Fokothi holds memorial service for murdered student
…school authorities vow to fight the horror initiation ceremony
A SOMBRE atmosphere engulfed Lerotholi Polytechnic grounds yesterday morning when hundreds gathered for the memorial service of 21-year-old Rethabile Mositi.
Mr Mositi, a first-year student at the college also known as Fokothi, was killed in an “initiation ritual” at the Mohakare river in Maseru three weeks ago.
Mr Mositi was just four days into his 3-year long diploma in Business Management when his life was cut short after a group of senior students took him and other new male students tried to “show them the ways of life at Fokothi.”
Among the gathered mourners, there is a woman whose shrill cries denote intense pain. She is Mr Mositi’s mother and her wails invite tears from the eyes of numerous others in attendance.
Marethabile Mositi is in the company of her immediate family members and friends who travelled from their home in Maputsoe, in the Leribe district. Most of the relatives visited the institution for the first time on the day but the visit was three years in advance and it was not in celebratory mode as they had anticipated to visit on Mr Mositi’s graduation.
But that was not to be. Apart from Mr Mositi’s mother, his uncle, Thae Mositi, although suppressing his grief, described his nephew as a responsible young man.
“Our hearts are hurting,” Mr Thae Mositi said.
“We expected good things from our child. He was already showing signs of being a great man. We were looking forward to his graduation in the next three years, thanking him for a job well done. But that will never happen and we are gutted.”
Mr Thae Mositi said the post-mortem revealed that his nephew drowned as his bruised lungs were drenched in water.
Mr Mositi is the sixth student to die in the disreputable initiation ritual at Fokothi in the last nine years.
What happens in these rituals is anybody’s guess. No Fokothi student, present or former, will ever tell one what transpires in the episodes of those practices.
Several attempts to end this practice that has resulted in the dreadful deaths have been in vain. It would seem that no threats, counselling sessions and prayers are good enough to end the horror.
The authorities and school management are fighting a losing battle and out of desperation, are contemplating to force ultimatums on those who participate in the ritual.
Speaking at the event, the minister of Education and Training, Ntoi Rapapa, said that the government is considering to impose scholarship sanctions on those who are found to have lured, coerced, volunteered or participated in any other way into the ritual.
Professor Rapapa said the Tuesday cabinet meeting discussed the possibility of blacklisting those who have been found to have participated voluntarily in the ritual either as victims or at perpetrators.
“You left your homes to come here to change your lives and those of your family members. But you will achieve that if you do not refrain from engaging in this act. Think twice before you engage in any act that would prevent you from achieving your dreams,” Prof Ntoi said.
Prof Ntoi appealed to the students, the management and all workers to come to approach his office to suggest other possible means which could end the killings.
“My office will be open for any suggestions that can help to end this.”
Lerotholi Polytechnic Rector, Spirit Tlali, said the ritual was a disgrace to the institution.
Professor Tlali said he did not believe allegations that some working staff members at the collage were participating in the ritual.
“These (deaths) have tarnished our reputation. There have been media reports that teachers and other members of the staff were participants in the acts. I have been watching and I have not seen anything that suggests such. I will not believe that until there is a tangible proof.
“I must admit that the school might not have done enough to address this problem and we are now working together with relevant authorities to fight this crime,” Prof Tlali said.
The Lerotholi Polytechnic Registrar, Hlomohang Majara, said the college council has resolved to open an inquest into the so-called “initiation ritual” that involves dipping new students in the river. The institution’s intakes are done at the pic of the winter season and dipping the new students in the river also exposes them to extreme colds.
Eight senior students have been arrested in connection with Mr Mositi’s murder.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times last week, Ms Majara said the institution’s council has decided to institute an inquest as one of the many strategies to ending the heinous killings.
“We hope to have contacted all the relevant government ministries before the end of this month to discuss the possibilities of starting an inquest as we try to end these unfortunate acts. We wish to involve the ministries of Law, Justice and that of Education to conduct an in-depth investigation into the deaths,” Ms Majara said.
Among others, Ms Majara said the investigation will include allegations that some teachers or staff members have been behind the ill treatment. She added that the public is invited to provide any information that would be helpful in the investigation.
“There have been allegations that some teachers or other staff are behind the ill treatment. There has however, not been any evidence supporting the allegations. The staff has renounced themselves from these acts. The inquest will allow the public to give information that could be helpful in finding the perpetrators,” Ms Majara said.
She said those who will be implicated in the crimes will be handed over to the police for the law to take its course. She added that students who commit the crimes will be blacklisted from accessing tertiary education from other institutions of higher learning.
“We will submit the names of the students who have been found guilty of participating in the ill-treatment to other tertiary institutions so that we frustrate their attempts enrol elsewhere. We will also notify the ministry of Development Planning so that they are not able to access scholarship. This will be a payback for destroying other people’s lives,” she said.
The ultimatum follows several failed attempts by the school to dissuade students from participating in the ill treatment.
According to Ms Majara, upon arrival, every first-year student signs a pledge to adhere to the school’s code of conduct which specifically highlights non-participation in the ill treatment. Failure to adhere to this code of conduct renders one to immediate discontinuation from studying at the college.
The code of conduct is discussed further during the freshers’ orientation where police officers are invited to create awareness on criminal acts such as bullying. Frequent prayer sessions have been held at the institution following speculation that there could some satanism cult at the institution.
Unfortunately, these efforts seem to have been in vain.
“We have made so many efforts and we have not stopped. We have specifically put emphasis on the fact the treatment is abusive and is actually a criminal offence. Unfortunately, this behaviour is still continuing.”
She said that even though the institution continues to receive applications from many students who wish to study at the college, the killings and ill treatment has tarnished the image of the school and those of its employees.
“Surprisingly we still have huge numbers of people applying to study with us. In fact, the number of applications is growing. But one could think that it may be out of desperation because Basotho children desire tertiary education and other institutions cannot take them all so they have no option but to come to us. Our confidence has been hugely affected.”
Ms Majara said that the school will hold further counselling sessions for students following the last month’s incident.
The president of the Lerotholi Polytechnique Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff Union (LPTANSU), Mokili Talanyane refuted allegations that teachers or other staff members were involved in the ritual.
“We wish to inform the school management that we have got nothing to do with any abusive acts. I stand here to tell you that teachers have not participated in this. No one of us has been called for questioning during the investigations. We appeal with our management and the security systems to stop incriminating us in these criminal acts,” Mr Talanyane said.