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The curse of ritual murders

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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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Government is broke

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… Borrows M500m to pay salaries
MASERU – THE government is so broke that it had to borrow a staggering M500 million to pay civil servants’ salaries.
thepost can reveal that the money was borrowed through Treasury Bills from the local market this week.
The borrowing spree comes as the government is battling to pay salaries and suppliers due to a massive drop in tax revenues.
It comes as Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s government is left with two weeks in office.
But those few days left on its tenure have not stopped the government from making plans to borrow more money from the local market.
Highly placed sources told this paper of plans to issue more Treasury Bills in the next two weeks to raise money to pay suppliers.
A source however said there is some reluctance from some technocrats in the Ministry of Finance who believe the government’s books and financial control systems are so shambolic that it doesn’t know exactly how much it owes the private sector.
The arrears fluctuate every day but this paper understands that the government owes between M800 million and M1 billion to the suppliers.
Although the government has been grappling with the financial crisis for the past few years the crunch began to bite this year.
Sources say this month has been particularly terrible for the government.
By last week, a source said, the government had only M150 million for salaries. The total public wage bill is around M600 million.
This explains why the government had to borrow half a billion this week through treasury bills issued by the Central Bank of Lesotho.
The money arrived in the government’s account yesterday afternoon according to sources privy to the transaction.
The government has options to pay the debt in three, six, nine or 12 months. But given its precarious financial position, the government is likely to opt for the 12 months.
This means the debt will be paid on September 21 next year at about 7.8 percent interest. That translates to an interest of M39 million which brings the amount to M539 million.
The latest borrowing pushes the government’s domestic debt to M4.3 billion.
The foreign debt is around M15.6 billion. Although the debt is moderate, the government might be forced to borrow more if revenues continue to drop.
That could spell disaster for the country.
As things stand the government has to cut expenditure or look for ways to generate more revenue.
But with the economy still smarting from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and companies shutting down, there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room.
Donor fatigue and the drop in the Southern African Customs Union, once the anchor of Lesotho’s budget, have made things worse.
Cutting expenditure seems to be the only option but the government appears reluctant to bite the bullet.
Lesotho has consistently failed to implement the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s recommendation to cut the wage bill.
Successive ministers have hinted at plans to retrench some government employees but have never implemented them because that has political implications.
There are signs that the chickens are eventually coming home to roost.
A few days ago Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko issued a circular announcing a raft of measures to “contain expenditure and overdue payments for ministries, departments and agencies”.
Pheko said due to increasing expenditure pressures and a drop in revenue the government is implementing measures that will contain expenditure to levels that are aligned with available resources.
“The Ministry of Finance will continue to issue monthly warrants only for wages and salaries as well as essential and critical expenditures in line with the approved procurement and cash plans plus availability of funds,” Pheko said.
He ordered chief accounting officers to stop international travel, buying furniture, large maintenance, subsistence allowances, and hiring new staff.
Also, all vehicles other than VVIPS will not fuel more than once a week unless they are for essential services as authorised by the government.
All government vehicles other than for VVIPs and selected offices must be parked at their designated places by 5pm and shall be used only for authorised purposes, Pheko said.
Nkheli Liphoto

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We’ll gang up against RFP, says Rapapa

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MASERU – Lesotho’s biggest political parties have hatched a grand plan to throttle the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) led by Sam Matekane.
The plot was revealed by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) chairman Sam Rapapa at an election rally held in Mashai constituency last Friday.
He said even if the RFP makes it into parliament, they will make sure that it would not be part of the next government.
The plan, Rapapa said, is to “keep the RFP leader Sam Matekane at least as the leader of opposition, with no party to cobble up a coalition government”.
He said Matekane’s “dream of becoming a government alone is practically impossible because” the ABC, the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), the Democratic Congress (DC), and the Basotho Action Party (BAP) “will gang up to sabotage him”.
Rapapa spoke as he appealed to ABC members not to join the RFP which he said will not form a government or be in the next coalition government.
“These big parties will gang up against him (Matekane) and he will not be part of the government,” he said.
Rapapa wondered out loud why anyone would therefore want to leave the ABC to join the RFP.
“We will do everything to stop Matekane from getting into the government,” Rapapa said.
He urged Basotho to analyse critically which parties are likely to form the next government so they vote wisely on October 7.
“Both ABC and DC are likely to form a coalition government,” Rapapa said.
He said although he would in the past viciously attack the DC, he had since toned down after the two parties formed a coalition government in 2020.
In a lighthearted moment, Rapapa compared the political landscape in Lesotho to that of a child who runs away from his home to a neighbour’s house because the head of that house has arrived home with stolen wors.
Rapapa said people who are claiming they are leaving the ABC because it is engulfed in conflicts are lying.
Instead, he said the conflicts are in the RFP which has been battling numerous court battles as party members fight to represent the party in the general election.
“There is no peace in Moruo,” Rapapa said. “There is a fight that is going on in the RFP.”
Moruo, which means wealth, is the RFP’s slogan.
Rapapa urged the members to either vote for the DC or the ABC as there is peace and direction in those parties.
After the election, Rapapa said they will tell Maketane to stand in the corner with his people and a few constituencies.
He said Matekane is going to lead the opposition because they had discussed amongst themselves that he is a businessman and he should go back to business.
“We gave you a job to build roads, (but) you leave them with potholes and join politics,” Rapapa said.
He said Matekane is likely to only qualify as an MP and not a Prime Minister.
The ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, however distanced himself from Rapapa’s statement this week.
He said the party is busy campaigning to win next month’s election to form the next government and has not yet pronounced itself on any coalition deals.
“We have not planned to do anything about Matekane as the ABC National Executive Committee,” Hlaele said.
The ABC leader Nkaku Kabi told another rally in Thaba-Bosiu that “it is still premature as to which parties we would align ourselves with after the election”.
He said there are some parties that had been approaching the ABC to discuss coalition possibilities but they have not sat down to decide to cobble up any coalition agreements with any of them.
“Our committee has never met any party to discuss the formation of a coalition government after the election,” Kabi said.
Kabi said the matter should not trigger any ruckus in the party.
Nkheli Liphoto

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Stunning details of how Matela died

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 MASERU – A witness has revealed shocking details of how ’Mahlompho Matela died.
Lekhooa Monaleli told the court that ’Mahlompho told her that she had been strangled.
Monaleli was testifying this week in the trial of Qamo Matela who is accused of the murder of his wife ’Mahlompho.
Monaleli was friends with the couple.
He was testifying before High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Mokoko, last Thursday.
Monaleli said he went to the couple’s home after Qamo Matela had told him that his wife was not feeling well and he needed help to take her to hospital.
Monaleli said he found ’Mahlompho and Qamo on the bathroom floor. He said ’Mahlompho was sitting between Qamo’s thighs while their children were in the lounge.
Monaleli said Mahlompho looked “tired and helpless”.
“I helped the accused to lift (his wife) and carried her to the car,” Monaleli said.
He said Qamo had thrust a spoon into ‘Mahlompho’s mouth to stop her from biting her tongue.
“I noticed that something might have happened to the deceased (‘Mahlompho) apart from her being ill,” he said.
“What I picked from the deceased was that her eyes showed that she had been assaulted.”
“I kept quiet because this hit me hard,” Monaleli said.
They drove to Willies Hospital in Khubetsoana.
At the hospital, Qamo left them in the car as he went to fetch a wheelchair for ‘Mahlompho.
Monaleli said this gave him a chance to ask ’Mahlompho what happened.
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had assaulted and strangled her.
“I asked the deceased why she did not call for help when what happened. The response was that the accused was strangling her.”
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had strangled him for a long time.
The court heard that later on the same day, after helping the couple to the hospital and back, Monaleli sent Qamo a voice note on WhatsApp telling him that he had ruined his day.
Monaleli said he later went to the couple’s house with his wife but they could not see ’Mahlompho because they were told that she was still asleep after taking her medication.
Monaleli said seeing that his friend’s family needed help, he arranged for them to see a psychologist.
The crown’s second witness Rorisang Mofolo, ’Mahlompho’s sister, said she received a call on September 4 last year from Qamo telling her that ’Mahlompho had fainted four times.
Mofolo said Qamo told her that he suspect ’Mahlompho might have a heart problem but she was now feeling better after giving her some sugar.
“He also told me that they were waiting for a car to take them to Willies Hospital,” Mofolo said.
“After our conversation with the accused (Qamo) I called my nurse friend to ask about the temperature change issue, she said it might be Covid-19 so the deceased should get tested,” she said.
She said every time she tried to call ’Mahlompho the phone would be picked by Qamo who would speak on her behalf.
Mofolo said during a video call with ’Mahlompho, in Qamo’s absence, she noticed that she had bruises on her face.
She said ’Mahlompho told her she had fainted three times.
Mofolo said she was relieved after Qamo gave him the impression that ’Mahlompho was recovering but was shocked when Monaleli called and insisted that she goes to see her sister.
She said in their telephone conversation ’Mahlompho said she was “trapped in a hell of a marriage…this man is a psycho”.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho told her that at one point Qamo had helped her pack her belongings and that of the children so they could leave but suddenly changed his mind and said she would not leave with the children.
She testified that ’Mahlompho said Qamo started assaulting and choking her, saying she refused to give his mother M20 yet she had M30 000 in her bank account.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho was later taken to  Maseru hospital which quickly referred her to Bloemfontein where she died a few days later.
She said when a nurse at the Bloemfontein hospital called her to break the news of ’Mahlompho’s death she advised her to go to the police to open a murder case.
She reported the case at the Mabote police station.
She said when she arrived at the couple’s house she found Qamo crying in the bedroom.
Mofolo said Qamo said: “I am very sorry, please promise me that you will be there for me and the kids and that we will plan the funeral together”.
Mofolo said she did not reply but she went out.
Tholoana Lesenya

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