ALONGSIDE the famous Mokorotlo hat, Maluti beer, the iconic Thaba Bosiu mountain and the Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong, Famo music is one of the recognisable brands from Lesotho.
The catchy songs, sung to the accompaniment of the accordion, have held many spellbound, including politicians who have sought to capitalise on the fame of the genre by giving Famo musicians positions of influence within their parties.
But it is not always innocuous, joyful song and dance. Famo musicians have over the years been involved in deadly gang wars. Their fights have taken a huge toll on victims including police officers, soldiers and ordinary people. Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and the security agencies have even branded them a national security threat.
Against this background, the Lesotho Times (LT)’s Political Editor ’Marafaele Mohloboli and the Special Assignments Editor, Bongiwe Zihlangu, this week engaged one of the Famo factions led by Sarele Sello. Also known as Lehlanya (the mad man), Mr Sello said he and his gang had turned over a new leaf and called on the nation to forgive them and embrace them as they reintegrate back into society.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
LT: Most Basotho love Famo music. But they are scared of you because of the violence and rampant killings that have allegedly been committed by rival Famo gangs over the years. What is your take on this?
Sello: We are human and we experience hurt like everyone else. For the longest time, Basotho have likened us to wild animals, regarded us as good-for-nothing criminals. That can be emotionally draining, leaving us distraught because we are also human. As a result, we, as members of Khosi Mokata’s Terene faction, have resolved that we have to reintegrate back into society.
We had to rethink our conduct and think of ways of relating more amicably with people outside our circles. Covid-19 and related challenges had a lot to do with our decision. The whole nation was ambushed by this deadly disease which has brought lives to a standstill, killing parents and rendering children orphans.
Covid-19 only worsened a national crisis that had been created by our Famo gang wars. We want to make things right with fellow Basotho and we resolved that the only way we could compensate our people for the damage we have caused over the years would be to render our assistance to the marginalised and downtrodden. These include orphaned children and others who experienced loss one way or the other due to the Famo gang wars. We have already started assisting kids of different ages.
Some people might think that we are hypocrites; wolves in sheep skins. However, we made a pact with God to right our wrongs and when you make such a pact, you don’t take it lightly. It is a commitment we have made and we intend to honour it. God is with us and he walks with us. We will be extending a helping hand throughout the country, for as long as God allows it.
As the old adage goes, Rome was not built in a day. We promise that over time we will do our best to ensure that our assistance reaches all those who deserve it. When we started helping kids at Liphakoeng, Basotho didn’t take us seriously and many thought we were just showing off. From there we went to Matelile and built a school. It was then that people started noticing. Now they call us the government.
It is very important to stress that in all our charity work, we are apolitical. Our focus is on ensuring that our King’s people have a better life. People know me and the political party I am affiliated to (ABC). But I do not wear that on my sleeve. If I were to do that it would have a negative impact on the work we are doing and the message of love we are spreading.
LT: But you can’t just expect everything to be forgiven just like that. You can’t just expect people to suddenly forget all the suffering they have endured at your hands and your rivals.
Sello: We understand that forgiveness might take long. I realise that it is not going to be easy for Basotho to forgive us just because we ask.
But we have to start somewhere and that’s why we are pleading with Basotho to forgive us. We ask that they forgive us for all the wrongs. We know that it is not going to be easy and that we may never rectify all the wrongs. All the same, we ask for their forgiveness.
It will take time but we understand. Even members of the security forces are closely watching us. We undertake to live up to the promises we have been making. We ask that the security forces trust that we are genuine. We need to remove this dark cloud hovering over us because we are starting on a clean slate. We are mindful not to put a foot wrong because any mistake we make can destroy all our hard work so far.
LT: Do you even know the specific families that you wronged and have you specifically approached them for forgiveness?
Sello: We haven’t approached individuals or families. One issue that has to be taken into consideration is that there have been scores of Famo gangs committing atrocities and it would be difficult to say who exactly we wronged. However, we have resolved to let our actions speak for us. As a sign of our remorse, we are extending a helping hand to various communities through our philanthropic work.
I am also appealing to the security agencies to be meticulous in their investigations of the rampant killings. This is necessary to ensure that innocent people are not punished for crimes they didn’t commit.
I ask that they be vigilant and not look in one direction (of Famo gangs). For example, I was accused of killing someone in Mafeteng and the police were on my tail. It only became evident recently I was not at all involved in the murder but the police are yet to apologise to me.
LT: Various government leaders including Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and the police have branded you a national security threat. Yet we see you actively involved in politics and only this weekend, you were at the ABC rally. Are you a security threat? What do you benefit from politics?
Sello: We are not a security threat. We don’t get involved in politics to fight politicians’ battles. We were only at the (weekend ABC) rally (in Qeme, Maseru) because like everyone else, we have a right to freely associate. We have the right to have political affiliations.
We need to bring peace to Lesotho and we want every Mosotho to benefit from it. We were recently invited to Matelile, Eastern Cape, by its principal chief, along with other Famo groups. But for reasons unknown to us, only our group showed up while the rest shunned the meeting.
We take such invitations to discuss community welfare issues very seriously. Even in our political involvement, we don’t benefit anything. We are not interested in gaining anything for ourselves. Our expectation is that when the political party we support wins the elections and forms government, we are able to work with them to focus on improving the lives of the disadvantaged.
I am very familiar with politics. I have been there and seen it all. I’d never look for a job in government because I know how these things work. I used to be a minister’s chauffeur and I never want to walk such corridors again. Politicians have honeyed tongues and they can entice with nice stories. But we are not looking for anything for ourselves. All that we ask is that when they win the elections and form government, they create jobs and not ignore the people. We have our support base which we appeal to to give our party their votes. In turn, the politicians have to work for the betterment of all our people.