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The curse of ritual murders



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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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.

Calvin Motekase

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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.

Majara Molupe

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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

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