Mafeteng plunged into mourning as 11 die in river horror

MAFETENG – The Khoete village in Mafeteng, about 130 kilometres south of the capital Maseru, is in mourning.

Thirteen people, including 11 children between the ages of 9 and 13, were washed away into Motsepe River during flash floods that pounded the district.

The children were travelling in the back of the Isuzu truck when tragedy struck.

Of the 13 people who were packed in the truck two survived.

These were the owner and driver of the vehicle, George Khoete, 39, and one child.

Khoete’s wife, ‘Masephoko, and her brother Tholang Thetha, were among those who perished in the tragedy.

Khoete was driving home after visiting a nearby village.

On their way home they picked the children who were walking home after attending church services at St Michael’s church in Ha-Mofoka.

The children, who were only too glad to be offered a lift, quickly jumped into the back of the truck.

But as they negotiated their way down into Motsepe River valley tragedy struck.

According to George’s mother, ‘Makhoete Khoete, the 4 x 4 Isuzu truck got stuck right in the middle of the river.

As Khoete frantically tried to restart the vehicle a powerful wave struck dragging the car into the water, said ‘Makhoete.

“The force of the water pushed away the car. It fell into a pool which is within the valley. Only my son and one child survived,” said a heartbroken Khoete.

When the Lesotho Times visited Khoete village on Monday this week people appeared distraught. They are still to come to terms with what happened.

‘Makhoete said her son, who was not home when we visited, was traumatised by the incident. The young girl who survived, (name), also appeared traumatised.

“They are traumatised . . . They are finding it difficult to cope. We all are. This is the worst thing that has ever happened in our village,” ‘Makhoete said almost choking with tears.

She said the fact that her son and the little girl survived was a miracle.

“I still do not understand how they escaped that horror,” ‘Makhoete said.

The mangled Isuzu truck was parked in the family garage when the Lesotho Times visited the home.

She said her son had only bought the car three months ago.

“He had big business plans concerning this car. Unfortunately he will never be able to use it again,” she said.

Khoete appealed to the government to build a proper bridge at Motsepe River to prevent further tragedies.

Drivers are forced to negotiate their way through the river bed.

“We need a proper and reliable bridge down there. If we had one this (tragedy) would not have happened,” she said.

‘Matsépang Khoete, (relationship with earlier woman), strikes a miserable figure when we visited the family home.

She lost five children in the accident. Two of the children have still not been recovered with fear that their bodies were washed downstream.

‘Matsépang cries hysterically as villagers continue to troop into her house to express their condolences.

But she is inconsolable. The villagers sit in total silence with bowed heads.

“Iam still in shock,” ‘Matsépang says, wiping away tears. “It feels like I am waking from a nightmare. My five children are all gone.”

She says she remembers vividly the moment her children waved goodbye as they went for church services on that fateful Sunday.

She said she had no idea that she was seeing them alive for the last time.

“I was happy to see them go to church. I could have stopped them if I had been able to predict the tragedy which was coming their way,” ‘Matsépang said.

“Without them the house is so quiet and sad. I miss their noise around. Now there is no one to shout at. My heart is aching. I do not know how I am going to heal.”

‘Makhahliso Khoete, a relative and close neighbour of ‘Matsépang, said the death of the children was a terrible blow that was difficult to accept.

‘Makhahliso said the children were just like her own.

“They came and did all they wanted to do in my house. They were part of my family. My children and I enjoyed their company. And now that happiness is all gone,” ‘Makhahliso said.

She said she has since the tragedy struck been spending days and nights with ‘Matsépang to offer her moral support.

She said she was worried because ‘Matsépang appeared to be going through some depression.

“She is getting worse every day. She is miserable. She sometimes cries out loud or just keeps to herself. This is really bad for her baby who is only six months old.”

Further down the village is ‘Makabelo Khoete. She lost her grand-daughter in the accident.

‘Makabelo said it never crossed her mind that her granddaughter could have been involved in the accident.

“It never crossed my mind that she could have been involved in the accident. I went numb when they gave me her jersey.

“They could not find her the same day. It was so torturing to go to bed without knowing where she was. I had nightmares,” ‘Makabelo said.

‘Makabelo said she had lived with the girl since she was a baby. The girl’s parents live in Likhoele in Mafeteng district.

Following the accident villagers in conjunction with the police embarked on an operation to recover the bodies of the victims that were washed downstream.

At least nine bodies have so far been recovered. Four bodies are still to be found.

One of the villagers involved the operation to recover the bodies, Majeremane Khoete, said the search has been a tough and harrowing experience.

“We looked everywhere down the valley day and night. We dug the heavy wet sand, sometimes in vain. We searched down the valley until we reached Senqu River,” said Majeremane.

He said most of the recovered bodies were badly damaged.

“Their bones were broken and bodies were bruised. The picture is still haunting me when I close my eyes,” he says.

The mourning villagers said they were happy with the co-operation they had received from the police so far.

The District Administrator, Teboho Lehloenya, has already visited the villagers to express his condolences.

They said the DA’s office in Mafeteng had taken over burial preparations.

Lehloenya could not be reached for comment on the tragedy.

A memorial service for the victims was set to be held at the St Mark’s Roman Catholic Mission in Mefeteng yesterday.

The accident victims will be buried at a joint mass funeral on March 6 at the same mission.

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