MASERU — Peace is what he wanted.
Brutal violence is what abruptly ended his life on Saturday night.
By the time his enemies pumped eight fatal bullets into him Lephatšoe “Selomo” Lebajoa, a popular famo artist, had long been a changed man.
Gone was Selomo “the gangster” who menaced his enemies.
The Selomo who died on Saturday night was a man who strove for peace in a famo music industry that has been rocked by bloody gang fights which have led to the brutal murder of more than 100 artistes in the last two years.
Although Selomo was still a leader of one of the three main famo gangs, Fito, he had begun to preach the gospel of peace and reconciliation.
“People are dying. These fights have to stop,” Selomo once said in an interview with this paper.
He was referring to the escalating violent fight between Seakhi and Terene, the two famo gangs that have been involved in the bloody battles for the past three years.
Selomo had been startled by the number of gruesome murders spewed by the gang fights.
He also appealed to the government to stop the murders.
And when that failed he worked with the police to organise meetings between Seakhi and Terene in an effort to bring peace.
But all that was in vain because the violence only intensified and more artistes were killed.
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On Saturday he became just another statistic in a long list of famo artistes who have been brutally murdered.
His family is still battling to understand why anyone would want their breadwinner dead.
Loved by many for his music as well as his role in seeking to unite famo artistes, Selomo died after unknown gunmen trailed him to Lakeside Hotel where they pumped a hail of bullets into him — eight in all.
According to police reports Selomo was shot by four unknown gunmen who fled the scene immediately.
Acting police spokesperson ’Mantolo Mothibeli said the musician was leaving the hotel when he met his death.
He was riding in an unidentified woman’s car when the attackers started shooting at him.
“The CID (Criminal Investigation Department) got a report on Saturday night that a man had been shot at the Lakeside Hotel gate.
“They found a silver Corolla car with four bullet holes,” Mothibeli said.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing four men fleeing towards the direction of Lower Thamae soon after the shooting.
That is how the “man of peace” Selomo died.
His efforts to bring peace to the famo music industry also died with him.
There are indications that his death could signal the escalation of the violence among the groups.
When the Lesotho Times visited Selomo’s family in Khubetsoana on Tuesday, his father, Seliane Lebajoa, was still in shock.
“Two weeks ago we attended a relative’s funeral together and he seemed to be fine. You can just imagine my shock when I received a call that he had died,” a devastated Lebajoa said.
He said one of Selomo’s friends who had been with him that night told him that there was a man who was “spying” on them as they were watching soccer on television while having drinks in a bar at the hotel.
The friend told him that he informed Selomo about the man but he (Selomo) dismissed him saying that every person was there for their business hence there was no need for them to worry.
“But he said the man persisted to follow their every move. When they went out he was with them.
“At times he pretended to be on the phone. Every now and then he would glance at them and cover his face with his hand making sure they could not recognise him,” the senior Lebajoa said.
The man did not back off until Selomo left in one woman’s car to get his car from a car wash in Khubetsoana where he had left it for cleaning.
Added Lebajoa: “He (the friend) had seen the man walk out of the bar ahead of them. But the man went towards the gate and joined the other three men.
“They then started shooting at the car in which Selomo was a passenger as it drove through the entrance.
“The men ran away and that was the end of my son’s life.
“He was still young. He was born in 1975. We wonder who could have killed him. He had never mentioned to his wife or any of his friends of any clash he could have had with anyone,” the musician’s father said.
The police are baffled too.
This week they could not establish whether Selomo’s murder was linked to the ongoing famo wars but they say investigations are underway.
Most of the people involved in the murder of famo artists are either unknown or if they are known they are still at large.
The police have made some arrests but the wheels of justice have been painfully slow.
Selomo went out of his way to facilitate meetings between members of the two groups in an effort to build good relations.
At one point he personally contacted communications minister Mothetjoa Metsing and appealed to him to intervene.
Artistes like Lephoi Mantša Mohale and Selomo had felt the government was not doing enough to stop the fighting.
“If government was working hard enough to solve these problems the number of artistes who are dying would not be accumulating daily like this,” Selomo commented in one of the interviews he did with this paper.
Mantša, a close friend and colleague of the late Selomo, said it was time the government launched a serious crackdown on gang violence.
“Government should do something about these killers. We cannot stand this violence any longer.
Mafeteng is now like a secluded area where people are just killed mercilessly.
“My heart is hurt by Selomo’s death,” Mantša told the Lesotho Times in a telephone interview on Monday.
He said what was annoying him most was that people who had killed some famo musicians were well known but nothing had been done to question them.
“People have information on the culprits. Some have been arrested only to be released days later,” Mantša said.
Hardly two months ago, three members of warring famo music gangs appeared in court to answer charges of attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms.
This is after they were involved in a shoot-out near Mafeteng Correctional Services in Mafeteng, about 80km south of Maseru.
The Seakhi and Terene gangs have for long been suspected to be at the centre of an orgy of often fatal clashes before police intervened and forced the groups to agree to peaceful co-existence in October.
Before the October ceasefire agreement, war between the two famo rival groups had become as legendary as the music genre itself.
In one incident that provoked police
intervention last year, a rival gang sprayed bullets on people attending a night-vigil of a famo artist who had been shot dead.
Apart from markets and professional jealousies, some critics attribute the violence to offensive lyrics increasingly being used by the famo artists.
In some instances, perpetrators of violence have defended their actions by claiming that they were insulted and mocked in the songs.
Selomo was also a taxi operator and a member of the Maseru Star Taxi Association (MSTA).
The chairman of MSTA, Sekhonyana Mosenene, said they had not only lost a colleague but a brother too.
“Earlier that day (Saturday) I was
with Selomo. We had attended a funeral of our colleague’s relative together and were travelling in my car,” said Mosenene.
Libenyane Mohale who is a backing member in Selomo’s group said he suspected that his death could be associated with the endless fights in the famo music industry.
“He was in the forefront of the fight against these clashes. He fought for peace and justice,” Mohale said.
His death comes a week after a famo music producer, Sello Mohapi, was kidnapped and murdered by unknown people.
Police confirmed the death but could not give full details.
No one has been arrested in connection with the two murders.
Selomo’s murder could signify a return to the dark days when this popular music genre became associated more with violence than merriment.
A date for his burial is yet to be announced.
He is survived by his wife ’Matankiso Lebajoa and two children.
The Lokolla sephali sa ka (Unleash my whip) and Thelerina-hit maker led the Fito gang which was trying to bring peace between the Seakhi and Terene warring groups.