Lesotho tops world homicide statistics

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. . . analysts blame lack of political will for the surge in murders

Kaleen Chikowore

LESOTHO has again recorded yet another brutal murder of a police officer, the third such killing in less than three weeks and the sixth in three months.

This coupled with rampant murders of ordinary civilians, which happen almost on a daily basis, has catapulted Lesotho to within the top 10 countries with the highest homicide rates in the world.

In fact, according to the https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/murder-rate-by-country, Lesotho is ranked number six in the world for murders. El Salvador is the murder capital of the world. Apart from El Salvador, only Honduras (2nd ranked), Venezuela (3rd), the Virgin Islands (4th) and Jamaica (5th) are ranked higher than Lesotho.

Lesotho achieved a score of 41, 25 murders per 100 000 people. This is way higher than the world average murder rate of 7, 03 murders per 100 000 people according to the same website.

Neighbouring South Africa, with 33, 97 murders per 100 000 people, is the only other SADC country in the global top 10 rankings for the highest murders in the world.

Even war-ravaged SADC countries like Mozambique (3, 40 murders per 100 000 people) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (13, 55 murders per 100 000 people) have fared much better than Lesotho when it comes to homicide.

Contributing to Lesotho’s unenviable statistics are several brutal murders including the unresolved killings of women and children that have rocked the country in the past few years.

“Not only is this an unwanted distinction,” political analyst, Sello Morake, says of Lesotho’s status as Africa’s murder capital, “it is the sort of thing that would have the nation’s founder, King Moshoeshoe I, turn in his grave.

“It is highly ironic that a country or nation founded on the values of peaceful co-existence, hospitality to strangers and other vulnerable groups as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes has become the continent’s murder capital and sixth in the world for murders.  Unlike countries like Iraq, Somalia, the DRC or even Mozambique where we have ironically sent troops to quell an Islamic insurgency, we cannot blame war for our shocking murder rates.

“It is just sheer impunity by bloodthirsty killers targeting vulnerable members of our nation. The impunity feeds on the police’s failure to bring culprits to book. Even in the few instances where they actually apprehend suspects, they are soon let to go scot-free by the inept judiciary. The impunity also feeds on the lack of political will to tackle the violent crimes. Instead of equipping the police and judiciary to tackle the criminals, the politicians are folding their hands and watching. Some of them are even fraternising with some of the gangs that are involved in the killings,” Mr Sello said.

This is a view shared by many other analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week.

The analysts spoke against the background of the weekend murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokilane Mokete who was gunned down on Saturday evening in Mapoteng. His murder came barely three days after the brutal killing of PC Selone Selone by unknown gunmen in Butha-Buthe last Wednesday.

Before that another officer, Sergeant Qetelo Letšela, was gunned down in Mokhotlong.

Sergeant Letšela is said to have been gunned down by 10 members of the Kobo-kholo Famo group who had abducted him while he was on his way from hospital with his 12-year-old son.

In gory scenes reminiscent of horror movies, Sergeant Letšela’s mutilated body was thrown over a cliff.  The main artery at the back of his head had been slit open.

Four out of 10 suspects have so far been arrested in connection with his murder.

These are Sipho Ramoloko (31), Ntja-peli Ramoloko (34), Motlalepula Ramoloko (38) all from Khubelu Ha-Motlalepula and Qalanyane Mokotjo (26) of Mangaung, Mokhotlong.

They have since appeared before Mokhotlong magistrate, Makopano Taole, who remanded them in custody to 26 August 2021. On that day, they are expected to apply for bail and Magistrate Taole will also refer their case to the High Court.

Despite that there have been six murders of police officers in three months (three of these in three weeks), Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, says it is still too early to draw any conclusions as to whether police are being deliberately targeted by killers.

“As a police officer, death is something that you can expect in the line of duty,” Senior Supt Mopeli said.

“It is something that you are aware of before you even commit to joining the force. However, there has been a notable rise in the number of police officers that are being shot dead and this is obviously worrying. Though we have not yet established the motives behind these killings, we are not afraid to continue to serve. We will continue serving but we are going to be more vigilant.

“However, we cannot really say there’s a pattern or a trend to the killings, it is too early to draw any conclusions. The Minister of Police and Public Safety, Lepota Sekola, has established a task force that will investigate the murders of police officers. It has been mandated to identify the factors behind the killings of police officers. Only after it has completed its work can we be able to point out the motives and causes of the murders.

“I can’t comment on the issue of Lesotho being number six in global murder statistics because I have not heard of the report or seen it,” Senior Supt Mopeli said.

That the police are not aware of Lesotho’s global murder ranking and still do not see a pattern to the killings of police officers is a cause for concern, Mr Morake said.

“One wonders if the police authorities are technologically savvy since they cannot access crime statistics that are easily available on the internet. It also begs the question as to whether they actually cooperate with their counterparts in other countries to fight crimes.

“But the fact still remains that Lesotho has become a dangerous place to live in due to the rampant murders of police and civilians, particularly women and children,” Mr Morake said.

Motlamelle Anthony Kapa, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), expresses concern at the high rates of murders in the country. He blames the lack of political will to adequately equip the police and judiciary for the impunity.

“The judiciary and the police have evidently failed to deliver on their mandates to fight crime. But then, the judiciary was underfunded, with a mere M937 366 being allocated to it for the first quarter of the current financial year. This amount was to be shared by all the country’s courts including the High Court and Court of Appeal.

“Even if the police, who are also under-resourced were to investigate culprits and prefer charges against them, there is no way the courts will be able to clear the huge backlog of cases which is currently estimated at more than 4000.

“The judiciary needs more resources, both financial and human, to function at optimum levels.  As things stand, we are doomed because only two new judges will be appointed to complement the few eight who are already overburdened. More judges will not be appointed as long as the politicians do not allocate more money to the judiciary.

“This applies to the police as well. They need to be capacitated to enable them to speedily investigate cases. You may find that some of the murders are indication of that the people no longer trust the justice system and are therefore taking matters into their own hands. The justice system therefore needs full support from the executive,” Prof Kapa said.

His fellow NUL lecturer, Tlohang Letsie, concurred. He blamed the high rates of murders on the inefficiency of the judiciary. He said as long as cases were not speedily tried or tried at all, criminals would be emboldened into committing more gruesome crimes.

“There is an urgent need to revamp our judiciary as it is currently not operating at full capacity. This says the judiciary must be capacitated by the executive to enable it to speedily try cases,” Dr Letsie said.

He also called for the implementation of the death penalty, saying this could deter would-be murderers.

“Lesotho has the death penalty but it is not being implemented. It is high time we made use of it. Botswana has the death sentence and they use it. I believe there will be a reduction in murders if we implement the death penalty,” Dr Letsie said.

It is however, difficult to say whether the death penalty actually reduces murders.

Botswana, which Dr Letsie cites as a country to emulate, still has high murder rates. Despite boasting the death penalty, Botswana is number 26 in the global murder rankings. With its 15, 04 murders per 100 000 people, it is ranked number six in Africa and is even higher than war-ravaged countries like South Sudan (13, 09 murders per 100 000 people), the DRC and Mozambique.

Apart from the issue of political will identified by the analysts, Lesotho could also consider the advice of the  United Nations Global Study on Homicide 2019, which identified organised crime, gender stereotypes, inequality, unemployment, political instability, proliferation of firearms and drugs as some of the main drivers of murders.

By dealing with these factors, Lesotho and other countries can adopt policies that will help reduce their homicide rates.

Some of these are serious issues that Lesotho needs to urgently tackle. Senior Supt Mopeli acknowledged the problem of the proliferation of illegal firearms smuggled from South Africa and used by Famo gangs to routinely gun down vulnerable people especially women and children. It seems the gangs have lately turned their guns on police officers. They can only be stopped if there is the necessary political will.

Lesotho National Council of Women President, Mabataung Mokhatali, said there was an urgent need to address the murders of women.

“At times our culture works against us. From a tender age, young children are taught that females are the inferior gender and that males can do whatever pleases them against the defenceless females. We need to teach our children to value life. We have to be intentional about reshaping our culture and instilling respect for human life in the young generation,” Ms Mokhatali said.

Should her advice be adopted, this could well end the culture of impunity that has seen so many women murdered on a weekly basis in the country.

Political instability has also fuelled human rights abuses over the years. Prominent politician, Nqosa Mahao, a former Law and Justice minister is sceptical despite the talk of reforms that propose the establishment of a transitional justice framework to heal, reconcile and unite the nation.

Professor Mahao said politicians were “unwilling to do the right thing and expose all human rights abuses for justice to be served”.

“We, especially us politicians, lack the will to ensure that these things are exposed for justice to be served. That is where the Lesotho problem lies. If we don’t deal with these issues, future generations will never heal. There will be a recycling of hatred and acrimony,” Prof Mahao said.

As long as there is no political will to deal with root causes and to capacitate the police and judiciary, innocent victims’ blood will continue to soak the soil of the Kingdom. It will even soon eclipse the five countries ahead of it to become the world number one leader in homicides.

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