A family’s tears for dead son

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  • nation joins family and NUL fraternity in mourning student’s killing,
  • NUL students relieve torture ordeal at the hands of police.

’Marafaele Mohloboli

WHEN 22-year-old Kopano Makutoane left his Lower Moyeni home in Quthing, some three years ago for the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in Roma, he was following his dream to one day pursue a rewarding career as an environmental health practitioner.

Never did he imagine that just two years into his studies, the candle of his life would be snuffed out by some rogue police officers on 16 June 2022.

Instead of counting down the months and years to his graduation, Kopane’s parents are now counting down the days and weeks to his funeral.

His flower was cut down when he was just about to blossom. His light was extinguished never to shine again; his body lies cold in a morgue, waiting to be interred six feet deep in the bowels of Lower Moyeni.

All that Makutoane and the other students wanted when they went onto the streets to protest last Thursday was their full monthly stipends from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).

Instead, they were met with gunfire as police sought to disperse rowdy students. Others were lucky to escape unscathed, scores survived albeit with painful wounds.

Makutoane was not so lucky.

Fellow students say his face was disfigured by several bullets. Some went through the right eye and one perforated his main neck artery. Other bullets are said to have been lodged in his head.

It is difficult to see how he could have survived what seemed to be a determined onslaught against his life.

Yesterday, Makutoane’s grief-stricken father, Lazarus Makutoane, told this publication that he was unable to say much because he was still trying to come to terms with his son’s tragic death.

“I’m extremely pained by the untimely passing of my son as I was expecting a lot from him.

“For now, I’m not going to say much because it’s all so confusing especially when so much is being said on social media. As a family, we’ve decided not to say anything right now lest we say things we will later regret,” Mr Makutoane said.

He said for now they were focusing on the funeral preparations. They are yet to set a date for the burial.

“We haven’t been able to mourn properly because many people are coming to convey their condolences. In due course, we will announce the burial date,” Mr Makutoane added.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Police and Public Safety Minister, Lepota Sekola, visited the Makutoane home to pass their condolences.

Addressing the family, Mr Sekola said they had not only come to pass their condolences but also to express their regret over the incident that has angered the nation and attracted widespread condemnation of the police.

“We are here to offer our condolences to the family. We are also here to express our deepest regrets for the actions of your servants (police) under my leadership. Ntate Makutoane and family, I wish to inform you that the prime minister has established a team to probe your son’s death. The team will give him a report of what transpired and we will contact you afterwards to explain what happened leading to your son’s death,” Mr Sekola said.

He said the government was ashamed of the incident and it took full responsibility for the police officers’ actions.

On his part, Dr Majoro said, “It is surprising that live ammunition was used by members of LMPS during the strike. I promise the family and Basotho that the truth will be known soon.”

Some members of the public have been sharing on social media, the supposed names of the police officers who were called in to quell the NUL demonstrations last week.

Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said he had seen the names of the officers that had been shared on social media platforms.

“Those may be the correct names of officers at the protests but it doesn’t mean that they are the ones who were responsible for what happened (Makutoane’s death). Investigations into the incident are still underway. Legal measures will be taken against those found guilty,” Senior Supt Mopeli said.

Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli yesterday said he was yet to visit the family to convey his condolences.

“I haven’t been to the home of the deceased. However, I will visit as soon as the family gives me a date.

“This incident has really hit me hard, not because it could be used against me but because a life has been unnecessarily lost. I would like to assure the nation that this matter will not just end like that. We will do everything in our power to ensure justice prevails. All those found culpable after our investigations will face the wrath of the law. This much I promise,” Commissioner Molibeli said.

Several other students were injured during the strike and taken to the nearby St Josephs hospital.

One Napo Mokake, from Matsoku, Thaba-Tseka, was shot in the thigh.

The 23-year-old third year pharmacy student said he still finds it painful to talk about his ordeal at the hands of the overzealous police officers.

“Talking about it is very painful. I experience a lot of pain each time the wound is dressed,” Mr Mokake said.

He said he could not understand how police officers, who are supposed to be public protectors, could brutally attack unarmed students.

There was no need for the cops to attack the fleeing and frightened students since they did not pose any threat to them, he said.

Another student, Bulane Rankoe, said he was assaulted as he attempted to flee with the police in hot pursuit.

Mr Rankoe said the cops caught up with him near a small river that cuts across the villages in Hata-Butle.

“They arrested me and before I knew it, they started assaulting me and hurling some insults at me. They were besides themselves with rage. After assaulting me multiple times with a cane they threw me into the rivulet and ordered me to roll in the muddy water, kicking me all over,” the 26-year-old student said.

The fourth-year Political Science and Public Administration student said the officers asked him where he was from. They were incensed when he replied that he was from Matsieng, an area well known for the violence by Famo gangs.

“They asked me if I was referring to that place where people are killing each other over blankets and Famo music. As soon as they knew I was from Matsieng, the blows got heavier, and so did the insults. This went on until a police van came and I was thrown inside as I could barely walk.

“Before we got to the university campus, we came across another group of students and the police stopped them and told them to roll on the ground. I was asked to join them.

“They then made us clean up the place outside the campus and remove stones from the road. After that they left us. I was helpless and could hardly walk. I wanted to go and get a medical form but I decided against it when I remembered that I would have to get it from the same people who had just tortured me. I went straight to hospital where I was treated,” Mr Rankoe said.

He said he was traumatised by the experience and could not concentrate on his studies.

“I have lost trust in the police,” he said.

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