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‘Cross-border crimes will jeopardise SA-Lesotho relations’

Bongiwe Zihlangu/’Marafaele Mohloboli/ Moroke Sekoboto

OVER the past few weeks, South Africa has borne the brunt of escalating murders, rapes and other violent crimes.

The latest of these crimes occurred last week when eight women were allegedly raped by unknown assailants at an abandoned mine in Krugersdorp.

According to South Africa police reports,  the eight women, aged between 19 and 35, were filming a music video at an abandoned mine dump in West Village,  Krugersdorp last Thursday when they were accosted, raped and robbed by a gang of illegal miners popularly known as Zama-zamas.

In an interview, Gauteng police spokesperson, Brigadier Brenda Muridili, said some of the illegal miners were allegedly clad in the traditional blankets associated with Basotho, hence the widespread suspicion that Lesotho nationals were among the perpetrators of the heinous crimes.

Brigadier Muridili however, said she was not yet in a position to confirm whether the suspects were indeed Basotho. She said when they were arrested the suspects did not have any identity documents, hence she would only be able to confirm their identities after engaging South Africa’s Home Affairs ministry.

The rape issue is still being investigated she said, adding for now the suspects would only be charged with violating immigration laws.

In this particular incident and many other crimes, Lesotho nationals, especially members of violent Famo music gangs have been implicated. A cursory examination of Twitter, Facebook, other social media platforms as well as the mainstream media in South Africa will show that there is rising anti-foreigner and in particular anti-Lesotho sentiments due to the wave of crime.

This according, to analysts and major political parties, could jeopardise Lesotho-South Africa relations which have been most cordial since the dawn of majority rule in 1994.

South Africa could impose stricter immigration controls as part of efforts to stem the rising tide of crimes committed in the neighbouring country by Lesotho nationals. Should this happen, ordinary, innocent Basotho will be the ones to suffer any punitive measures imposed by the neighbouring country, more so as they are dependent on South Africa for virtually everything from health services to food supplies.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) Faculty of Education lecturer, Mahao Mahao, said it was unfortunate that Basotho were suspected of involvement in violent crimes in South Africa.

“This brings reputational damage upon Basotho and Lesotho in general,” Dr Mahao said.

“The bilateral relations between Lesotho and South Africa could be severely affected leading to stricter foreign policy adjustments. While Lesotho continues to fight for more freedom of movement for its citizens between the two countries, its people’s alleged involvement in crime in South Africa could compromise or render such efforts abortive.

“Even worse, ordinary Basotho could be viewed with suspicion and be targets of violence as a form of revenge by South Africans,” Dr Mahao added.

He blamed the Lesotho government and its security agencies for “failing to deal decisively with violence perpetrated by the blanketed men”.

“The much bigger picture in this whole issue is the failure of the Lesotho government and its security agents to deal decisively with violence perpetrated by blanketed men who have created violent gangs and continue to act with utmost impunity. There are also men operating in abandoned South African mines.

“This has created a dangerous mix of criminals who should be dealt with militarily since they openly carry high calibre weapons. What Lesotho has now effectively done is to export violence and infest another country with our own failures.

“Lesotho has itself has become a haven for criminals of all kinds. What we are witnessing in South Africa reflects Lesotho’s failure to control its criminal gangs. If criminality alone was a measure of a failed state, Lesotho would certainly be labelled as such,” Dr Mahao said.

Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) Director, Seabata Motsamai, said although some Basotho had been implicated in crimes across the border, it would however be unfair to label all Lesotho nationals as criminals.

“Crime is crime and it should be given a nationality. Doing so would be stereotyping. The fact of the matter is that South Africans commit crimes on a daily basis. It is true that some Basotho are involved in crime but that doesn’t mean Basotho are there to terrorise South Africans.

“South Africa and Lesotho’s security agencies must work together to fight these criminals,” Mr Motsamai said.

Booi Mohapi, the Director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), is of the view that the escalating crimes were unlikely to affect ordinary Basotho because the two countries were intricately bound together by mutually beneficial political and economic bilateral agreements.

He said violent crimes by “blanketed gangs” were a decades-old phenomenon and the saddest part was that these gangs were “being used by South Africa’s government officials and wealthy businessmen to practice illegal mining and commit crimes”.

“These crimes have existed for a long time and both Lesotho and South African security agencies are aware of this terrorism. Our state agencies have classified these crimes as a form of terrorism. The South African government is also aware of this terrorism. These gangs commit crimes in Lesotho and flee to South Africa where they know they would be harboured. Both governments have not intervened and instead they chose to send troops to fight terrorist in Mozambique,” Mr Mohapi said.

He also pointed at an accusing finger at key political parties like the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Democratic Congress (DC), saying their alliances with Famo gangs made it difficult to root out crime because politicians use the gangs “to do their dirty jobs”.

Both the ABC and DC have strong and open links with Famo gangs. Just two weeks ago, ABC leader, Nkaku Kabi, sang the praises of Famo gang leader, Sarele Sello, for allegedly recruiting 46 003 “new members” to join the party.

Popularly known as Lehlanya, Mr Sello chose to stick with the ABC when his former boss, the late Mosotho Chakela, defected to the Democratic Congress (DC) in 2020. He is now the second-in-charge of the ABC-aligned Terene faction now led by one Mokata Lirope.

Lehlanya and his Terene faction are ever-present at ABC rallies. Mr Kabi has made no bones about his close association with Lehlanya’s gang and his reliance on it to drum up support for the ABC. Just last month, Mr Kabi visited Lehlanya at his Klerksdorp base and glowingly described the faction as “a government on its own”.

Both ABC and DC have however, condemned the recent wave of crimes allegedly committed by Basotho in South Africa.

In an interview, ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, yesterday said they were appalled by the crimes, adding these could end up straining relations between the two countries.

He was particularly scathing in his condemnation of the incident wherein eight women were allegedly raped in Krugersdorp last week.

“We have noted this dreadful act and condemn the perpetrators in the strongest terms.  The South African authorities should impose harsh sentences on those who will be found guilty.

“However, this should not be an excuse to stigmatise innocent Basotho. Most Basotho are law abiding people. Our two countries need each other as neighbours with strong ties,” Mr Masoetsa said.

On his part, DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, “words alone are not enough to express how sorry and embarrassed we are by these (criminal) acts.

“We are calling upon our South African counterparts to prosecute those implicated in these horrendous acts and impose harsh, deterrent sentences. We hope the investigations will help us identify the perpetrators because as political parties, we enjoy the support of some of these individuals. However, we would not want to be associated with such criminals. We can’t harbour such elements in our party,” Mr Qoo said.