MASERU – A rehabilitated gangster says his former comrades are making his life “a living hell” because they believe he has snitched on them.
Thabo* was just 17-years-old when he was detained for rehabilitation by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) last year.
He lives in Motimposo, an infamous village in the northern outskirts of Maseru known for being a haven of criminals from all over the country.
“Whenever I am herding my livestock they come and fight me for things I know nothing about. I have been disciplined (by the army) for being involved in fights,” Thabo said.
He says he no longer takes his livestock outside the family yard for fear of being attacked.
Thabo, whose real name we will not publish for his safety, is a secondary school dropout. He went to the Basotho traditional initiation school before joining, Manomoro.
The name Manomoro derives from the Sesotho foreign noun for number, nomoro, because members identify themselves with certain numbers tattooed on their bodies or marked on their clothes.
The army detained 67 males and two females from different gangs believed to have been involved in various acts of terror in several villages on the outskirts of Maseru city.
They were nabbed by the LDF after pictures of young men and women posing in various positions while brandishing dangerous weapons such as knives circulated on social media platforms in May last year.
The youths were from Naleli, Koalabata, Khubetsoana, Tšenola, Motimposo, Lower and Upper Thamae, and Qoaling and were said to have attacked unsuspecting residents in neighbouring urban villages where they stole items that included cellphones, wallets and money.
The photos had raised fears among the general public. This provoked the army to call for public reports at the Ratjomose barracks, resulting in a swoop that saw many gangsters arrested and detained at the Makoanyane barracks for rehabilitation.
Thabo, now 18, said peer pressure forced him to befriend the gangsters as his cousin and a friend (from Naleli and Koalabata) were also gang members.
He said rehabilitation came at the right time before he could “officially” become one of them.
“I only tagged along to rehabilitation because I was found with those gangsters,” he said, adding that “from that I learnt not to put my friends first as I can still survive on my own”.
“I only associate with them during the day and have quit fighting Koalabata and Khubetsoana gangsters,” Thabo said.
“My team would use fighting sticks, whips and knives and other weapons but I used my hands as I didn’t know the real reason why they fought,” he said.
He recently got married and now wants to work but he is afraid of gangsters.
His mother (name withheld) said he came back from the army rehabilitation programme as a humble young man, although life has been hell since his return.
Gangsters attacked his family and broke windows and furniture at his family house in November last year.
The troubled mother said her nephew was stabbed with a knife during one of the attacks while on his way home and he ran to the family house for protection.
The gangsters followed him and stabbed him again.
“He died in my hands with a knife stuck in his chest,” she said.
The nephew was one of those that got rehabilitated but the gangsters wanted him to rejoin their group. When he refused, they killed him.
Another relative suffered serious head injuries after he was hit with a fighting sticks.
“He is not doing well. He has difficulties speaking and it seems as though he now has mental issues,” she said.
The family sought help from the army and the police but the perpetrators have not been found, she said.
During one of the attacks, she said she tried telling the young men who were abusing them to stop but they said “mokopu o jelelloa le lithootse”, loosely translated to mean “we eat the pumpkin together with its seeds”.
This was a stern warning that they would kill her too if she insisted on stopping them.
During the attack, the woman said she was with children aged between three and five years in the house, and Thabo had not arrived from where he had gone on that day.
The attacking gangsters were looking for him. One of the attackers hit her with a brick on the waist and she is still bruised. One of the children also had her feet bruised.
“They were many. I could not count them,” she said.
“Some of them ran away while others got arrested because I had identified them. But they have been released and the case has not been heard.”
She said last year the same gangsters that were arrested and released stabbed her herdboy with a knife at her gate.
“It’s painful. I am stranded as we are living in fear in our own home and community,” she said, adding that her son and cousin were labeled as army informants.
“We need help! The authorities should take gangsters out of our community.”
One of the attackers, she said, was arrested recently for cutting a villager’s neck.
“I live in sorrow and the blood of the dead (nephew) refuses to wash away,” she said.
“My children are being hunted and the people of the village are afraid to help as these children are said to be gangsters too. Even when I run to community policing members (mahokela) they are afraid to help me,” said the woman whose husband works in South Africa.
Army spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that the family was viciously attacked and one family member killed.
“That was why we released a list of wanted gangsters. It was because of that murder. We arrested some of them and handed them over to the police,” Captain Lekola said.
The woman, however, is afraid that the attacks will continue because gangsters who were arrested have been released and she does not know when the case will be heard.
Another rehabilitated gangster, Mofammere (not his real name), of Qoaling said he had also joined a gang under peer pressure in 2019.
His friend had just returned from the Juvenile Training Centre (JTC) where he was undergoing rehabilitation when he joined a vicious gang called the 28s.
“At first I did not understand what it meant to be a member of the gang,” Mofammere said.
“I just thought it was a group of guys that were hanging out. We would smoke marijuana and scare young girls as they passed near us,” he said.
He said he spent most of the time with the gang members until he dropped out of school while in Form B without his mother’s knowledge.
“I would leave everyday pretending to be going to school and I did it for months until I was seen at Lekhalaneng during school hours by one of our neighbours who sold me out to my mother,” he said.
Mofammere said he thought the gangsters “were the only people who understood me”.
“What made me change my mind was when we robbed a guy of his wallet and mobile phone irrespective of the fact that we all knew him,” he said.
Mofammere said the time spent at the rehabilitation programme at the Makoanyane barracks was worthwhile.
“It changed me for the better because I realised I had the potential to live a good life instead of being a gangster.”
Upon his return home, he said his peers tried in vain to bring him back.
“I resisted despite regular threats from the group. Now I do piece jobs for a living,” he said.
Mofammere refused to talk about the 28s operations as they are already threatening him.
“It will put my life at more risk as I am still trying to close that chapter of my life,” he said.
“They are already threatening me saying I should rejoin them. We had a boss, rules that guided us and our actions gave us positions in the group.”
The community leader for Motimposo, Chief Leloko Theko, says the army’s initiative is important.
Chief Theko said some of the rehabilitated young men came back worse than before.
“They are very aggressive and I ended up banishing some from the village,” he said.
Chief Theko said they threaten each other but not community members.
He said rehabilitation should be an ongoing process as behavioural change is a process.
“Now they mix with those that were not rehabilitated and they end up being threatened or forced to rejoin the gangs,” he said. “They come back to the same problem and they end up committing crimes.”
The community leader for Naleli, Chief Tumelo Mosala, said the community used to have many gangsters who stayed at a rented house but he asked the owner to expel them.
“It’s a bit better now and that operation to rehabilitate them came in handy,” Chief Mosala said.
“Those left behind got arrested for their criminal activities,” he said, recalling the last case of a girl who got arrested for attempting to kill her grandmother. “Luckily, her grandmother survived.”
Chieftainess ’Makhomo Makoanyane of Koalabata said the community was living in constant fear due to the marauding gangs.
“No one felt safe, but now things are better after some were taken for rehabilitation,” Chieftainess Makoanyane said.
“They would kill each other and not even care. The programme has proven to be helpful.”
One of the counsellors who took part in counselling the youths, Mahlape Moremoholo of Khanya Consultancy, said the young men were driven by peer pressure.
Others, Moremoholo said, were driven by poverty, orphanhood or not staying with their parents as some were staying with their grandmothers or friends.
“Some of them didn’t even have an idea what these groups were all about,” Moremoholo said.
“They thought they would have strength and be able to fight for themselves. Unfortunately, they became gangsters fighting with others from nearby villages,” she said.
“They learnt what was expected of them after joining and that their actions would give them promotion to higher ranks in the gangs.”
Moremoholo said they saw it as the only means of survival and once one joins, “it’s forever binding as they would even have tattooed their bodies as a reminder of who they have become”.
She said parents should know their children’s friends and their lives in general because some joined to avoid being bullied.
“They wanted protection,” she said.
Captain Lekola said the army’s initial plan was to be “tough” on the youths but after the interviews it was realised that “they had upbringing problems”.
“The LDF Commander opted for the rehabilitation exercise,” he said.
However, he said after rehabilitation some are being threatened.
“A strong connection with them is required to monitor them. We still check how they are coping after rehabilitation.”
Captain Lekola appealed to parents to go back to the old golden days when raising a child was a project for the entire village.
“They need serious guidance not only from their parents but from the public as a whole.”
He said the military often receives calls from parents asking for intervention as their children would be unruly and disrespectful.
He said following the rehabilitation, the army saw a need to be proactive and raise awareness against gangsterism in schools.
So far, the army has covered easily accessible schools in Mafeteng, Maseru, Leribe, Quthing, Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong.
“This initiative has opened a lot of students’ minds and they are now excited about the future. Now we get invitations from other schools.”
Lawyer in trouble
A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.
It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.
Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.
Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.
According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.
The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.
During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.
His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.
Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.
He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.
Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.
Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.
Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.
Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.
He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.
The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.
Trio in court for killing ‘witches’
THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.
Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.
They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.
The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.
Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.
Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.
He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.
“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.
He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.
They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.
Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.
He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.
Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.
He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.
Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.
He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.
“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.
He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.
Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.
The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.
Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.
“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.
“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.
He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.
Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.
He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.
The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.
“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.
Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.
He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.
Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.
He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.
“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”
He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.
Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.
He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.
Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.
“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.
The case continues.
Opposition fights back
THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.
Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.
But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.
The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.
Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.
Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.
It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.
The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.
The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.
“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.
“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”
“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”
The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.
The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.
“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.
He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.
“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.
“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”
He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.
“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.
Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.
“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.
Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.
“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.
“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”
The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.
The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.
Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.
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