The curse of gangsterism

The curse of gangsterism

MASERU-A SOMBRE mood engulfed Rasetimela High School last Friday as parents and teachers came to terms with the murder of a student in a suspected case of gangsterism.
The murder of schoolboy, Leloko ’Matli, has heightened fears that gangsterism, which has plagued Lesotho for decades, is filtering into schools.
’Matli was stabbed with a knife in the school yard in full view of schoolmates, in what some authorities believe was a gang-related war.
Gang fighting in the school yard at Rasetimela is a mounting problem that is getting out of the hands of teachers and the police.

Mabote police station is just less than 300 metres away from the school.
Cries, pleas and prayers have not stopped the youngsters from fighting, and threats of being arrested seem to have failed to deter the schoolchildren.
Witnesses to ’Matli’s murder said the incident happened on a Friday after schools had just closed for the weekend. A boy from a home close to the school, flanked by two others, went to the school yard and provoked ’Matli into a fight, witnesses said.
A few Form C students who had just written their exams and a couple of other Form E students preparing for the on-going final exams were hanging on the school premises when the incident happened.

Other students, mostly girls, gathered to watch the fight and cheered the fighters on. Some teachers said even girls at the school are into gangsterism.
It ended horrendously, with the cheerleaders rushing to the staff room to call teachers for help after the knife attack but it was too late.
Overwhelmed by the incident and growing reports of violent behaviour by students, concerned parents converged at the school last Friday to discuss the issue.
It emerged that there are two gangs in the area, one from Khubetsoana and another comprising of boys from two villages of Koalabata and Sekamaneng.
The victim is from Khubetsoana.

He too, allegedly, stabbed his attacker with a knife before he was killed, witnesses said.
Parents say they hoped the school would keep their children safe.
Two teachers, German Mphutlane and Mphale Ramphale, gave an account of what happened on that fateful day.
Parents were devastated and angry at the same time at the news that the attacker jumped through a thin wire that encircles the school.
They blamed the school and teachers for not providing enough security for their children.

Teachers said they only learnt through social media after the incident that ’Matli was a gang member when students started referring to him by his gang name, Magos.
Teachers said this was not a fight between school gangs but a fight between village gangs that are composed of non-scholars and scholars of different schools.
Principals from nearby schools have met at the Mabote Police station to map strategies to stop the gangs from infiltrating schools, the teachers said.
“It cannot be schools fighting against schools because we are very much in unity as schools,” Mphutlane told parents.
“We are in the same zone and sometimes hold games together, supporting each other as one when we go for national competitions,” he said.
Sighs and groans from irate parents could be heard as the teachers spoke.

Gangsterism at Rasetimela is not new because on several occasions lives have been lost to this scourge, parents heard.
Mphutlane said it is not surprising that the perpetrator calmly jumped the school’s fencing wire because most of the intruders are brought in by the students.
He said they often called for police intervention to stop violence from erupting.
“Sometimes police come and patrol the place and when there are leads to gangster meetings they raid them and come chasing some of our students by horse,” Ramphale said.
It may be true that teachers have a degree of responsibility in monitoring students but much of the work lies with parents who have a responsibility to inculcate good behavior in their children, he said.

According to one parent, gangsterism is driven by ex-convicts who influence schoolchildren.
“This behavior is driven by ex-convicts and initiates (referring to school dropouts who went to the Sesotho traditional initiation schools),” the parent told thepost.
“They come back to influence our children to be part of their evil gangster clubs because they know the more there are, the greater the chances of overpowering their opponents,” he said, without revealing his name to protect the identity of his own child.

Some parents said Lesotho’s prisons are a breeding ground for gangsterism.
The most common gangster clusters in prisons are known by their number symbols, the 26th and 28th – the latter being the most powerful.
The Chairman of the Association of Ex-inmates, Nkalimeng Mothobi, told thepost that inmates ink tattoo gangster numbers on their bodies using rubber or tyre needle.
Some students have started having the gangster numbers written more than once in their note books and identify themselves through clothes and gestures like tying shoe laces in a certain style, teachers said.

For example, if a student’s shoe lace is tied in such a way to form the number 8, then it is known that they belong to the 28th gang.
A parent, who only identified himself as Masupha, said this is a community problem more than it is a school challenge.
The parent said youths from Mabote, Naledi and Khubetsoana are frequently engaged in fights and some children are joining the small gangster groups in hopes of being feared by their peers.
Another parent testified that her child was attacked with a knife and sustained a scar on his face while at the school.
“My child was attacked on the school premises and when he tried to ask for help he was told the issue would be dealt with the next day,” the angry parent shouted at the Friday meeting.
“This is devastating. He told his friends in Ha-Mabote and they decided to go to the perpetrator and revenge on his behalf,” she said.
Mary Mapotso, another parent, described the situation at the school as a spiritual warfare. She called on parents to pray harder.
“This is Satan attacking us through our children,” Mapotso said, adding: “We need to stand up in prayer and fight against the Devil or we won’t win the battle.”

Another parent suggested that the school conducts trauma counseling sessions for affected students.
“My child comes home scared every day. She literally runs home because she is afraid that one of the gang boys will come and kill her too,” the visibly anxious mother said.
Some parents suggested that the problem was bigger than the school and parents, saying all law enforcement agencies need to up their game to prevent gangsterism in schools.
They suggested roping in the army “because these gangsters do not fear the police”.
“In Maputsoe we had the biggest cases of gangsterism, it was so fierce that the military had to jump in to patrol the place because people were dying every single day,” one of the parents said.
“Military patrol has minimised gangster attacks in that town,” she said.

Motlalepula Nkhabu, a member of the community policing forum in Sekamaneng and Koalabata, told thepost that they have advised parents to monitor their children’s behaviour.
Nkhabu said behavior “communicates volumes about what company the children keep and the kind of practices they have adopted”.
“No one knows a child’s behaviour more than the parent. It is their responsibility to monitor their children and if they are suspicious of the behavior we told them they can approach the Gender Department at the (Mabote) police station or ask for help from the chief,” Nkhabu said.
Chieftainess ’Makhomo Makoanyane of Koalabata said it is sad that young people are getting themselves killed over gangsterism.
Chieftainess Makoanyane said what hurts the most is that in her village, the Sesotho traditional school initiates who were in the same initiation schools fight against each other.
They have divided themselves according to the village’s sub-divisions.

“I rule over both but they (are fighting against each other),” the Chieftainess said.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said that they received the news but could not confirm that the fight was gangster-related because it was not a group of people fighting but two boys.

Superintendent Mopeli said police visit schools “that have shown tendencies of fights and breakouts of violence”.
“We also work with the community policing forums to spread education on how people can avoid being in criminal activities,” he said.
Superintendent Mopeli said the boy who knifed ’Matli to death was arrested and appeared before court this week.
The boy was released because he had injuries from the fight and had to be sent home for parental care.

Rose Moremoholo

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