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The horrors of child murders

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MASERU-FOR ’Matumisang Rantimane life as she knew it ended on March 28. Her son is dead and the father of the child is a suspect. Rantimane is battling to come to terms with the fact that she will never see her son again after he became a victim of a suspected ritual killing.

To make matters worse, the killer could be someone very close – the father of the child. Rantimane arrived home from work on March 28 expecting the usual warm welcome from her son.

But the news that confronted her was of his disappearance, which soon turned into a murder case. She was told by her older son that the boy had just knocked off from school and was forcibly seized before he could even change from his school uniform. The boy, Tumisang Rantimane, was naked when he was driven off from the family home.

“He told me that his brother was supposed to dress up after they removed their school uniforms,” Rantimane says.

“He went outside. Perhaps he was going to the toilet. Instead of returning into the house, he only peeped through the door to tell his brother that he would be back,” she says. Curious, the elder brother went to the door to investigate and to his shock saw the boy jumping into a car that was parked nearby. The car immediately sped off. A search party that included neighbours came out empty handed.

Tumisang’s body was later found on the banks of Mohokare River in Maputsoe over the last weekend. More horror was to follow when the identity of the suspected killer was revealed at a mortuary where the family had been called to identify the body. “The police asked us if this was the boy and we said ‘yes’,” a relative, who cannot be identified, said.

“Then they turned to his father and asked him the same question. They immediately handcuffed him. We were shocked and surprised,” he said.

Rantimane said “someone” had also tipped her off that her son was going to be sold to some people in South Africa. Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the father of the boy will appear before the Leribe magistrate’s court soon. He said police are hunting for other suspects.

This is one of the endless horrors bedevilling Lesotho’s second biggest town after Maseru. Welcome to Maputsoe, the city of gangsters and mysterious murders. The level of crime in Maputsoe is so serious that Police Commissioner Molibeli Holomo is sending a team of police women from the Network of Police Women to embark on a door-to-door campaign sensitising women about child safety measures.  Superintendent Mopeli said the network will hold a public gathering in Maputsoe this Sunday.

Earlier last month, Commissioner Holomo talked about how police were concerned with the disappearance of children in Maputsoe. The children are often discovered dead. The police could not give exact statistics of abducted and murdered children in Maputsoe.

Maputsoe, about 80 kilometres north of Maseru, is a border city between Lesotho and South Africa and it is the second busiest exit to the neighbouring country after Maseru. This is where criminals, both from South Africa and Lesotho, have formed terror gangs that have given the town a bad name and the police a headache. Police believe human trafficking, especially of children, is rampant here.

There are also incidents of ritual murders of children and women, in addition to drugs and light weapons smuggling. Being the closest border to Mapoteng – an infamous haven of illegal marijuana farmers and smugglers – Maputsoe has turned into a city besieged by criminals. A string of police campaigns, house raids and roadblocks in the big textile industry city have resulted in the arrest of hundreds of criminals.

But, as Tumisang’s murder shows, much more work needs to be done to rid the city of vice. The police cannot do it alone, said deputy Public Works Minister Tšehlo Ramarou, who is from a nearby village Pitseng.

“Unless we join hands as residents and the police, we will not win this war,” Ramarou said.

Public Service Minister Joang Molapo, who is also the hereditary chief of Maputsoe Ha-’Mathata, said crime in the area is created by lack of policies that corresponds to its growth. Molapo, the Basotho National Party (BNP) candidate in Maputsoe constituency, said Maputsoe should be treated like Maseru which has police specifically working in its urban.

“Maseru has both the urban and rural police because we as a nation acknowledged that Maseru is the economic centre of the country and deserved a special treatment,” Molapo said.

“Unfortunately the past governments did not give Maputsoe the attention it deserves,” he said. Molapo bemoaned lack of infrastructural support of the small police post in Maputsoe “because all the attention is directed at Hlotse, which is the district capital”.

“Maputsoe has been allowed to be turned into slums and a ghetto and therefore is a breeding ground for criminals,” he said.

“We need to have social investment in Maputsoe, build proper roads deserving of a modern day town, health facilities and proper housing plan,” he said. Molapo said Maputsoe deserves to be treated as a de facto district capital “if we are to deal effectively with crime”.

He said Maputsoe “will grow to become the engine of economic growth or the centre of crime” depending on how it is treated. Many people exit or enter the Kingdom through Maputsoe border because it is easy to access Johannesburg and Durban from there. In 2011, the police embarked on a special campaign to include residents in the fight against crime fuelled by a gang notoriously known as the Tycoons.

The Tycoons have caused terror in Maputsoe since the 1970s. Police helped in the establishment of the Maputsoe Community Policing Forum, which has been instrumental in helping detect movements of gangs in the city. The police, with the help of the forum, managed to deal with 869 cases in Maputsoe alone while the entire Leribe district recorded 2 163 cases from March to October in 2011.

Before the establishment of the forum, people were hesitant to report crimes for fear of victimisation. The layout of the city makes the perpetration of crime easy. In the west and northwest of the town runs the Mohokare River, which divides Lesotho and South Africa, and the town is right on the river bank.

Less than five kilometres across the river is the troubled town of Ficksburg which boasts of hardened criminals who work in syndicate with their Maputsoe counterparts. It has therefore become easy for criminals to illegally cross to Ficksburg and vice versa. Maputsoe is a mix of urban, rural and slum areas. The town attracts many young people from all over Lesotho who end up working in the textile factories.

Smugglers who cross the river to South Africa seek permission from the Tycoons, both living in Maputsoe and Ficksburg, for a fee. Even ordinary citizens who do not have passports or those who have overstayed in one of the countries and do not want any trouble with the border police go to the Tycoons to cross the border easily.

The river “belongs” to them. Police said they are working tirelessly to ensure that normalcy returns to the city.

But for ’Matumisang Rantimane and other victims, this may be a little too late.

Staff Reporter

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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