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The wicked cult at Fokothi

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MASERU – BARBARITY at the Lerotholi Polytechnic raised its ugly head again last Friday when a newly enrolled student was tortured to death.
Welcome to the Lesotho college of rough, bullying and violent students who are known to be members of a notorious gang of thugs.
The police found the dead body of the student lying on the banks of Mohokare River in the morning, after a tiresome night of searching for a group of college hooligans who were torturing newcomers in the river.

Rethabile Joshua Mositi was a 21-year-old student from Ha-Nyenye in Maputsoe, Leribe, who underwent the college’s infamous initiation of the newcomers.
The college rector Dr Tlali Sepiriti says six suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder.
The suspects are college students.

Sepiriti says Mositi was admitted for a diploma in business management programme and had joined the college on July 16.
“This unfortunate incident happened on the last day of the students’ orientation week,” Sepiriti says.
He says preliminary investigations have shown there were 11 first year students in the river with eight perpetrators.
“Six have already been arrested pertaining to this death,” he says.

He also says the initial investigations point to the alleged cause of death to be the result of ill-treatment by fellow students along Mohokare River last Friday.
“I am new in this institution but reports say this is the sixth student who has passed away in this manner,” he says.
He also says over the years the institution has embarked on different measures to deal with the problem “including expelling all students who were involved in such acts”.
Sepiriti also says what makes it difficult to uproot the ill-treatments is the fact that this ritual is a cult.

“When you are not part of it you will not know about what they do unless something like this happens. So it is not that easy to investigate this issue among students,” he says.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says four of the suspects are college old timers aged between 23 and 28 years.
Superintendent Mopeli says it is expected that more suspects will be arrested before the end of this week.

It is not yet known how many newcomers were ill-treated over the weekend but the police believe many more could have been injured on that fateful night.
The school and the police believe that Mositi was forced to ‘drain’ the whole Mohokare River by drinking its waters.
According to insiders, new students are forced to drink the water as part of their initiation into the secret gang.

The newcomers are forced to stand in the river and drink the water “until the river is drained” – which is impossible.
When they tire of the drink, they are ordered to get out.
At the opening of the new academic year, the newcomers are often seen together with the older students singing violence-inspired famo songs called makhele at the college gate.
These songs glorify violence and urge them to defend themselves against attack from anyone.

In most cases, the songs liken the singers to vicious wild animals such as lions, leopards, eagles and falcons.
The songs also promote the love of weapons by associating real men with possession of guns and spears.
They also sing about defying authority.

In the past 10 years at least six newcomers have died at the hands of the thugs.
A third year student who spoke on condition of anonymity says the gang is joined voluntarily by the students who take the oath of secrecy.
One of its important rules is that wherever they will work they will selectively create employment opportunities for their members.
“It is so bad if you have not undergone the treatment because you are likely to spend years without any job after completing school,” he says.

“They will simply tell you that you are a woman, a sissy, because you have not drunk the Mohokare waters, you have not attempted to drain the river,” he says.
Even some government tenders could be channelled to “men who drank the water”.

The man says it is frightening because even some of the college lecturers, the police, soldiers, senior government officials and prominent businessmen are members of the group.
“Even if you report to the police, chances are your case will be handled by a member of the group.”
The gang is said to predate 2009 when the first newcomer was killed during initiation and since then the college management has made frantic efforts to stop the practice but all has been in vain.
The college spokesperson Hlomohang Majara says they hold induction courses for the newcomers every year when the school reopens.

“We want them to avoid things such as this one,” Majara says.
“It is unfortunate that we have lost a first year student,” she says.

She says the message that the old timers had taken the new ones to the river and were assaulting them got to her at around 9pm on Friday.
“The message was delivered by one of the participants who were part of that unfortunate act of forcing the newcomers to drink water in the river,” she says.
“This is not our culture. We should not call it culture because as a Mosotho, culture is not harmful to anyone.”

Majara is worried that the school is unable to afford safe accommodation to the students where they can stay under the watchful eyes of a hired security company.
“However, we are working together with the police to patrol parts of the river where they do these acts,” she says.
The school is also worried that perpetrators of past killings have not been punished although some of them have been charged with murder.

They have been expelled from the college but that has not been enough to deter those who are still clinging to the culture of violent treatment of the newcomers.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mopeli says the cases are before the courts and soon the law will run its course.
“We have reports from previous years since 2009 and cases are in the courts of law,” Superintendent Mopeli says.
“Investigations are going on,” he says.

“As police, we have to talk to the students. We went there on Thursday and made them aware of the incidents that might unfold,” Mopeli adds.
“It is clear that suspects left their homes with the intention to ill-treat the newcomers.”
He says they have to discuss the matter with all the stakeholders.
“We will go and talk to them again.”

Since 2009, harrowing incidents of how newcomers were killed after torture in the river have rocked the college.
In September 2009 the college had to call off its annual graduation ceremony after a student was beaten to death by former students.
The student was found dead in the school campus.

He was found lying behind the class buildings by his lecturer.
It was suspected that he could have been immersed head first in a bathtub full of water by other students.
The school management then said some students said they saw him coming out of the bathroom naked.

The management said they also learnt that first-year students are stripped naked, forced to stand in a cold shower and to gulp five litres of water.
The management also said some lecturers could be part of the group of tormentors.

Names of the lecturers were given to the management by some students and investigations ensued but until today no lecturer has been fired from the college or brought before any court.
In February 2012 two students were killed and seven suspects were called for questioning and some of them later charged with murder and are awaiting trial out of custody.
Majara says they always make follow ups to the courts of laws about the past incidents.

“All of the cases are pending in the courts of law but as a school it is our wish that perpetrators get their punishment,” she says.
She also says they are going to ask the Ministry of Law to come to their rescue by making sure that such cases are dispensed with quickly to deter other students who may want to continue with this wicked cult.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Suspension was malicious, says Nko

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MASERU – A gunshot wound and an attempted murder charge have not stopped Dr Retšelisitsoe Nko from starting a new fight.

The suspended Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) boss is rolling up his sleeves for what promises to be an epic legal battle to be reinstated.

In an application filed in the High Court this week, Dr Nko argues that the LTDC’s decision to suspend him had a “glaring element of bad faith and malice”.

He says the suspension was procedurally flawed because there was no complainant to instigate it and he was not granted a hearing.

Dr Nko was suspended after he was involved in a shooting incident with guests at an event at a Hillsview guest house on December 27.

He is alleged to have rushed home to take his gun after an argument with some of the guests. Dr Nko and a guest sustained gunshot wounds in the scuffle that ensued.

Reports say the guests were trying to wrestle the gun from Dr Nko when the shots were fired.

The LTDC’s board suspended him two days later, alleging that he had failed to attend an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the incident.

The suspension letter was written by Nonkululeko Zaly who was the chairperson of the LTDC board by virtue of being the principal secretary in the Ministry of Trade.

Zaly, who has since been fired following corruption investigations, also approached the court to force the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to return the assets confiscated during a raid at her house.

Dr Nko, in his court papers, accuses Zaly of usurping the board’s powers to suspend him. He says there was never a board resolution to suspend him.

The extraordinary meeting, he alleges, was a “prearranged dishonest scheme between certain members of the board and social media personnel which were part of the ruse deliberately designed to compromise” his interests.

Dr Nko says the board called him to the 29 December meeting when he was on sick leave and then suspended him without hearing his reasons for failing to attend.

He complains that Zaly wrote his suspension letter on the basis of mere allegations even though she had remained principal secretary and chairperson of the board when the corruption investigations against her were in full swing.

He queries why he was being suspended when Zaly was allowed to hold on to her job.

Zaly appears to have been belligerent when Dr Nko’s lawyers contacted her to query the suspension.

She told the lawyers, in a letter, that their queries were based on misinformation. She also dismissed the lawyer’s request for a record of the board meeting that decided to suspend Dr Nko.

“We are therefore not going to honour any of your demands and if your client is not satisfied, he is free to approach any appropriate forums to pursue these baseless issues,” Zaly said in her letter.

The lawyers say that response shows that Zaly was hell-bent on suspending their client.

Dr Nko wants the High Court to order the LTDC board to reverse the suspension, stop his imminent disciplinary proceedings and release the records of its December 29 meeting.

He also says the board is already conducting investigations on the incident to use as evidence against him in the disciplinary hearing.

Staff Reporter

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thepost columnist wins award

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Maseru – Two scholars associated with the National University of Lesotho have been awarded the 2022 Thomas Pringle prize for the best literary article published the previous year.

Chris Dunton, who is a columnist for thepost, and Lerato Masiea have won the prize, which is awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa, for their article “Between rocks and hard places: the controversial career of A.S. Mopeli-Paulus,” which was published by thepost.

Dunton was previously Professor and Dean of Humanities at the NUL and for some years cwrote a column for this newspaper titled “Left Side Story.” Masiea is a lecturer in the NUL’s Department of English and is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of the Free State.

Their prize-winning article was published in the journal English in Africa (vol.48 no.3, 2021, pp47-64). In it the authors explore the writings and life of the South African Mosotho author Mopeli-Paulus.

As their title indicates, their subject was a controversial figure, who degenerated from being an opponent of the apartheid regime (he was, notably, one of the leaders of the Witzieshoek Cattle Rebellion, for which role he was incarcerated in the Pretoria Central Prison) to being a high-ranking accomplice in the Bantustan system.

He was a prolific writer in both English and Sesotho (at one point he referred to the compulsive desire to write as a kind of madness!), his best-known works being the poetry-collection Ho tsamaea ke he bona (from time to time a set-text in Lesotho schools), the novel Blanket Boy’s Moon and the autobiography The World and the Cattle.

Dunton and Masiea’s article covers all his writing, published and unpublished (his papers are freely accessible at the William Cullen Library, Wits University) and is especially concerned with the question of cross-border identity.

Mopeli-Paulus was born in Monontsa, South Africa, in the lost territories—much in the news recently—and remained a South African citizen all his life. The dust-jacket for his first novel, Blanket

Boy’s Moon — which was an international best-seller — carries his name with the tag “Chieftain of Basutoland”, but this was a mistake.

Nonetheless, Mopeli-Paulus identified very strongly with Lesotho and has much to say — some of it fanciful, even spurious — on concepts of Sotho identity.

Dunton and Masiea explore this issue in detail, as it remains a topic of crucial importance even today.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane to boot out PS

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MASERU – THE Sam Matekane government is getting ready to get rid of Principal Secretaries appointed by the previous administration.

First to be axed is Nonkululeko Zaly who Matekane fired as a PS for the Ministry of Trade on January 11.

Zaly, who is challenging the decision, suffered a blow yesterday when the High Court refused to hear her case on an urgent basis.

Her case will now have to join the long queue of hundreds of others pending in the High Court.

Lefu Manyokole has been replaced as the PS of the local government ministry.

The axe is also likely to fall on government secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, and Foreign Affairs principal secretary Thabo Motoko.

The four have been the subject of a graft investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

Their homes and offices have been raided and properties seized as the anti-corruption unit investigates allegations that they received millions in bribes from contractors. The four are likely to be the first to be shown the door.

Indications are however that Matekane could be readying to purge the government of principal secretaries inherited from the previous government. Matekane hints at that impending clean up in his dismissal letter to Zaly.

“You will agree with me that as a Principal Secretary, yours was a political appointment,” Matekane said in the letter that Zaly claimed not to have received in her court papers.

“It follows therefore that the working relationship between yourself and the person appointing you, the Prime Minister in this case, is mainly based on utmost trust and confidence.”

“The trust and confidence components become even more important under the obtaining circumstances where the new government, of which I am the head, has just been installed.”

Matekane told Zaly that his government came with new ideas and policies at the top of which is to fight corruption.

He said he was aware that the DCEO had seized certain documents in Zaly’s possession “evidencing a commission of crime and that you failed to give a satisfactory explanation for your possession of those documents”.

“This has eroded all the trust and confidence I had in you as the Principal Secretary and there is no way I can continue with you at the helm of any government ministry,” Matekane said.

Highly placed sources in the government have told thepost that Zaly’s exit is just the beginning of a shake-up that will continue for the next three months as Matekane seeks to bring in new people he trusts and share his vision with.

Meanwhile, Moahloli Mphaka, the government’s special adviser in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission this week told the High Court that there is a plan to fire him and two other senior officials.

Mphaka made the allegations in an urgent application to force the commission to pay his salary and that of Thabang Thite, and Bahlakoana Manyanye who are also part of the lawsuit. Thite and Manyanye are assistant advisers in the commission.

Mphaka told the court in an affidavit that on December 22 last year, the Natural Resources Minister Mohlomi Moleko told them that his superiors had instructed him to terminate their contracts.

The reason, Mphaka said, is the fact that they are the All Basotho Convention (ABC) members hired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. He said the government’s delay to pay their December salary was meant to frustrate them into resigning.

Nkheli Liphoto

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