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Robbed of their childhood



…..Young girls forced into early marriages…..

MASERU-’Mamotšeare Lesale (name changed) was only 13-years-old and awaiting her Form C results when she was abducted, gang raped and then forced to stay with one of her abusers.

Now 16, Lesale is yet to recover from the ordeal, and she thinks her mother was paid to be complicit in the abuse.
“I believe my mother planned it as she sent me to a neigbouring village and refused when I asked that I go with my friend,” said Lesale, from Rothe, Ha-Mohlalefi, in the rural side of Maseru district.

“On my way there, three men abducted me,” she said.
The men gang raped her at night. The following morning, one of them took her with him to his home and began staying with her as his “wife”.
More abuse followed.
“He would beat me up and accuse me of things I did not do,” she said.
“It pains me every time I remember that my mother had a hand in my two years of suffering.”

“The pain I endured changed me and I am hopeful that someday I will heal from this.”
She recalled the day she went to fetch water and found an elderly woman there.

“My face was sore and the woman asked me what happened.”
“I did not want to talk about it – all I did was cry.”
She says the ‘Good Samaritan’ kept demanding answers from her but she did not give her.
A week later, the same woman visited with the village chief and they interviewed her.

“I explained what transpired and they advised me to report the case. But I couldn’t… I was clueless that this was a way of saving me. I was afraid of what he would do if he found out.”
Eventually, with the help of the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), she managed to escape.

“Luckily, I was not pregnant yet.”
Lesale says both her then husband and mother were arrested.
She is one of many Basotho girls being forced to drop out of school to enter into forced marriages with the tacit approval of their parents, as poverty forces some people to view their daughters as commodities to trade.

Ha-Mohlalefi Councillor, Motseki Ratefane, said Lesale is one of three girls who were rescued this year after being forced into marriage.
In all the cases, parents struggling with poverty were paid to connive with the abusers, said Ratefane.
Sometimes, traditional leaders who are expected to protect the children are part of the scheme, he said, giving an example of one of the girls rescued recently.

“Unfortunately, the other one was already pregnant and the challenge was she was married to the chief’s 18-year-old son,” Ratefane said.
“The chief was saddened when we took her back to her home. This shows that he was part of the plan all along,” he said.
He said they reported those involved to the police.

“Investigations are ongoing,” he said, adding that they are tracing some of the perpetrators or their accomplices.
“This tracing causes hatred… it is as if we want to destroy the families involved in the issue,” he said.

A CGPU officer, Lance Sergeant Taelo Lentša, said such “inhumane acts” “are very common” and “a number of culprits” have been arrested.
L/Sergeant Lentša said the main problem is that some people still hide such cases.
“But once reported, we do our best to ensure those children are protected,” L/Sergeant Lentša, who is stationed at Hlotse Police Station in Leribe, said.
“We always encourage people to inform us,” he said, adding that the unit usually gets reports from neighbours, councillors or chiefs.

Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said some parents or guardians, especially in the rural mountainous regions of the country, force children to get married for personal gain.
Superintendent Mopeli says most did it out of poverty.
“They believe letting their children marry an old, rich man can help them survive,” he said.

He said some people take advantage of orphans living with their grandmothers and trade those children for money or livestock.
Others are driven by inheritance issues, he said.

Superintendent Mopeli said before the outbreak of Covid-19, the police had embarked on public awareness campaigns to teach Basotho about the dangers of forcing children to get married.
He said the campaigns were working “but they need to be done regularly as people tend to forget and once we stop the campaign they think we are promoting it”.

“Campaigns have to be done frequently,” he said.
The Lesotho Violence Against Children Survey 2019 shows that at least one in 10 girls was illegally married before the age of 18, compared to less than one percent for boys.

“This is because most boys are shy to speak out so they did not respond to the questions regarding marriage,” said Rantsane Kuleile, the Ministry of Gender’s Senior Child Protection officer.
Kuleile said the ministry has drafted a policy and legal framework that criminalises child marriage.

“The ministry is going through the amendment of the Child Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 to include a section that makes child marriage an offence,” he said.
The ministry has also embarked on a national campaign to initiate community dialogue with parents and children to raise awareness on the negative impacts of child marriage and harmful cultural practices that put the lives of children in danger.

He applauded Princess Senate as a champion in the fight against child marriages by engaging with children and putting the issue high on the government’s agenda.
Human rights lawyer, Advocate Lineo Tsikoane, said any person under 18 is not ready for the responsibilities of marriage.

“I am even of the view that even 21 is too early,” Advocate Tsikoane said.
“I believe the responsibilities of marriage are such that one must be grown up, moderately financially secure and where they would be able to care for another human being or pet when they marry. Anyone under 18 in my view, it is a tall ask,” she said.

She said society needs to stop glorifying child marriages.
“We have elevated marriage to some sort of achievement such that not being married is seen as a failure or a default in character… to deem those unmarried as cursed or undesirable,” she said.

She criticised popular sayings like “marriage is lotto”, adding, “We need to re-evaluate as a society the weight we place on marriage variability and respectability. Therein lies our problem.”
She said the 2011 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act is one of the most comprehensive laws on child marriages.
“But the defect of the law is that it is dependent on human implementation. So once again it comes back to us.”

“What do we say as mothers when our sons come home with a young bride? What do we do as a people when we go negotiate for two individuals whose ages combined won’t give you the total sum of your age?” she said.
She added: “What do we say when we wake up and there is a little person that is ngoetsi (daughter-in-law) in our village? Do we go eat the slaughtered sheep or head straight to the police station?”

The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Woman and Children Coordinator, ’Mantšalla Ramakhula, said some parents or guardians were married young and are now forcing their children to enter into similar arrangements.

“Because they survived, they believe their children will survive as well, not considering the era changes and practices,” said Ramakhula, whose organisation teaches people about the severe consequences of child marriage in association with partner NGOs.

Ramakhula said the training programmes have elicited a positive feedback in the lowlands while there is still a major challenge in the mountains.
“They feel we are interrupting their cultural beliefs and roles. We want them to understand that it is wrong and such parents can be arrested should they be reported. Parents should avoid it and give their children the kind of protection they need,” she said.
She-hive Founder, ’Mamakhethe Phomane, said her organisation has shifted its focus from counseling victims to prevention measures.
“Previously, we have been focusing more on the hurt hence we wanted to change,” Phomane said.

She said the organisation collaborated with other partners to enforce the primary prevention app called Nokaneng.
The app helps women and girls know their rights and ways to report abuses, she said.
Psychologist, Dr Calvin Motebang said forced or arranged marriages affect children emotionally, spiritually, socially and psychologically.
“They end up not being able to make their own decisions,” Dr Motebang said, adding, “One can be miserable to an extent that they can commit suicide or even kill the spouse.”

For Lesale, one of the girls rescued by the Child and Gender Protection Unit, the effectiveness of any programme will need to include girls to help them understand and fight for their rights.
Such programmes, she said, would help “all youths robbed of their childhood to do the right thing, leave that marriage and reclaim their youth.”

“I know it is not easy but it is worth it,” she said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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