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Armed robber turns new leaf

by Lesotho Times
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Inmate recalls dark days as ‘Bad Man’ and how delays in the justice system to grind contributed to the death of three people

Tsitsi Matope

FOR eight years, he crafted and coordinated a series of armed robberies that earned him respect as a ‘don’ in the dark world of crime in Maseru.

At the height of his criminal activities, Khosi Nathane, now aged 38, felt invincible.

Nathane is currently serving a 28-year sentence for armed robbery and the murder of a police officer, at the Maseru Maximum Prison.

During his reign of terror, he had managed to convince himself that he was untouchable and the best at his game of reaping where he never sowed.

His ‘success’ did not only come with massive celebrations after a big score but was also the cause of so much pain and trauma that haunted many of his victims.

Unexpectedly, his full-blown ego was deflated one day in 2002, when a seemingly meticulous plan by his gang of seven, to rob a wholesale in Masianokeng, went terribly bad.

The self-assured gang stormed the wholesale in broad daylight, with five members waving their guns threateningly and ready to shoot if anyone dared resist their demands for all the cash in the shop.

In an interview at the Maseru Maximum Prison where he has spent 13 years locked-up, Nathane explained the gang’s mission was to get in, get the money and quickly make a getaway. However, things took a wrong turn and unexpectedly turned deadly when some police officers suddenly showed up as the gang walked out of the wholesale holding two bags full of over M300,000.

“We saw the police car and knew they had come for us. We started shooting at the car, killing one officer. They returned fire and killed two of our members,” Nathane said.

After realising the police were determined to take them down, the remaining five members took to their heels and managed to escape the hail of bullets, leaving their getaway car parked outside the wholesale.

“A colleague holding the other bag which had around M165,000 dropped it when he was shot dead. We ran towards Masianokeng Primary School, found a safe place and contacted a friend who picked us up from there,” he said.

Nathane described the death of his two gang members and a policeman in the Masianokeng heist as a curse that triggered a bad spell, which led to their arrest two weeks later.

“After informing the relatives of two of our members who had died, we shared the money and agreed to lie low as per our custom after a big heist,” he said.

Lying low, he explained, meant the gang would stay away from places where they might be identified by the victims and also avoid spending huge amounts of money that could attract suspicion until they were sure they were safe.

However, the love for a bit of fun got the better of one of the members who decided to release his stress at a nearby tavern, only to end up in trouble.

“What he was doing there it beats me because he ended up in a fight, firing some shots and getting arrested,” Nathane said.

During subsequent police investigations, the man spilled the beans about his involvement in the Masianokeng robbery, leading to the arrest of the other four members, among them Nathane.

However, after spending 13 years in prison, Nathane has had much time to introspect until he came to the painful conclusion that he deceived himself by thinking crime pays.

He now sees the time he spent buying guns, plotting to rob supermarkets and wholesales as wasted years.

That once he was a fearless armed robber who operated three gangs no longer appeals to him and only wishes that ugly chapter to be blotted from his life history.

As a man who has now sobered up, Nathane said his past embarrasses him and shows remorse for the pain he caused so many people.

Prior to his conviction, Nathane had been arrested twice for armed robbery and was granted bail, only to resume his criminal acts as he was convinced the justice system had no teeth to bite.

While out on bail, Nathane said he felt the justice system understood his nature and went on the rampage, flouting some of his own rules about being cautious in some of his heists.

He believes the justice system’s delay to grind, to a certain extent, also let him down by not stopping him and his gang before they could do much harm that led to the death of three people.

The fact that they seemed to get away with their criminal acts made them bolder and greedier, he added.

“When we started, we were happy to get away with M40,000, but as time went on, we went for the big jobs that offered us more money. We improved our strategies and started working with people close to places we targeted to rob.”

Sometimes, a girlfriend or a neighbour working at a supermarket or wholesale came in handy and would provide information in return for part of the spoils.

“I remember we once hit one shop and got away with M200,000 after we were tipped about the money by our member’s girlfriend,” Nathane said.

The same strategy was improved from time to time and applied in executing other “big-paying jobs”.

It, however, took spending time in prison for Nathane to realise when his life took a dangerous turn onto a dark path of crime. At the age of 16 years, he dropped out of school in Maseru, after getting into a fight that left him with stab wounds.

“My parents had planned that I should transfer to another school, but this did not happen because I got mixed-up with bad boys and started stealing. I refused to go back to school and that really broke my parents’ hearts.”

Nathane said his family did not understand what had motivated him to choose crime as he had lacked nothing in his life. In the end, tired of explaining himself, he decided to move out of his family home and rented his own apartment.

“I thought by staying alone, I would be free and become a master of my destiny. I thought one day, I would get so rich from my criminal activities. How wrong I was and stupid.  I never realised that my imprisonment started when I refused to go to school. By rejecting education, I turned down decency, freedom and empowerment to live with a clear conscience. I denied myself true happiness and chose dagga, which provided false security.”

Nathane said he has now turned a new leaf, and thanks to life in prison, he can now see clearly.

And after a five-year battle with himself in prison, he decided to do the right thing – going back to school.

He passed his Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) examinations in 2012 and has been waiting for an opportunity to train as an electrical engineer at the Lerotholi Polytechnic.

“I have expressed my interest to further my studies but have not been successful. I would like to be a free man indeed, by doing an honest job when I finally get out of prison. I would also want to start a family and make sure none of my children will fall into the same trap as I did,” he said.

In an interview recently, the Lesotho Correctional Service Acting Commissioner, Thabang Mothephu, said while a good number of inmates serving long sentences, such as Nathane, had completed and passed their secondary school education while in jail, they could not get assistance to proceed to tertiary education.

“We need to help the inmates through various empowerment programmes so that when they are released from our facilities, they will be able to start income-generating projects or get employed,” Act Commissioner Mothepu said.

He called upon development partners to support the establishment of capacity building institutions within the correctional facilities, to make it easy for the inmates to continue studying beyond COSC.

Currently, the LCS has partnered with a Non-Governmental Organisation, GROWER, which has helped in providing some teachers working at the Juvenile Training Centre.

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