Police descend on famo gangs

MAFETENG – Police have launched a crackdown on famo gangs that are blamed for dozens of murders in Mafeteng district.

More than 100 famo artistes have been killed in the gang wars that have rocked the music industry over the past three years.

Most of the murders remain unsolved.

Efforts by the police to negotiate peace between the gangs collapsed last year.

Now police have resorted to raiding bars at night in Mafeteng, a district popular for producing famo artistes, to crush the gangs.

The raids began on Friday with police swooping on bars that are known to be frequented by the famo gangs.

But patrons at the bars say although the raids are justified they are worried that the police were using excessive force.  

Patrons in several bars in Mafeteng town alleged that the police were using violence to force music followers to abandon the gangs.

Some of the patrons claim that they were assaulted by the police during the raids. 

Heavily armed police are alleged to have stormed public bars in the town and
targeted patrons they suspected to be members of Seakhi and Terene, the gangs suspected to be at the centre of the murders.

The police officers are alleged to have forced the patrons to sing songs denouncing the groups.

Many patrons who spoke to the Lesotho Times on Tuesday said the police kicked and hit them with gun butts.

They also ordered them to sing songs denouncing the gangs and pledging to abandon the Seakhi and Terene gangs.

Mokebe Matuba, who was caught up in the raids, told the Lesotho Times that he was at Bulawayo Public Bar in Mafeteng on Friday night when armed police officers stormed the bar and conducted body searches.

“No one was against the search. It is routine for police officers to raid bars ‘in good spirit’ to try and find illegal weapons but this particular search was different,” Matuba said.

He said the search went on well until one police officer who was on the doorway grabbed one customer and shoved him.

“The customer staggered and fell outside. That was the beginning of the ordeal. The rest of us were then treated the same way.

“We were hit with the guns. They kicked us with their boots and slapped us,” Matuba said.

He said once outside the bar the police officer ordered the female and male patrons to stand in different groups.

The women were released but the torture was only beginning for the men, he said.

“We were made to lie down on the rocky and wet ground. Those who refused to oblige were hit hard with gun butts. 

“It was bad. Grown-up men were insulted and assaulted. We lay there in silence. We were scared.

“Then one of the police officers said to us, ‘Now you are going to sing. You are going to sing and say ‘I have abandoned Seakhi and Terene’”.

“We were forced to sing those words whilst we rolled on the rocks. Many who defied the order were beaten up.”

A man who identified himself as Relebohile showed the Lesotho Times journalist the injuries that he allegedly sustained during the ordeal.

Relebohile had big scratches on his right elbow and on the back.

He also sustained bruises on his stomach where the police had allegedly kicked him.

“We were beaten that night. We were blinded with pepper spray and forced to confess to things we didn’t know. But I lost it when I could no longer stand the pain of rolling on the stones. I started shouting that I hated the two gangs,” he said.

The owner of Bulawayo Bar Bulane Ramarothele, 53, said he had never been so “insulted” in the 17 years that he ran the bar.

“This is new. My customers have never been treated like this before. Most of my clients are grown-ups and to see them being harassed like that and not be able to help them was so painful,” Ramarothele said.

“Police come here regularly to search patrons for illegal firearms. We have always been co-operative. We were still co-operating with them. They had no reason to beat people,” he said.

“I am responsible and operate within the stipulated time. My licence allows me to open until 12 midnight.”

He said his bar did not have space for members of Seakhi or Terene.

“People come here to have food and drinks. I do not host any violent people here.

“They have a place that is known to everybody in this town where they plan their dirty work. Not in my bar.”

Other bars that were raided that night are Lekoantlaneng, Lejoeng, Jankie’s and two other bars in Thabaneng.

Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha however said it was a regular operation to raid bars which were operating after hours.

When asked if the police were pursuing violent famo artistes, Masupha said: “We were not pursuing anyone. We were in the operation to close down bars that were operating after their set time.”

But the murders in famo music industry seem to be spiralling out of control.

The Mafeteng station commander, Sello Mahase, said since January about eight people who are related to the gangs have been killed in different cities in South Africa.

Mahase would however not give full details of the murders.

He said jealousy between members of the two groups seems to be the reason behind the killings.

Seakhi and Terene started off as burial societies that would assist members during times of bereavement.

Famo artistes had gained a notorious reputation for “dying poor” even after years of successful music careers.

The idea was that the societies would give artistes a decent burial.

At first things were all good.

Business was flourishing and friendships between members of the gangs were cordial.

But as time went by Seakhi became more successful, dominating the music charts and gaining more fans. 

Jealous replaced friendship.

War erupted when a prominent member of Terene, popularly known as Sanko, was assassinated.

Thabo-Lesholu, an artiste and member of one of the minor groups out of Seakhi and Terene, was implicated.

He was enemy “number one” particularly to Terene.

A song was produced whose lyrics bared the hatred that Terene had for Thabo-Lesholu.

But on the other hand one Seakhi artist produced an opposing version of the song and “praised” the alleged killer.

The already tainted relations between the two gangs soured.

What followed was bloodshed.

Artistes and producers from either group have been brutally killed.

Artistes insult and belittle one another in the lyrics. and more killings are sparked by the songs.

Hardly a month or two pass by before someone is killed as members of the gangs revenge. 

The most recent killing was that of Seakhi’s Daniel Rampipi who was shot dead in Mafeteng in January.

A member of Terene was arrested in connection with the killing.

The police say about eight Basotho famo artists have been killed in South Africa this year alone.

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