The ‘crazy’ story of Puseletso Seema
QEME – PUSELETSO Seema is an eloquent storyteller. You hear that in the more than 300 songs she has composed in a career of over three decades.
But ask her to tell the story of her life and that confidence is instantly replaced by sorrow. That’s because hers is a painful tale to tell. Between it tears well her cheeks. The flashy smile that usually lights up her face vanishes as she narrates how her own people rejected her, how she lost three “husbands” and how she survived a gangster lifestyle. “Get me my towel,” she instructs her grandchild when the tears she has been pushing back start oozing like a flooded river. It’s as if she must cry in order to keep telling the story. She pours out the harrowing details, taking long pauses as if her memory is failing her or she is just trying hard not to remember those sad moments of her life.
Your heart sinks as she searches for the words to describe the gruelling life she has lived. Indeed, she has lived rough from the moment she was born in 1949 in New Claire’s in South Africa. The daughter of a maid who used to hop from one white family to the next to eke a living, Puseletso found herself shipped off to live with an aunt who she recalls as “mean-spirited and abrasive”.
When she was old enough to understand emotion she concluded that her aunt “hated” her.
In the family kraal were cattle her aunt decided were Puseletso’s business. So when other girls were fetching water, cooking, cleaning dishes and washing clothes Puseletso was consigned to the veld to tend the cattle. To a certain degree it made sense that she had to do a boy’s job. “After all”, she says, “my mother did not have a son so I was her son”.
There is a type of loneliness that comes with being a shepherd: cows don’t talk. In the pastures you are your own companion. All you do is follow the animals in silence (if you are not followed as happens to masterful shepherds). Sometimes you whistle and at times you hum a tune. At some moments you rescind deep into your thoughts as you watch the repetitive activity of cows mowing the grass.
When it becomes too much sleep steals you, only to be rudely startled by the fear of having lost the family’s prized possessions. Puseletso found that singing keeps boredom and loneliness at bay. With time she also discovered that the veld inspired her to compose songs, they came in times of sorrow and happiness.
But when she tried to sing those songs to her relatives in her aunt’s home people frowned.
“Music was for losers. For hopeless people,” she says of that time. The contempt for her musical talent was worse because “at that time women just did not go into music”. Home was where women belonged to raise children, obey husbands and keep the houses clean. It was taboo for women to go into music.
Puseletso was therefore going against the grain: a deviant trying to upend a social order established before she was even an idea. Yet if her love for music was considered out of synch with societal expectations what happened when she was 15 showed her that those who did not live by the rules were severely punished.
She had become pregnant after her boyfriend forced himself on her. The days of criminalising statutory rape were still decades away so no one listened when she tried to report the incident. The backlash from her family was immense. She had brought it on herself, the family said. Had she not been obsessed with singing none of this would have happened, others said. Unwanted by her family, Puseletso eloped with the man who at that time was working at a mine in KwaZulu-Natal.
They crossed the border and settled in Mahobong, her new husband’s home. Her first child, a boy, would die in infancy. A girl followed a few years later. Then when she was expecting her second daughter in 1970 her husband died.
Thus began the struggle that would dominate her adulthood. Her in-laws kicked her out of her home. And when she sought sanctuary back in New Claire the reception was hostile.
The child who had disgraced the family by falling pregnant and eloping was not welcome. “I was on my own, just me and my children”. The decision she made after she was kicked out of New Claire would forever haunt her. She moved to the mines where she made a living by selling beer and food.
“If I had a choice I would not have gone there because it was a terrible place to be,” she says. To keep her business running Puseletso joined one of the gangs that ‘ran’ the compounds around the mine. With that move she had taken sides in the vicious gang wars. Although Puseletso doesn’t try to rationalise that drastic decision she admits that apart from being a survival strategy the gangs also attracted her in a certain way.
“I grew up without a family so when I met the gangsters they became my family”.
A dangerous ‘family’ it was. Her family in New Claire loathed her but at no point did they try to harm her. Her in-laws in Mahobong kicked her out of her matrimonial home but did not try to hurt her. The gang she called ‘family’ gave her ‘love’ but put her in the line of danger. To survive the wars she had to learn to use a gun. She had become a thug.
“I have never seen so much death in my entire life,” she says of the numerous times her gang was ambushed by rivals. “I became desensitised to death because I had seen so many dead people, so much blood.” She starts weeping again. The children in the yard are startled. “It is only now that I realise that when God says you will toil you will toil till the very end.”“But God protected me because I have been living and I am still living. Even my children have since died and I am left with their children.”
When her gangster husband was arrested for murder she married another “boss”.
“I should have left that life earlier but I had come to enjoy it. When I spurred them (gangs) to fight I would tell them that if a man is a coward he would not control me even if he was tall because I am used to being controlled by force”. Still even in this tumultuous period she found time to launch her music career. It is the life in the gangs that inspired some of her early songs.
There were songs that came to her when she was mourning fallen ‘comrades’ and some that came when she was enjoying the living. When her brother died under mysterious circumstances in 1980 in Orlando music helped her grieve. The official report said her brother had been hit by a train but she was never sure because this was during the Apartheid era of violence and the police were notorious for paying lip service to black-on-black murders.
A few months later Puseletso and her group, Tau ea Linare, entered a studio in downtown Johannesburg to record her first album. Midway through the recording session words started coming to her mind. “People I loved and trusted have left me/ there was a cloudy mist on the mountain top/ it’s not mist but the heart of my brother/my mother Mazakie do not cry they will come back. / Now that my brother has gone I too may go as well.”
It became a hit song that propelled her in the male-dominated famo music genre.
Her exit from the gangs started sooner after her third husband died. It was a brutal death, she says. A rival gang ambushed him, bundled him into a car and took him to a Germiston cemetery where they pumped several bullets into him. “I was shocked. I had grown to love that man. I could not take it.” Still she lingered a little longer until another ‘Boss’ she had followed for years was killed.
“That is when I said enough is enough. Some of the gang members wanted to marry me but I said no, never”. She packed her backs and came back to her father’s village in Mahareng, in Mafeteng. “I wanted a fresh start. So I started rebuilding my father’s house.” Yet misery would not leave her. Her home was robbed time and again until she moved. Prince Bereng Seeiso, the Principal Chief of Matsieng, allowed her to stay at one of his properties in Qeme.
Like almost every famo artiste Puseletso has a gripe with recording companies which she describes as “thieves”. Looking around her house it is hard to even contemplate that this is a woman who has recorded more that 32 albums. Hers is not a wretched life but it could have been better, she says. “Because most of us famo artistes are not educated we end up being cheated. Only those who can speak and write English get what they really deserve. I was robbed.”It is that plight that inspired her hit song Mofata Seliba in which she laments how other people were getting rich off her talent while she starved.
He who digs a well does not drink from it, she sang in lyrics directed at recording companies, producers, promoters and hawkers of pirated music. “Of all these parasites it is those who pirate my music that anger me the most,” she says. It is not hard to understand why she feels that way. When the recording companies and producers don’t pay her she rationalises it by blaming herself for not reading the small print when she signed the contract.
She says she can live with that because she has come to accept that royalties never get paid. If they do come they are in pittances paid in dribs and drabs. One day in the early 1980s she walked into a studio to demand her royalties and the manager reached into his pocket to pull out a handful of coins. It was for her train fare back home, he said to her. Eighteen cents! On another occasion she was paid a few Rands which the producer said was for bus transport and food.
On another day a clerk at a recording company asked if she had received the share of the prize money for an award. “I was shocked that I had won an award and my producer had kept the money for himself. He paid me after a fight.” She says at least the promoters put something on the table and tell you to take it or leave it. “You take the small money because you are hungry.” “But those who pirate our music are blatant thieves. They treat us like donkeys they can just ride and then whip.”
In recent years Puseletso has started paying for her own recording sessions to cut out the middlemen. She then takes the master copy for duplication and sells directly to the public and music shops. “I ran away from the recording companies and producers but now the pirates are coming after me from all angles. It’s evil.” Puseletso says in recent months she has felt her health deteriorating. What has kept her going are the children in her yard whom she says she lives for. Only three of the eight children in her home are her grandchildren.
Three boys — all under ten — used to live with their mother at a nearby homestead until she vanished. Puseletso took them in six years ago and their mother has not returned since then.
“This little boy standing next to me is a son to my former band member who I have not seen in years,” she says. “It is these little souls that I live for. I want to be remembered as a person who helped other people in kind”. A few years ago Puseletso had a life-changing encounter with ’Malichaba Lekhoaba, the owner of Harvest FM.
“She taught me to see music as a business. She taught me to negotiate,” Puseletso says of Lekhoaba whom she now describes as an adviser and a friend. Through Lekhoaba’s help she bought a car and is just about to complete her first house, just a kilometre away from where she is staying. “Before I met her I would use every cent I get from performances to buy food and clothes for my children. She showed me another way of doing things”. Her music has also begun to flourish.
She wants people to see her as an aunt who advises and mediates in family disputes. She plays both roles through her music. In Kea ikokobetsa she advises women to humble themselves. She sings: “I humble myself here at my own house. /Even when I arrive here at home drunk I still humble myself/When I arrive at night I go to my children and humble myself to ask for forgiveness”.
“I did not mean that women should subjugate themselves but rather that they should respect their husbands and families,” she explains. “Women why do you hate me/I have not taken your husbands /I have taken an unripe pumpkin (hobo)/ I have washed him for myself,” she says in Basali le Ntlhoile ke’ng? “I just had to sing those words because many women were self- conscious when they saw me. They looked at me and said I do not have a husband so I could take theirs. Women should be self-assured.”
The beauty queen of Lesotho
MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.
It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.
“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.
“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.
Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.
“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.
Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.
“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.
“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.
“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.
Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.
“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.
Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.
“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.
Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.
“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.
“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.
Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.
“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.
“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.
One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.
“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.
The stock-theft menace
MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.
If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.
That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.
Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.
Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.
These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.
The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.
Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.
Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.
S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.
But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.
Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.
S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.
In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.
These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.
Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.
The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.
S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.
After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.
The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.
He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.
Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.
He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.
To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.
Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.
“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.
He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.
Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.
He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.
He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.
When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.
S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.
S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.
He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.
He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.
“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.
He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.
“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.
He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.
Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.
He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.
He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.
“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.
He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.
He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.
“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.
And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.
The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.
A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.
It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.
According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.
It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.
And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.
Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.
In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.
This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.
The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.
“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”
The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.
It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.
And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.
Matekane to launch microchip project
MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.
The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.
Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.
“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.
He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.
The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.
That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.
The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.
The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.
The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.
Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.
The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.
The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.
Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.
The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.
Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.
Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel
The beauty queen of Lesotho
The stock-theft menace
Purge of was long overdue
Matekane to launch microchip project
We need to hear of redemption plans
Varieties of African women’s poetry
We’re stuck to our old habits
Shao resigns from SR
Big blow for Sekata
Machonisa on fire
Mahao murder witness grilled
The queen Mampara
Lephema spooks Muslims
Matekane whips dissenters into line
LEC to switch off households over debts
Weekly Police Report
I made Matekane rich: Moleleki
The middle class have failed us
DCEO raids PS’
No peace plan, no economic recovery
Musician dumps ABC
Reforms: time to change hearts and minds
We have lost our moral indignation
MP dumps party, joins Matekane
Coalition politics are bad for development
MP charged with stock-theft
Literature and reality
Row over army secrets
The ABC blew its chance
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Mahao o seboko ka ho phahama hoa litheko
Contract Farming Launch
7,5 Million Dollars For Needy Children
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Weekly Police Report
Mahao o re masholu a e ts’oareloe
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