Livestock owners live in terror

NAZARETH — Once a well-known cattle breeder, 72-year-old Morena-Kemang Nkhahle now only has his fingers to count.
Scores of Nkhahle’s cattle and sheep have been stolen over the years and despite having identified the perpetrators, none of the livestock has been recovered.
He goes through a bundle of old documents and a worn-out notebook, where he has copied every police docket on his missing animals. They date back to 1997.
By 2002, his kraal had run empty; his last cow had been stolen. It was never recovered, even though Nkhahle claims he knew who had stolen the cow. His hopes that it would breed more had been dashed.
But he would not sit back and give up on the disappearance of his cattle.
While he reported his cattle stolen to the police, Nkhahle also looked everywhere for the animals.
After all, Nkhahle says he has lost faith in the police, who have failed to recover the livestock, even after receiving tip-offs from the community.
It was this attitude that landed Nkhahle in trouble one day when fellow villagers attacked and beat him up.
The men who attacked him, he says, were some of the suspects.
“I was walking home from the fields, when two men from my village attacked me. They said I had falsely accused them of stealing my cattle.
“They beat me up to a pulp, only to wake up in hospital where I stayed for over three months. I could not sit on my own,” Nkhahe says.
Even then, the police did not arrest his attackers, he says.
The beating, though, would not stop him from searching for his cattle.
“When I got better, I was back on my search. I caught people and reported them to the police. I produced all the evidence that could be used to prove that the cattle were mine. But still, the police did not make any arrests,” he says.
To date, none of the cases have been taken any further, he claims.
Nkhahle has even lost count of how many animals he had; all he remembers now is that they generated enough money to send his six children to school.
Unfortunately, his youngest child had to drop out of school when all his livestock was stolen.
“I am now failing to pay school fees for my youngest daughter. She had to drop out of school. If it was back then, I could have sold one cow and paid the fees.”
In Sehlabeng, Berea, a 53-year-old ‘Maisaka Ralesupi (pictured) is still mourning the death of her husband, who was killed by unknown people who had come to steal their animals.
On October 24, Ralesupi’s husband, 60-year-old Kali, was shot dead by two men, who then stole their 12 sheep.
Ralesupi was shot four times, but survived. Her husband died in hospital, three days later. She says she is so angry at the people who killed him.
“I am so angry at people who killed my husband. They killed him for his property. They could have just taken the animals and left the kraal empty,” she says.
She says her husband had gone out at around 11pm to check on his animals.
“He did it every night to see if his animals were still safe. I was still asleep, when he went out that night. But I heard him get out of bed.
“I was fast asleep. Seconds later, I woke up to the sound of a gunshot and a scream.
“I jumped out of bed and ran outside. There he was, lying down and crying for help. I asked him what was wrong but he did not answer. I went closer to where he was lying. I was already calling for help.”
Ralesupi says as she came closer to her husband, one person emerged from around the corner of their house.
“I thought it was one of the villagers, responding to my cry for help. I was shocked when he suddenly came towards me, instead of where my husband was lying.
“I realised that he was pointing something at me. I saw that it was a gun when he finally reached me. I stood still in shock. He held me by the neckline of my nightdress, the muzzle of the gun on my forehead.”
Ralesupi wanted to run back to the house but could not; the gunman was holding her tightly and would not let go.
“I cried out for help but he threatened me. He was swearing, saying he would shoot me, if I made any noise. He then roughly pushed me in another direction.”
Ralesupi insists her husband was at that time still writhing in pain.
She says another man was still trying to open the gate at the fenced kraal.
“I begged the man who was holding me at gunpoint not to kill me. I asked him to release me so that I could help my husband who was crying in pain. But he would not listen.”
Later, Ralesupi says the man turned her around so that she could not see his face.
“I felt something cold touch me in the back. Suddenly, there was a gunshot. I fell down. He shot me three times before he left. They fired another shot before they left.
“I remember thinking they were killing my husband. I tried to stand up but could not. I crawled towards the house and told my children to go and find someone to help us.
“He was still crying in pain. I had also bled so much and my strength was beginning to fail.”
They were later taken to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, where Kali died three days later.
Ralesupi discovered, after she was discharged from hospital, that the perpetrators had killed one sheep and left it in the kraal.
Another sheep had been killed and abandoned just outside the village. She says Kali’s murderers have deprived her of a loving husband.
“He was so good to me and our children. I am so angry at what they did and I want them to rot in jail.”
No one has been arrested, she says, as the police are still investigating. The funeral date is not yet set.
Four days later in Sehlabeng, thieves stole about 14 sheep and goats belonging to a police officer, Superintendent Sello Mosili. 
According to Mosili, the family woke up in the morning to find their kraal empty.
“We only managed to recover one goat and three lambs. The goat’s legs were fastened together. It was dumped in a quarry at Ha-Tsósane,” Mosili says.
He took the animals back home, but the lambs died.
“The lambs died because of hunger. Their mother was with the missing animals and cow milk was not good enough for them.”
He says a suspect was arrested but later released as the police were still carrying out investigations.
Mosili says there is rampant stock-theft in Sehlabeng, despite residents’ efforts at self-policing.
“Animals were still being stolen and killed regardless of the people’s self-policing initiatives.
“The problem is that some people among us have ‘deals’ with outsiders. The suspect even told the police who his accomplices were.” 
Villagers say thieves have of late started attacking animals and leaving them to die.
‘Mamorapeli Nkelela is terribly upset after her two cows were stabbed and left to die in the wee hours of Sunday.
Nkelela says the cows were found by her husband, Lira.
“He found them lying down as if they were asleep. It was unusual that they would still be sleeping at that time. But I think he did not notice that something was wrong,” Nkelela says.
“He was shocked when he realised that the cows were actually dead. Someone had stabbed them in the neck. They were in a pool of blood. We assumed it had just happened because the blood still looked fresh,” she says.
She could not hide her emotions when relating the story to the Lesotho Times on Tuesday.
“We were depending on those cows. We used to plough for other villagers and they would pay us in return. They were our major source of income,” she says.
The 2005 stock theft and human security study of Lesotho says the escalating cases of stock-theft have resulted in violence and mistrust among villagers.
The study also said cross-border stock-theft had resulted in high levels of injury and death. 
According to the study, stock-theft has become more violent and organised.
“Studies conducted by Kynoch, et al, indicate that stock-theft syndicates transport animals from one village to another and eventually to local butcheries and market outlets in South Africa,” the study says.
“Stolen animals can be transported easily within Lesotho’s rugged terrain and readily exchanged for cash, dagga and guns. This renders stock-theft a lucrative venture,” it says.  
The police say stock theft is a very big problem in Lesotho.
Superintendent Retsélisitsoe Mokitimi of the Stock Theft Unit, says police were working hard to eradicate stock-theft in Lesotho.
“We are still rolling-out self-policing campaigns from the pilot-areas of Ha-Mofoka, Pitseng, Mapholaneng and Matelile to the country at large. These campaigns are aimed at fighting crime, including stock-theft. The programme has, so far, borne fruit, as levels of crime, including stock-theft, have gone down in these pilot-areas,” Mokitimi says.
He says incidents of stock-theft-increase or decrease depending on the time of the year.
“Stock-theft increases or decreases at various times of the year. When there is a high demand for meat — usually during the festive season — there is a likelihood of an increase in stock-theft cases,” says Mokitimi.
He says some butchery owners were buying stolen animals for their businesses, compounding the problem.
“Until there are regulations on meat supply for butcheries it is going to remain a challenge on how to trace stolen animals.
“Currently there are no control measures on how and where butcheries should get their supplies,” he says.
He says safeguarding the Lesotho/South Africa borders remains their biggest challenge in fighting cross-border stock-theft.
“The borderline between Lesotho and South Africa is huge and the terrain makes it even more difficult for the police,” he says.
The violent nature of livestock rustlers presents the police with another serious challenge, according to Mokitimi.
He says stock theft has left some rural communities destitute.
“Rural communities suffer greatly when they lose their animals to thieves because most earn a living through selling wool, meat or livestock,” he says.
He urges communities to work together in combating the scourge.
“Self-policing and collective animal-keeping are other ways in which we are encouraging people to take care of their animals. That way, we believe stock-theft would eventually decrease due to tight security.”
Mokitimi, meanwhile, says police are winning their war against livestock-rustlers.
His weekly report of November 2-8, listed 123 stolen animals across the country.
“Of these, 118 were recovered and five people (were) arrested.”

Comments are closed.