Mayhem at slain NUL student’s funeral

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

SLAIN National University of Lesotho (NUL) student, Kopano Makutoane, has been laid to rest at his family home in Lower Moyeni, Quthing.

Kopano was gunned down by Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) officers during the 16 June 2022 student protests against the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s decision to cut their monthly stipends by half.

His burial on Sunday lacked the dignified sombreness which usually characterises such sad days. Rather, the whole proceedings descended into anarchy as the deceased’s angry fellow students bayed for the blood of police details who attended the funeral.

It did not matter to the students that Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, ministers, Lepota Sekola (Police and Public Safety), Samuel Rapapa (Communications, Science and Technology), Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and Democratic Congress (DC) legislator for Moyeni, Mahooana Khati, were among the mourners.

The Lesotho Times crew was on hand to witness the mayhem.

The students came in 10 buses. Given that each bus carries up to 72 passengers, there were at least 720 students at the funeral. All in all, there were about 2000 mourners.

The students’ tempers flared upon seeing police officers at the Makutoane homestead. Even before they had alighted from their buses, the students began hurling all sorts of insults at the gun-toting police details clad in helmets and bullet-proof vests.

Once they had alighted, they made a beeline to the nearby football ground where some branded tents and gazebos were pitched including those of the LMPS.

They removed the LMPS gazebo from its hinges and tossed it into the air as if it were a play thing.  Some even called for matches to torch it, prompting the police to intervene to diffuse the tense situation.

“How dare you,” a female student shouted above the din.

“You kill our colleague and then come and attend his funeral as if you care. We don’t want to see you here, you illiterate dunderheads.”

Unruly students had also switched off the sound system, adding to the already tense situation.

It only took a concerted action by the family, some locals and the police to calm down the situation.

When the ceremony eventually got underway, the anger against the police was still palpable as speaker after speaker bashed them for the brutality which had prematurely snuffed out Kopano’s life.

The deceased’s father, Lepekola Lazarus Makutoane, was just as pained by his son’s death. He revealed that this was not the first time his family had lost a loved one to police brutality.

“I am bleeding internally,” Mr Makutoane said.

“I’m in pain. I wonder what the Makutoanes did to deserve this.

“This is the second time this family has lost their loved one to police brutality and we are now doubting whether the courts of law still exist in Lesotho.

“Kopano’s uncle was killed in a similar fashion. We are deeply pained by all this and the government should note that there are some rebels in the police institution. Ntate Prime Minister and Commissioner, these rebels should be kicked out of the police force. Any boy who is my son’s age should just be reprimanded and not be gunned down. This is a brutal murder. They cracked open my son’s head; there’s no way he could have survived given the manner in which they shot him.”

The aggrieved Mr Makutoane said he still wanted to know the identity of the police officer who had shot his son. He also questioned whether there was any vetting before individuals were recruited into the police force.

“Is there any vetting before people are recruited into the force for training? I doubt that. If one is a murderer or thief before their recruitment, they still remain such even after they become police officers. We’ll call you thieves and murderers even when you are in uniform.

“I still want to know who killed my son. Days have gone by and no one has come to me to confess. The perpetrator hasn’t been found. We want peace and not this. I appeal to the government to vet people before they are recruited into the security agencies. I’m leaving everything in the hands of the government and police to introspect. It is only fair for me to tell you that God loves this country so much. Were it not so, Maseru would have been torched. I had hoped I would soon be celebrating my son’s graduation, not burying him. Oh! This hurts,” the trembling, tearful Mr Makutoane said. With his speech, sadness enveloped the homestead like a dark cloud.

A NUL student, Tšeliso Makeki, told Dr Majoro to his face that he was disappointed by his administration. The premier sat stone-faced as Mr Makeki made his remarks.

“Dr Majoro, I’m glad that you are here in person. I must say I’m very disappointed by what your police have done. We all anticipated that we would get a statement from the government about what transpired, but to my disappointment, there was none.

“Dr Majoro, I’m very disappointed with you. I humbly plead with the government to declare 16 June the day of the NUL massacre. I’m also appealing to the government and police commissioner to take notes from the neighbouring country as to how they treat protesting students.

“Let me make it clear to you that that money we were fighting for is a contractual obligation. There is no clause in the contract that says you may terminate it whenever you feel like it,” Mr Makeki said to wild applause from fellow students.

Mr Sekola and Commissioner Molibeli had been lined up to speak before the premier but they both passed up the opportunity due to the tense atmosphere. The students had made it crystal clear that they wanted nothing to do with them. Each time their names were called out, the students would boo them.

On his part, Dr Majoro commiserated with Makutoane family for the pain of losing their son.

“I am responsible for everyone’s safety and it is therefore embarrassing that I’m here to offer my condolences,” Dr Majoro said.

“As a parent, I’m also pained. We were deeply pained when we learnt of the NUL unrest and that some students had died. I immediately convened a cabinet meeting and assigned a team of ministers to go to NUL to establish the facts surrounding this matter. I subsequently visited Ntate Makutoane to commiserate with him on his son’s passing. As a parent, it pained me.

“You have all heard how Kopano was a special character, but today he is quiet. I hope and trust that this matter will be dealt with. I have already received reports that an unreasonable decision was made by the NMDS (to cut student loans) without the consent of the other party (students) even though it was known this would negatively affect other people’s rights. We will take action against those who made such a decision without informing cabinet and giving it a chance to offer advice.

“I am also surprised how things got so ugly and I would like to know how it all happened. I have been informed that seven police officers have already been suspended and I’m yet to be told when they are likely to go to court,” Dr Majoro said.

He said he would ensure that police officers responsible for Kopano’s death were punished.

He also said he was “concerned about the disorder” in the judiciary, wherein there had been questionable acquittals, delays in the execution of justice and lenient sentences to perpetrators.

“I promise that this matter shall not go unsolved so that you may all get closure,” Dr Majoro vowed.

 

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