Guns, knives as villages clash over livestock

HA-RAMAKABATANE — At least two men were admitted in hospital with serious injuries while four, including a two-year-old toddler, sustained minor wounds after Ha-Nqosa villagers attacked the Ha-Ramakabatane village on Sunday afternoon.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times, Ha-Ramakabatane villagers said this was not the first time that people from Ha-Nqosa villagers had attacked them.
In Sunday’s attack they used guns, daggers, stones and knobkerries, they said. 
The villagers said the assailants hacked one of them with daggers and strangled a “defenceless old woman who had harboured one of the village men in her house”.
One villager who is crippled from the waist down told the Lesotho Times that the attackers shot at her house through an open window and bullets nearly hit her and her daughter-in-law. 
Houses were stoned and windows smashed while doors were broken in search of village men who had taken refuge inside them, villagers said.
Eight cows from one of the villagers’ kraals were captured and taken to Ha-Nqosa.
When this newspaper’s crew arrived at the chief’s homestead yesterday the wary villagers, mainly young men armed with fighting sticks, came to investigate what was happening.
Witnesses said the fight between the two villages ensued after men from Ha-Ramakabatane confiscated livestock belonging to the Ha-Nqosa people while they were grazing on a disputed area on the bank of Phuthiatsana River, which meanders between the rural settlements.
Angered by the move the Ha-Nqosa men allegedly attacked Ha-Ramakabatane residents.
Thabo Malisa, a villager who said he took part in the fight, said the battle started at the village centre when the big group of Ha-Nqosa men began to stone their houses on their way to the chief’s kraal where their livestock was kept.
“We retaliated by throwing stones back at them but they produced guns and started shooting at us,” Malisa said.
A 24-year-old man, Malefetsane Nkholise, was badly injured in the fight between Nqosa and Ramakabatane villages.
The fight left Nkholise with a dislocated jaw and a scarred face.
When the Lesotho Times visited him yesterday, he was not able to open his mouth widely to talk. His jaws were clamped with wires.
Doctors at Queen Elizabeth  II Hospital said his jaw had been dislocated. 
He said he was in pain. 
Nkholise said he was caught in the fight on his way home from the field where he was ploughing.
“When I reached the village, I had to pass through the two fighting mobs. I realised that Nqosa men had come to fight all men from my village,” he said.
“They said Ramakabatane men had confiscated their animals that were grazing in their pastures. So they had come to take back their animals.”
According to Nkholise the fight broke out when Ramakabatane villagers stopped the Nqosa mob from taking the animals.
“Then a stone came out of nowhere and hit me in the face. I fell down. Suddenly I was covered with blood,” he said.
He and another Ramakabatane man who was also injured were quickly taken to hospital.
He said he stopped bleeding two days later.
He said the doctor said the wires on his jaws would only be removed after six weeks.
Tsietsi Thojane, 19, was hacked with daggers by the attackers who left him lying in a pool of blood in a house he had taken refuge in, after strangling its owner to force her to reveal where he had hidden.
“When we ran away from them at the time they shot at us, I took refuge in the house of granny ’Malikomo and I hid under the bed because I realised that some of them were coming for me,” Thojane said.
“While I was still under the bed I heard them threatening to kill Granny ’Malikomo while strangling and threatening to burn her house if she does not tell on me.”
“I heard them banging on the door and I saw daggers piercing the door from outside and at last they broke the door and entered together with her.”
“I was trembling with fright and I saw her pointing at me and saying he is here.”
Thojane said they pulled him from under the bed and started hacking him with daggers on the head and arms.
“I cried begging for mercy but nobody listened.”
He sustained deep wounds on the head and right arm and three bruises on the left shoulder and a scratch on the right ribs.
Thojane was taken to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital where he was treated and released on the next day.
’Maquinn Lehlohonolo said she was in her house with her two-year-old boy, Khauhelo when she heard noise outside.
“Suddenly a stone was thrown in the house and hit a flower pot which fell on my child,” Lehlohonolo said.
“Another stone was thrown in and hit me.”
“I shouted asking for help from neighbours but it seems everybody was either fighting, running away or trapped in a house.”
An assistant to the Ha-Ramakabatane chief, Mohlolo Khalapa the villagers were not suspecting any physical fight from their neighbours and when they saw them in the village in great numbers they thought that they had come to pay fine for the confiscated livestock.
“We were at the chief’s kraal when we heard that the Ha-Nqosa men had started the fight in the village and we went there to see what was happening and we found that it was a real war,” Khalapa said.
“We joined the war in protection of our village but we had to run back to the chief’s kraal because they were fighting with guns which we did not have.”
“They came to the kraal and they started shooting but we took cover behind the kraal’s walls and held them there with stones until they had spent all their bullets and the fight became heavy on them.”
“They ran away and we chased them away from our village.”
However, the Ha-Nqosa men have a different story to tell.
They say their livestock were confiscated on their land and when they inquired why the Ha-Ramakabatane men had done so they were told that the land was under the Pasture Improvement programme and they should not have allowed their animals there in the first place.
Ha-Ramakabatane also claims that they own the land.
The Ha-Nqosa men say they went there to pay fine for the confiscated livestock but upon arrival they were attacked and they had to defend themselves.
They also denied that they had guns instead they say the Ha-Ramakabatane men were the ones who shot at them.
Thabo Moshoeshoe told the Lesotho Times that they were walking in the village towards the village’s kraal when some men from Ha-Ramakabatane started to insult them and threw stones at them.
“We threw stones back at them and when we ran to them waving our sticks they ran away,” he said.
“It is not true that we were armed with guns and daggers.”
“How could we do that when we did not intend to fight?”
No arrests have been made in connection with crimes happened in Ha-Ramakabatane.
However, the police commander in the north region ’Mampho Mokhele told this paper that a case has been opened by the Sefikeng police.
The two villages are ruled by two different area chiefs.
Ha-Ramakabatane falls under the jurisdiction of the area chief of Boiketlo, Chief Mathealira Theko while Ha-Nqosa is ruled by Chief Lerotholi Theko of Ha-Ratau.
Chief Mathealira Theko said the disputed area is by law not part of his land but it is under the chief of Ha-Ratau.
Chief Mathealira said it was wrong that his subjects were claiming the land.
“I claimed that land through the courts and I lost the case,” Chief Mathealira said.
“My subject the chief of Ha-Ramakabatane, thinking that I was collaborating with the principal chief of Thaba-Bosiu to deprive him of land, he sued us together and he lost the case.”
“This land does not belong to me and my subjects should stop fighting for it.”
Chief Mathealira said his people should accept that the issue of pasture improvements are done by the local government councils and they should learn to respect the councils.
“They should not listen to chiefs who fight over pastures; such matters are dealt with by local government councils.”

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