As 5 people – including prominent lawyer – killed in just 5 days.
LESOTHO has once again been rocked by five gruesome murders in as many days. In what has become a worrying trend for the crime-ridden country, Famo gangsters and police officers stand accused of murdering some of the victims.
The victims include prominent lawyer, Elliot Sello, who was gunned down by suspected Famo gangsters in Ha Mokhalinyane, Maseru, on Saturday evening. Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said their preliminary investigations indicated that Advocate Sello had been murdered by Famo gangsters who were angered by the fact that he was representing members of a rival gang in an unspecified criminal case. He said the lawyer was shot dead together with his neighbour, Tanki Motseko.
On the same day, a police officer, only identified as Rouling Matobo allegedly shot and killed his cousin, Tlotlo Matobo, in Thabana-Morena, Mafeteng. Another unidentified man was also shot and killed by unknown gunmen on the same day at, Matelile, Mafeteng.
Five days before that on 10 February 2022, an unidentified Ha Tšolo, Maseru, man was gunned by unknown assailants at about 9.30 pm.
Commenting on the killings, Senior Supt Mopeli said, “the 49-year-old Advocate Sello was shot together with two other men”.
“One of the men was his friend and the other was his neighbour. They were rushed to hospital, but unfortunately, he (Sello) and the neighbour didn’t make it. It is more saddening that the neighbour was shot after he had tried to come to the rescue of Sello and his friend.
“No one has been arrested yet in connection with this matter. We are still investigating but preliminary findings indicate that Advocate Sello could have been killed for doing his job by representing clients who are members of a Famo gang,” Senior Supt Mopeli said.
A family friend, who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said this was a double tragedy for the Sello family as they had just buried the slain lawyer’s mother earlier that day.
He said Adv Sello was conversing with his friend that evening when unknown gunmen stormed his house and sprayed them with gunfire. Adv Sello’s neighbour, who had come their assistance, was also shot and killed.
“We are still in shock and we are fearing for our lives,” the family friend said in an interview this week.
“Sello’s only sin was that he was a legal representative of some of the Famo gangsters in cases in which they have killed their rivals. He was only doing his job without discriminating and he shouldn’t have been murdered for that.
“It is obvious that there are a lot of illegal guns in our midst and the government isn’t doing enough to deal with the problem. What is even scarier is that the police station (Mokhalinyane Police Post) is not far from this place. Even the army has a camp nearby as this area has been hit hard by Famo-related killings over the years.
“Now, if the presence of the army can’t deter such killings, then we are all going to die,” the family friend added.
The latest killings highlight the ever escalating crime rates in Lesotho which have catapulted the Kingdom into Africa’s murder capital and the sixth most homicidal nation in the World Population Review’s world murder rankings for 2021.
Famo gangsters have been singled out by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro as being partly responsible for the crime wave. The Famo gangsters have also been cited in several intelligence reports as “terrorists” who have become a huge national security threat. Only last week Police Senior Inspector ,Mpheheletse Khatleli, told the High Court that the Famo gangsters had become a massive security threat as they were responsible for the rampant killings of members of the security agencies and ordinary people. Snr Inspector Khatleli said this while testifying in the trial of 10 soldiers accused of murdering three civilians in May 2017 and dumping their bodies into Mohale Dam.
The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after the trio had just been released from police custody where they had been detained in connection with a shooting incident at the Maseru border gate on 13 May 2017.
During cross examination by one of the defense lawyers, Advocate Letuka Molati, Snr Insp Khatleli told the court that during their investigations, the police had discovered that the suspects in the shooting incident, including the deceased, had been members of a Famo gang.
Adv Molati described the Famo gangs as a national security threat and bemoaned that some police and army officers were Famo members to which Snr Insp Khatleli concurred.
Despite their notorious reputation, Famo gangs have carved out spheres of influence within some of the leading political parties. It is said they even sponsor candidates to stand for elections as members of the parties.
They have even been accused of being hired to eliminate political and other rivals.
In one such case, former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, have been accused of hiring the late Famo musician, Rethabile Mokete (who was widely known as Khosi Mosotho Chakela) to murder the ex-premier’s ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane, on 14 June 2017.
According to court papers filed in the High Court in 2020 by Deputy Police Commissioner (DCP) Paseka Mokete, Mr Mokete was one of the hitmen who were allegedly hired by the Thabane couple to kill Lipolelo.
He was named alongside fellow Famo musicians Seabata Sello, Macheli Koeshe, Molefi Matima and Sarele Sello. Sarele has since turned state witness. The Thabanes and their co-accused are set to stand trial for Lipolelo’s murder on 8 March 2022.
Meanwhile, Senior Supt Mopeli said police officer Matobo had been arrested on 14 February 2022 and charged with the murder of his cousin, Tlotlo Matobo, in Thabana-Morena, Mafeteng.
He was charged in the Mafeteng Magistrates’ Court.
Matobo, whose rank was not given, remains in custody awaiting his next court appearance, Senior Supt Mopeli said.
Apart from the Famo gangsters, the police have themselves been fingered in the killings of civilians and other acts of brutality against suspects.
The relationship between the police and the Famo gangs has also come under the spotlight in the past few years. The police have been accused of either being members of Famo gangs or abetting their sinister activities by arming them.
In November 2021, 75 guns were stolen from the Mafeteng Police Station armoury in what was said to be an inside job. Some of these guns are said to have been sold to rampaging Famo gangs largely responsible for the killing sprees in Lesotho and at several illegal mining sites in neighbouring South Africa.
At the time, authoritative police sources told the Lesotho Times that three police officers had confessed to stealing some of the weapons. They confessed to selling some of the guns for as much as M50 000 each to the Famo gang members.
The stealing of the weapons from a major police station, that is supposed to be a cradle for the fight against crime, sent shockwaves across the country. It also renewed questions about the competency levels in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) which has been under the spotlight amid the ever-escalating wave of violent crime across the country. Corruption and high levels of incompetence and lack of professionalism in the LMPS are seen as being at the core of the increasing crime rates in the country.
To date no one has been arrested or charged with the theft of the weapons.
Meanwhile, Famo gangs have continued with the killing sprees. To date, most of their crimes have not been solved. These include the murders of five Rothe, Maseru, women in July 2018. Like many others, the case remains unresolved and more people have been killed since then. That the killings of innocent men, women and children continue with each passing week could be due to the killers believing they will never be brought to account by the inept police force.