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The curse of ritual murders



MASERU – Last month, the Likhoele Ha-Sebusi community in Mafeteng woke up to a gruesome scene of two men who had been brutally murdered and had their private parts hacked off.

The body parts were nowhere to be seen.

These men were aged between 23 and 32 years. The deceased were from the Likhoele area in Mafeteng.

The police immediately launched investigations into the dreadful incident. The investigations have since led to the arrest of two suspects – who are believed to have been the masterminds behind the ritual murder.

Four other men were later arrested in connection with the murder. The four suspects are Tankiso Masupha, 21, Mpho Masupha, Neo Sebusi, 24 and Thato Matlakala, 29. They were remanded in custody when they appeared in court.

They are due to appear in the Mafeteng magistrates’ court next Tuesday.

Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said two suspects were from Ha-Qobete, a kilometre away from where the motionless bodies of the two men were found lying in a shallow ditch.

But the suspects were picked up by the police in Thaba-Bosiu where they were hiding.

SSP Mopeli said the suspects fled the scene upon hearing a tip-off that the police were after them.

He said the suspects are biological brothers aged 17 and 21 years old respectively.

He said the suspects told them that they gave the body parts to a traditional doctor aged 29 who is from the village of Ha-Qobete.

SSP Mopeli said the suspects said they also handed over a pistol they used to kill the men to the said traditional doctor.

The traditional doctor was also arrested by the police.

“The man was found in possession of some body parts and a pistol,” SSP Mopeli said.

And those body parts were found tied on a tree on the mountain of Maboloka in the district.

The traditional doctor had hidden them there.

Further police investigations revealed that the sangoma was going to mix the parts with some herbs.

In particular, he was in need of a white man’s private parts, not the ones for a Mosotho man to make a stronger mixture of herbs.

Because the 21-year-old suspect is an illegal miner in South Africa, the sangoma had asked him to get him the private parts of the white-man because he was working close to white men.

SSP Mopeli said the suspects told them that they took advantage of the two men because they had a chance to rip off their parts easily.

While still on the outlook for the parts of the white man, they could at least hand over something to the sangoma.

Police investigations revealed that previously, the deal was that the suspects would be given M15 000 for the parts.

When the ritual murderers brought the parts of the Basotho men, the price dropped to M10 000.

The chairman of Lesotho Traditional Doctors, Malefetsane Liau, said the incident left them shocked.

He said they are yet to find out if the traditional healer is in their books.

“We are going to delete his name from our books if he is a registered traditional doctor,” Liau said.

“We do not need these calibres in our midst,” he said.

Ritual murders have been part of Basotho’s harrowing history and not enough attention has been directed to the crime, according to some researchers.

It only captures the national attention when prominent people are involved.

As early as the 1940s, Basotho were involved in ritual murders. Two Basotho chiefs were hanged on August 3, 1949 after they were convicted for ritual murders.

The two chiefs were hanged in Maseru, the capital of the then British colony of Basutoland, now called Lesotho.

One was Bereng Griffith Lerotholi, the Principal Chief of the Phamong ward in Mohale’s Hoek District in the south of the country.

The other chief hanged was Gabasheane Masupha, the Principal Chief of ’Mamathe’s ward in the Berea District to the north-east of Maseru.

The crime for which Bereng and Gabasheane were hanged for was murder, but it was not murder of the ordinary kind.

At first it was known as ritual murder; later, more appropriately, as medicine or liretlo murder.

Parts of the victim’s body, liretlo, were cut away, usually while he or she was still alive, for the purpose of making medicines which, it was believed, would strengthen those who made use of them.

In this case, according to the prosecution, the two chiefs had enlisted the help of at least a dozen of their subjects to kill a man called ’Meleke Ntai.

If they had been acquitted they would have had to stand trial for an earlier murder, committed in 1946.

The victim then was a man called Paramente, who was caught at night as he came out of his lover’s hut.

The cases of Chiefs Bereng and Gabashane drew the attention of the world to Basutoland, not only because the murders were so gruesome, but because they involved two of the highest chiefs in the land and because they seemed to be part of a rising tide of murder that was threatening to engulf the whole country.

There had been occasional reports of medicine murders since 1895, but until the (mid-20th century) they had been too few to disturb the colonial authorities.

From two in 1941, however, the number of reported murders had risen to 20 in 1948, the year in which Bereng and Gabashane allegedly carried out the second of their murders, and the numbers of instigators and accomplices involved amounted to several hundreds.

The above historical piece is from the Medicine Murder in Colonial Lesotho: The Anatomy of a Moral Crisis by Colin Murray and Peter Sanders.

But medicine murders in Lesotho have not stopped.

Isaac Rasebate Mokotso, a researcher at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), wrote about seven years ago that there was an urgent need to pay attention to these murders.

Even though it seems there has been a decline in the number of witch killings and ritual murders from different sectors of Basotho society, these phenomena has recently reemerged and it is worrying and requires an immediate response, Mokotso said.

In November 2019 the High Court heard a case in which one Lebohang Pitso of Ha ’Matsa in Qacha’s Nek was facing two counts of murder.

Pitso was alleged to have murdered a 90-year-old ’Mamoloko Seeiso and her seven-year-old grandson.

Testifying in court, Sergeant Chale Moloinyana of Sekake Police said they first got a report from the Chief of Ha ’Matsa that two people had been murdered in the village.

After they arrived at the scene, Moloinyana said the police found two bodies lying in a pool of blood.

He said they discovered that their throats were slit and part of Seeiso’s scalp had been peeled off.

Investigations led to the arrest of Pitso by the Semonkong police.

Pitso led the police to Carltonville at an informal settlement called Khutsong in South Africa.

On the roof of the shack he claimed was his home, Pitso pointed the police to a scalp pinned to a knife.

He said the scalp belonged to Seeiso.

He allegedly confessed that the particular knife together with one that was on the table was used to slaughter the old woman and her grandson.

Last year double ritual murderer Lehlohonolo Scott was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole while his sickly mother, ’Malehlohonolo, was given a suspended ten-year sentence.

’Malehlohonolo has since died due to her illness.

High Court judge Justice Teboho Moiloa found them guilty of murdering fellow Koalabata residents, Moholobela Seetsa, 13, and Kamohelo Mohata, 19, in January and June 2012 respectively.

Mokotso, in a paper titled ‘Introducing Basotho Traditional Religion in Lesotho Schools,’ says the origin of ritual murder or medicine murder in Lesotho is not known.

Mokotso says there are two theories of the origin of ritual murder (Liretlo in Sesotho) in Lesotho.

One theory is that liretlo is not indigenous to Basotho culture but had been imported from the Zulu culture.

Protective medicine (Lenaka) which liretlo is mainly for, had already been in use in Basotho culture, but it was made up of animal parts instead of human parts.

The other theory is that liretlo is as ancient as the Basotho nation, to the extent that it is not possible to trace its origins.

However, Mokotso says it has been noted that Moshoeshoe had lenaka with human parts ingredients even though those parts were obtained from corpses of enemies killed in wars.

He says occurrences of liretlo were recorded in the early colonial period in 1895 in which about six cases were reported.

In a 1992 study, he says, liretlo became a Lesotho ‘epidemic’ and reached a peak in the years between 1940 and 1955 in which over 120 cases were reported during this period.

The Lesotho police have not, until now, classified murder crimes on whether they are medicine murders, gang-influenced, or witch-hunt triggered.

The police just record it as murder and start investigating a murder case.

Lack of the classification of murders explains why the Bureau of Statistics does not have any information on how and why people are murdered; it just records the number of homicides.

This also explains why the Lesotho parliament has not come up with a law that guides the nation on how to deal with these kind of murders.

Earlier this year, the chairman of the social cluster in parliament Fako Moshoeshoe told thepost that for them to make laws they have to be informed by stakeholders about what is happening on the ground.

Majara Molupe

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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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