FOUR men have been remanded in custody on charges of abducting and murdering of a police officer in Ha-Motlalepula, Mokhotlong.
Their next appearance before Mokhotlong magistrate, Makopano Taole, will be on26 August 2021. On that day, they are expected to apply for bail and Magistrate Taole will also refer their case to the High Court.
The four are Sipho Ramoloko (31), Ntja-peli Ramoloko (34), Motlalepula Ramoloko (38) all from Khubelu Ha-Motlalepula and Qalanyane Mokotjo (26) of Mangaung, Mokhotlong.
According to the charge sheet, “all four did, by deception, or any other unlawful means deprive Police Sergeant Qetelo Letšela his freedom of movement or his liberty by taking him into their motor vehicle to a certain place, wherein they killed him”.
However, more arrests are expected with Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, saying Sergeant Letšela was on 8 August 2021 abducted by 10 men who are all linked to the Kobo-kholo famo gang.
“A gang of 10 men travelling in a twin cab waylaid Letšela on his way from hospital to his home at Mapholaneng around 7pm. He was travelling in the company of his 12-year-old son and others when he was dragged out of his car, insulted, kicked, tied up and thrown at the back of the van.
“After an alarm was raised, a police search party was formed and he was found dead in the wee hours of the following morning. His main artery at the back of the head had been slit. Seemingly he had been killed before he was thrown over the cliffs in the area.
“It wasn’t too difficult for the police to get leads and arrest the four because two days earlier, the same suspects had reported to the police that they had been attacked by an unknown gunman. They said they suspected the deceased police officer because he had been seen doing his rounds in the area before they were allegedly attacked. It was not that difficult for the police to connect the dots to this case. More arrests of other suspects are expected soon,” Snr Supt Mopeli said.
Earlier this year, on 3 January, unknown gunmen stormed the Ha-Motlalepula village, killing eight people including women and children. Eight houses were also burnt during the same night. Two of the torched houses belonged to one Masupha Ramoloko, a relative of three of the suspects.
The motive for the killings is still unknown. Over the years, it has however, become common for rival famo gangs to kill each other or each other’s relatives to settle vendettas.
Last week, the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Youth League slammed the government for failing to act against the spate of murders of police officers.
Addressing a press conference in Maseru last week, the LCD youth leader, Phetho Matla, said it was appalling to see politicians taking joy and comfort in growing their support base by embracing famo gangsters when they caused so much pain by killing innocent people.
“We have seen previous governments trying to unite and reconcile these famo gangs which have claimed so many innocent lives. But surprisingly the present regime is doing exactly the opposite of that. They are even failing to condemn the attacks and killings of police officers by these gangs as we saw in Mokhotlong, where Sergeant Letšela was murdered in cold blood.
“Day in and day out, police officers are being killed and the government is mum about it. Yet it is obvious that the criminals are hiding behind the cloak of political parties. The welfare of the public seems to have been cast aside now that politicians are enjoying being associated with these gangs,” said Mr Matla.
However, Communications, Science and Technology Minister, Samuel Rapapa, said it was “unfortunate” for anyone to accuse the government of silence and inaction in the face of the killings.
“This matter was reported to cabinet and a formal statement with clear directives on how this will be countered will be made soon. We detest and condemn these acts. We would also like the LCD youths to help us with information regarding these perpetrators if they so happen to know them,” Mr Rapapa said.
The government is yet to say how it will deal with the rampant killings. Prime Minister Moeketsi has since described famo gangs as terrorists.
“A number of threats confront the world, continent and the southern Africa region. Transnational Organised Crime networks and syndicates have intensified their operations throughout the region compromising state and human security. Unfavourable conditions such as poverty, high youth unemployment, hunger and disease particularly Covid-19 and slow economic recovery have had a devastating effect on communities.
“This has enabled terror networks to exploit the situation by recruiting, radicalising and financing illicit activities thereby creating a conducive environment to carry out acts of terror.
“Our monitoring of recruitment and radicalisation by international terrorist groups and their activities within our communities suggests that Lesotho is now facing real risks of terror orchestrated by foreign terror groups.
“Lesotho is now facing real risks of terror orchestrated by foreign terror groups. In Lesotho terrorism is seen in two ways, that is through acts of violence by Famo music gangs seeking vengeance, and this is on the rise.
“There were the killings of eight people in Khubelu in the district of Mokhotlong in January 2021 and the burning of 10 houses. A Mosotho man was also beheaded on 28 May 2021 at the illegal gold mines in Krugersdorp and this has really gravely worried us. The Koepe and Ha-Letuma attacks in June and July have really scared us and caused tension nationally.
“Further to this, Famo gangs’ involvement in the political parties, especially with the elections just around the corner in 2022, has caused more tensions given the way these Famo gangsters settle their scores by killing other people and one another.
“I therefore appeal to political party leaders to distance themselves from these groups. This also applies to members of the disciplined forces and the public at large,” Dr Majoro said in a recent speech ahead of the deployment of Lesotho soldiers to war-torn Mozambique last week.