Detective Senior Inspector Motlatsi Mapola— head of Maseru Urban Serious Crime Unit—urges Basotho not to isolate themselves amid surging crime.
The Maseru Urban Serious Crime Unit (SCU) on Sunday held a community gathering in Ha-Thetsane to address residents on the recent upsurge of violent crime in the capital.
According to the police, Ha-Thetsane is one of crime’s hotspots in Maseru, hence Sunday’s gathering.
The SCU, formerly known as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), investigates serious crimes such as murder and armed robbery.
Detective Senior Inspector Motlatsi Mapola heads Maseru Urban SCU and speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about Sunday’s gathering and other issues relating to the unit.
Det S/Insp Mapola is also a lawyer and was transferred from Police Headquarters’ Legal Department on 15 December 2015, to his current position. He told the Lesotho Times that his philosophy is to prevent crime before it happens, through public gatherings “than to sit in the office and wait for crime reports to investigate”.
LT: Could you please tell us about the purpose of the public gathering your unit held in Ha-Thetsane on Sunday?
Mapola: The purpose of the community gathering we held for the people of Ha-Thetsane was mainly to interact with them about how best we can fight the scourge of crime in that area together. In particular, we addressed four types of crime we have realised are the main ones bothering those villagers and have escalated alarmingly in the area. These crimes are murder, concealment of birth, housebreaking and theft. As detectives, we have a challenge of completing cases related to these crimes timeously or speedily so that we can refer the matters to the courts. But for us to complete these cases, we need evidence from the public; we need their witness statements. This, again, was the reason why we went to the people of Ha-Thetsane so that we can establish a relationship with them. For so long, we have sat in our offices and waited for crime reports so that we only attend to the scenes afterwards. This has not served us any good. Our understanding is the people down there are the ones who know exactly what it is happening in their villages. They know the suspects and their whereabouts, but it is not easy for them to report to you as a police officer if there is no rapport between you and them. What we did to Ha-Thetsane villagers was make them understand that we can only succeed in fighting crime if we constantly engage each other.
LT: But why are these four crimes you have mentioned rampant in Ha-Thetsane?
Mapola: I will answer this question in two ways. First, I have already mentioned that it has proved difficult for us to handle these cases speedily. This is due to lack of resources, both personnel and other resources like vehicles. For instance, there at Thetsane Police Post, we only have four police detectives and at the moment, they do not even have a car or any mode of transport. They travel on foot to attend very serious crimes, including murder. Most of these crimes, to make matters worse, happen at night. Secondly, Thetsane is a fast-growing village which has recently attracted a lot of investment, hence the population is also increasing at a high rate. I don’t know if you have noticed how rented apartments are flooding Thetsane. You find all classes of people cluttered in one area. You find the rich and poor all in one place. Some of these people you cannot even classify them because you don’t even know what they are doing in terms of occupation. You find them loitering all the time. This scenario, on its own, attracts crime. The only weapon to use to fight crime in Ha-Thetsane is through cooperation with the villagers.
LT: What did you learn from the villagers during your interaction on Sunday?
Mapola: Personally, I think the people of Thetsane are exceptional despite the high rate of crime in that area. In fact, what I learnt was people who commit crime in Ha-Thetsane are outsiders. This includes tenants who only reside in Ha-Thetsane for some opportunities, including theft. During the gathering, which I must mention the attendance was massive, I found people who were so engaging and interactive. We talked less, they talked more. They came up with solutions. They are full of ideas. I ended up concluding that they are people who are tired of the scourge of crime in their area and are willing to do anything to end this. These are the people who just need some will and guidance from the authorities to address the crime. But at the same time, they were also overwhelmed and appreciated the information we shared with them. They asked a lot of questions and added recommendations.
LT: But why murder, concealment of birth, theft and housebreaking as the leading crimes in Thetsane?
Mapola: Let’s start with concealment of birth. We learnt through the many cases that we have handled that the main source of this crime is the many young women who work in the textile factories near the village. These young women come from all over the country to seek employment opportunities in the Thetsane Industrial Site. When you look at this from one angle, you might not see it as a problem. But on the other hand, because of the many young women residing in Ha-Thetsane, there are opportunistic men who take advantage of them. The men also come in large numbers here. They take advantage of some desperate women who earn meagre salaries and can hardly afford a living. The men would promise them this and that and they end up staying together without the ‘marriage’ being formalised. At the end they make unplanned babies and kill them to conceal their births. You should be aware that some of these women are formally married where they come from, hence why they kill the babies.
Coming to murder, I want to start by indicating that because this is a sensitive matter, some people end up thinking we just say things out of nowhere. For instance, they begin to think we are attributing the issue of murder to divisions within famo, whose groups are commonly identified by the types of blankets they wear. But I want to assure you today that this is based on intensive investigations. Of late, there have been shocking murders around Maseru, especially in places like Lithoteng where about five people were shot to death at one place. Our investigations, not only from that incident but also others in Maseru including Ha-Thetsane, have revealed that these shootings are famo blankets-related. This does not come from our heads’ the records of our investigations can prove that. As police detectives, we have to engage in awareness campaigns to let people know about the source of this. The worst thing about this issue of famo blankets is that even innocent people die in the shootout. Innocent people are accused of playing music of a certain group over the other and they are killed for that. It’s common cause now that the issue of famo blankets is ending lives at an alarming rate. One of the victims was simply killed because he specialised in selling music of a certain faction over the other. Our responsibility as the police, basing ourselves on the mandate to protect people and their property, is to make the community aware of this and advise them to refrain from supporting either of the factions by playing their music because by doing so they are exposing themselves to danger.
On the issue of theft, we have made the people of Ha-Thetsane understand that they should know each other and build relations as neighbours. The issue of theft in Ha-Thetsane is exacerbated by the lack of spirit of neighborliness in the area. People live in big houses and build high walls and think they are secure from theft while they do not even talk to their next-door neighbours. We are saying the best protection is to talk to each other as neighbours. You should inform your neighbour if you are going to be away from your home for a while. What happens in Ha-Thetsane is thieves come in broad daylight and steal items while the neighbours are there and watching, but because they do not know who the owner of the property is, they are not even aware that a crime is being committed right before their eyes. They steal all household items you can think of, and in broad daylight.
The last one is housebreaking. We have identified a syndicate of ex-convicts which is wreaking havoc in Ha-Thetsane. We are on the trail of this syndicate and soon we are going to catch them. We already know the name of this group. They are young men who have all served some time in jail. They break into people’s houses and steal items. They use tools like this big hammer and grinder, among other heavy tools used mostly in construction, to break into the homes. This hammer and grinder I am holding are exhibits. The same syndicate hijacks people in their cars and rob them of their properties.
LT: What was your recommendation to the Ha-Thetsane residents about all this?
Mapola: It has always been our appeal to the landlords to report all their tenants to the area chief as and when they occupy their rental flats. It is embarrassing and very unfortunate that when a crime is committed, and the police have to ask about details of a tenant who could either be a suspect or is the victim, the landlord does not even know the surname of his or her tenant. Landlords have a bad tendency of only coming to their rental apartments to collect fees at the end of the month. This is not advisable. Sometimes the landlords come to report the tenants at the police station but they hardly can identify the tenant. It gets worse where now the tenant has died and the landlord and neighbours do not know where he or she comes from. Many of these tenants end up being buried by the correctional service department as unidentified corpses. As police officers, we are best trained to have a reasonable suspicion, but we cannot prophesise things hence the need for the community to assist us with information.