is appealing to Terene’s desire to be accepted as a peaceful organisation only tainted by rogue elements it does not control.

That is the tone Mokhothu used when he spoke at the funeral of Terene leader Ntei Tšehlana on Saturday in Qhoalinyane, Qacha’s Nek.
Mokhothu said when he sees famo gangsters he does not associate them with any crime. Instead, he said, he sees smart men and women in gang regalia.

He said most of Terene members “are not monsters or criminals”.

“When I see you, I see men and women who are dressed well and who love what they do,” Mokhothu said.

“The issue of your blankets’ colours should not be seen as trouble,” he said, after condemning the police for instructing Terene members who would attend Tšehlana’s funeral to not wear their gang insignia.

He added that Seakhi members’ lives too should not be made difficult because of the colours of their blankets.
Seakhi is Terene’s rival for years. They have fought countless bloody gang wars.

“What can make them criminals is when individuals do not part ways with crime not the colour of blankets they wear,” he said.

“Wearing the yellow Terene and Seakhi members’ blankets is not a crime,” he said.

It has become an unwritten law for the police to instruct famo gang members to attend funerals of their comrades without wearing their symbols, citing that the sight of the regalia itself triggers violence.

Since the mid-1990s there have been incidents of deadly gun battles at funerals both in Lesotho and South Africa.
Lately, the fights would either between the Terene and Seakhi gangs or factional wars within the gangs themselves.

The famo gang violence can be traced to the mid-90s when mourners were often sprayed with bullets in Lesotho as well as in South Africa.
The police, especially in Mafeteng district where much of the gangsters come from, have become wary of the wars and started denying them their rights to wear their gang symbols when attending funerals.

The genesis of the fights can be traced to the battle for control of illegal gold mines in South Africa. Those fights over turf often spill over into Lesotho where entire families have been wiped out.
But Mokhothu says the police should focus on what the gangs do and not how they dress.

“The security institutions should chase people because of what they did and not because of their affiliations,” Mokhothu said.

Mokhothu’s words appear to indicate a change of tact in the way the DC relates with famo gangs.
His predecessor, former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, was more circumspect about his relations with the gangs.

One never knew whether he dined with them or not.
That Mokhothu, his protégé, is singing a different tune is a sign that times have changed.

It is a political game.
But Mokhothu’s carefully picked words at the funeral leave him room for plausible deniability.

If things get out of hand, as they usually do, he can say it is the bad apples in the groups.
He would say he never embraced gangsters that kill and maim.

In fact, he could say he is working with them to help them reform.
At the funeral, Mokhothu urged the gangs to hanker for peace “because the DC is a peaceful party”.

He promised to help famo gangs if the DC wins the October election.

“We will stand with you after taking the government,” he said.

“We have already hired some of you to help raise their families.”

Tšehlana, who was being buried on Saturday, had gotten himself a job at the Ministry of Home Affairs which is notorious for dishing out jobs to party functionaries.
Mokhothu pledged to work with gang leaders to find peace and help them earn a proper living.

“These people who are killing you are only left with four months … they will sleep outside (teleha),” he said.

He said Basotho will vote wisely and his government will reform the police service to “a level where they will be able to differentiate between killers and people who just form groups”.

“We will do everything in our power to fight this dinosaur that is killing you.”

He told the Terene gang that they “dress well and should do well”.
He blamed the killings on some people who are in the government saying they incite the violence, calling on the National Security Service (NSS) to “find men and women in uniform who take part in these acts”.

He said they always pay from their pockets to repatriate corpses of gangsters from Gauteng to Lesotho.
He urged the security institutions to work harder to combat the gang killings.

“The issue of corpses of Terene members that are repatriated home means the security institutions must work harder to end them,” he said.

He said the killings give him sleepless nights.

“I want to see them building beautiful houses like Tšehlana’s.”

He said he wants to see the gangs walking freely in their own country, “without being chased away”.
He said the police “must protect every Mosotho, rich or poor, regardless of their status”.

That’s Mokhothu, the politician, avoiding rocking the boat during election time.
Anyone who can deliver votes should be accommodated.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Police hunt former minister

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THE police have launched a hunt for former police minister, Lepota Sekola, who is suspected of involvement in stock theft.
Police want to arrest Sekola in connection with two cattle carcasses that were found at his grandfather’s funeral in Borokhoaneng three weeks ago.

During the initial interview, Sekola had insisted that the cows belonged to his late grandfather who had kept them in South Africa for better pastures.

The police didn’t arrest him at that time because investigations were still in the early stages. Further investigations have however led the police to believe that the animals were stolen from South Africa.

But when they were ready for the arrest, Sekola could not be found at his home or on his phone.

Police say Sekola will be charged with unlawful possession and illegal importation of two cows from South Africa.

The National Stock Theft Coordinator, Senior Superintendent Mapesela Klaass, told thepost last night that they “have completed investigations but he (Sekola) is nowhere to be seen”.

“We cannot get him on his mobile phones,” S/Supt Klaass said, adding that the police have been “visiting his home but he is not there”.

“His family members are aware that we are looking for him,” he said.

S/Supt Klaass said they are continuing with their search and as soon as they find him, they are going to drag him to the courts.

He said the police suspect the cows were brought from South Africa to be slaughtered for Sekola’s grandfather’s funeral.

Police sources told thepost that one of the cows had new branding while another had nothing. Both had holes on the ears that signalled that they used to have ear tags.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.
Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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Mphaka barred from ABC deputy’s race

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THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has barred former Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka and three others from contesting for the deputy leader’s position at an elective conference set for this week.
The three are Kefeletsoe Mojela, Katleho Molelle, and Lekhetho Mosito.

Mosito was an MP who was appointed Defence Minister for a day and removed the following day during Dr Moeketsi Majoro’s premiership.
The elective conference is set to be held at the Leqele High School hall this weekend.

A circular from the ABC said the three did not qualify to enter the race because they had not held any positions in the party’s committees.

The decision to bar the three is reminiscent of the same tactics that saw former leader Thomas Thabane block Professor Nqosa Mahao from contesting for the party’s deputy leader’s position.
Professor Mahao subsequently walked away and formed the Basotho Action Party (BAP).

A weakened ABC has never recovered from that split.

Mphaka and his colleagues were vying for the deputy leader’s position until they were stopped in their tracks by the circular which was issued out on Monday this week.
Dr Pinkie Manamolela is the current deputy leader.

She was plucked from the women’s league to replace Dr Majoro who had resigned from the national executive committee after losing the leadership race to Nkaku Kabi in 2022.

There is a high chance that the four could drag the ABC to court to assert their right to contest. The legal wrangles will likely destabilise the party that is still smarting from a thorough thrashing in general elections held in October 2022.

Mphaka this week told thepost that he will challenge the decision to block him in the courts of law.
“They are crazy people,” Mphaka said.

“I will not allow this to happen,” he said.

“I have already instructed my lawyers to launch an urgent application in the High Court to challenge the decision before Friday this week.”

He complained that it was not clear why the party had decided to kick him out of the race after he spent a lot of time and resources campaigning.

Mphaka said the national executive committee “usually allows members to contest for positions without considering whether they were ever in the constituency committees or not”.

The contenders in the race are former Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele, ex-Police MP Lehlohonolo Moramotse, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Leshoboro Mohlajoa, and Maseru Star Taxi Association member Sekhonyana Mosenene.

A member of the national executive committee told thepost that “many of us support Mphaka and Kefeletsoe at all costs”.

“We were dismayed when we saw the circular removing the duo from the race,” he said.

He said many ABC members were rallying behind Mphaka because “he has been campaigning even before everyone could start”.

“They know he has lots of followers.”

He said it is unfair that Mosenene has been allowed to run but he has never held any position in any constituency except that he represented his taxi association in the ABC national executive committee.
“Why has he been allowed to contest yet he is just like Mphaka and Kefeletsoe?”

He complained that Sekhonyana, while representing taxi operators in the committee, was eventually made the deputy party spokesman despite not being in any constituency committee after ’Matebatso Doti resigned from the position.

“Mphaka was chosen by the party to lead the 2022 elections campaign teams and develop a party manifesto,” he said.

“He was allowed to do all that without being involved in any party structures.”

The party’s spokesman Montoeli Masoetsa declined to comment.

Dr Manamolela told thepost that “the decision was not made by the party’s national executive committee”.

“I do not want to talk much …but it is not true that the party’s NEC decided to remove Mphaka and Kefeletsoe”.

Kabi could not be reached for comment.

Nkheli Liphoto

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