MASERU — The conviction of two men who were accused of conspiring to kill two popular famo musicians and two radio presenters has lifted the lid on the violent underworld of the famo music industry.
The two men, Puseletso Motsoaole, 28, and Thabiso Roeli, 20, were sentenced to four years each for conspiring to kill and one year each for illegal possession of firearms.
Top on their hit were two artists — Lephat’soe Lebajoa who is popularly known as Selomo and Sarele Sello, a famo artist known as Lehlanya.
Radio presenters Vincent Nthoba of the Roman Catholic Radio and PC FM’s Thabang Moliko were also targeted for elimination.
The two men started doing their prison time on Monday but what they said during their trial has helped lift the veil on the violent world of the famo music industry.
The men told the court that they were acting at the instruction of Bereng Majoro, a popular famo musician also known as Lekase.
They said Lekase told them that they should first kill the four men before they could be initiated into his gang.
Selomo and Sello were targeted because they belong to rival gangs, they said. The two presenters were to be eliminated because they were allegedly promoting music from groups that are rivals to Lekase’s group.
If Motsoaole and Roeli had succeed in their mission that would have brought the number of people killed in famo-related murders to about 20.
Those close to the music industry say there are three main groups in the famo industry.
Selomo, the man who was the chief target on Motsoaole and Roeli’s hit-list, leads a group called Fito.
Lekase who is alleged to have sent the two hit men heads a group called Seakhi.
Rethabile Mokete, an artist also known as Mosotho Chakela and who lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa, leads a group called Terene.
Although these gangs are mainly based in Lesotho their membership spreads into South Africa.
Within these groups there are different camps and smaller factions that are headed by ambitious members of the rabble.
There are other smaller groups that have mushroomed over the years but have no direct links to these three main groups.
In some cases these smaller groups have cobbled up loose alliances with the bigger groups.
Those close to the industry say the groups were formed with noble intentions of providing support to the famo musicians.
The idea, they say, was that the musicians would help each other in times of sickness and death.
The groups were meant for business purposes as well.
But as competition for a shrinking famo market heightened among the musicians enmity developed between the groups.
Soon they were battling for almost everything from radio airplay, recording time and influence on the market.
It turned nasty.
It is difficult to establish whether the groups are indeed behind most of the killings.
There is also the huge challenge of separating gang murders from just normal murders.
Yet there seems to be a trend where mostly group members seem to be the main target of the murders.
Famo musicians seem to have been the target of most of the murders over the past year.
Police officers who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week and others who have been in contact with the paper since December last year when it started following the story say over 15 famo artists or group members have been killed over the past 10 months.
Most of the murders were in Mafeteng, a district from which most of the famo artists come from.
It is in this district where popular famo musician Mosoketsi Maketsi who was widely known as Rants’o was shot dead in September last year.
The gunman who was later arrested allegedly opened fire at Rants’o just after the musician disembarked from a minibus in Thabana-Morena.
Police sources say Rantso’s murder could have been linked to the gang war in the famo industry.
In November two brothers, Motsamai and Mokete Sekoai who were famo artists, were gunned down in Mafeteng’s Kolo village.
On December 31 last year Tumelo Shea was shot dead at his home in Mafeteng.
In what is suspected to have been an act of retaliation another musician known as Rakhaphu was gunned down a week later.
In February a musician called Pazuka was also shot dead in Johannesburg, South Africa, and his friends say his murder was part of the gang wars.
A month earlier Rakhapu’s cousin had also been murdered.
Police sources say there have been a number of murders of people related to famo artists during the same time.
A few months after the murder of Rants’o Chief Ntja Posholi from Majakeneng in Mafeteng told mourners at a funeral of one villager who had also been murdered that the killings were getting out of control.
In a startling revelation Chief Posholi told the mourners that the murders were unlikely to end because he had seen a hit-list of people who were targeted for elimination.
He said he had seen his name on that list.
A few weeks later Chief Posholi was shot dead by an unknown gunman near his home.
Some of the group leaders say they are alarmed by the murders.
Selomo who leads the group Fito says his group has always been pushing for peace.
He says when the murder of famo musicians started last year he approached Police Commissioner Malejaka Letooane.
“We told her that people were dying and she said they were working on the issue,” Selomo said.
“But since then more musicians have been killed.”
Selomo also says he approached a government minister he however refused to name.
“I told him that musicians were dying in Mafeteng.”
“I don’t know who are the killers and what their motive is. What I know is that musicians, their relatives and friends are being killed,” he says.
Selomo says he was surprised when police called him on Monday to inform him that two men had been arrested for conspiracy to kill him.
“To my knowledge I have never had any clashes with Lekase who the police say had sent those people to kill me.”
Yet this is not the first time that he had been targeted.
“I have been receiving reports that I was going to be killed and some of those threats are known to the police.”
Chakela told the Lesotho Times three months ago that he was also worried about the murder of famo musicians.
He said it was a “pity” that that some people were pointing fingers at him as the leader of Terene.
He said Terene was a huge organisation with thousands of members scattered across South Africa and Lesotho.
He however said he cannot rule out that some of the members might commit the murders in “solidarity”.
This is not the first time that famo musicians have been targeted for murder.
Five years ago famo music related gangs went into a killing spree.
Thomas Thabane who was then home affairs minister had to intervene to help stop the killings.
Thabane said he talked to many of the group members individually to make sure that they understood his message of peace.
“I attended a funeral of one of them and when I saw them I just told myself that I would talk to them one by one,” Thabane said.
“To me, they were Basotho young men who just needed someone to give them good direction and I was there to do just that,” he said.
Thabane said the likes of a well-known taxi operator Thabiso Tsosane and the then Mafeteng police commander ’Mampho Mokhele had already played an important role in trying to unite the warring groups.
Then, Thabane says, Selomo and Chakela’s groups were the ones fighting each other.
“They are now friends.”
Police say they have not been treating the killings like co-ordinated gang murders.
“To us murder is just murder and we investigate it as such,” says police spokesperson Masupha Masupha.
“He said police did not know whether the murders in Mafeteng were related to famo music gangs or not.”