The menace of gangs

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By Kefiloe Kajane

The 69 members of the different gangs believed to have been involved in various acts of terror in different villages in the outskirts of Maseru city are still languishing in the Lesotho army custody.

The 67 males and two females were nabbed by the members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) after pictures of young men and women circulated in the social media platforms earlier this month.

The pictures showed them posing in various positions while brandishing dangerous weapons such as knives.

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They were from Naledi and Koalabata and were said to have attacked unsuspecting residents in the neighbouring urban villages in which they stole items that included cellphones, wallets and money.

This provoked the army to call for public reports at the Ratjomose barracks, resulting in a swoop that saw many of gangsters arrested and detained at the Makoanyane barracks for rehabilitation.

The photos had raised fears among the general public some of whom did report the falling victims to the incidents.

Gangsterism is a culture of violence and an organized group that is formed with an aim of instilling fear in others using violence by carrying out criminal activities.

Research shows that it started in South African prisons from which it later spread out to other parts outside the country.

In its research, Conversation Africa found out that it is necessary to integrate the youth who are at risk of joining the groups into society. The research was conducted from a criminological and theological perspectives.

Conservation Africa is an independent source of news and views on criminology and rule of law in Africa. The research concentrated more on criminal aspect of the behavior.

In that study, it was found out that research had not addressed the underlying socio-economic and psychological causes of the behavior. It noted that it was “imperative to explore and critically engage with several aspects of gangsterism in South Africa where it started.”

Such, according to the study, would encompass its history, development, impact on gangsters, laws and policies.

Gangs are responsible for a large portion of violent crime, illicit drug trading, illegal weapons trading and human trafficking that occurs in low- and middle income countries such as Lesotho.

It has now turned out that the outskirts of Maseru are now being turned into playfields of the growing gangster groups that have unleashed a reign of terror on members of the public.

Victims were in the areas of Khubetsoana, Koalabata, Naledi and Sekamaneng as youngsters as old as 15-34 years kept residents in fear.

Among others, the groups robbed, assaulted and terrorized the public and ended with posting pictures of themselves with big knives on social media claiming to rule Maseru.

Initially, there were 38 members who were taken in but later numbers increased as many parents and victims came forward to identify those that are involved in the system.

In their quest to extinguish the fire, the LDF approached parents at a public gathering in Koalabata with consent forms for them to sign allowing their children to be kept at the army detention for rehabilitation.

At the public gathering, the LDF emphasized that their main aim is not to torture but to ensure that “the young men and women are rehabilitated so that they can become better citizens and have better future.”

But some villagers are not keen to see the gangsters back into their fold fearing that the criminals would resort back to their old ways.

A Koalabata resident ‘Maseabata Monethi said she feared “that if they come back, either they are going to go back to their old ways, or the community will take the law into its own hands to revenge.”

She advised that there be awareness campaigns by the army and police through public gatherings to alert them about the gangsters return after being cleansed in the hands of the soldiers.

 “I tell you, people are still angry; those children did a lot of terrible things to victims. Do you think they (communities) are just going to open their arms? It does not work like that. We need more of the public gatherings which will teach us how to handle those people when they come back,” she said.

A young male Lerata Patose (not his real names) said in 2018 he had joined a gang under the influence of his peer. His friend had just returned from the Juvenile Training Centre (JTC) for rehabilitation when he ‘enrolled’ in the group known as the 28s.

 “At first I did not understand what it meant to be a member of the gang. I just thought it was a group of guys that hang out. We would smoke marijuana and scare young girls as they passed near us. My mother realized that I was a changed person as I spent my time after school with those guys,” he told the publication.

 “To me they were the only people that I thought understood me. What made me change my mind was an incident where we robbed a guy that we all knew at night and left him there. When police came to my house the next morning investigating, that is when my mom decided to take me to Mohale’s Hoek so that I could be away from my friends,” he said.

But the three years spent at one of Mohale’s Hoek boarding schools changed him for the better as he realized he had the potential to live good life instead of being a gang member.

Upon his return home from school, his peers tried in vain to bring him back. But he resisted despite regular threats from the grouping.

The chief of Koalabata ‘Makhomo Makoanyane said the community was living in constant fear due to the marauding gangs. She said no one felt safe, but she and her subjects were hopeful that those in custody would come back changed people.

 “They would kill each other and not even care. I hope the programme with LDF will teach them humanity and what a person is. We hope that they will come back to the community and live amongst us peacefully knowing that we are all one thing.

“What they were doing was not good, but we should know that there is a room for improvement for everyone and believe in them,” she said.

An official in the office of the chief of Ha Tikoe, Tokelo Ntobo, said although they have not heard how many of the gang members were taken in from his village, he has heard of such attacks.

He has heard of young gang members that killed each other and “are always hanging out in groups smoking marijuana, which makes the community uneasy.”

He welcomed the army’s swift action for cleaning up the streets in communities “so as Basotho can live in peace.”

“It is not something that we as Basotho have known for long. This practice is new and needs to be fought head-on. We congratulate the LDF and the police for a job well done in order to build a disciplined nation,”

Speaking to theReporter, this week, the LDF public affairs officer Captain Sakeng Lekola confirmed that the 69 gang members were still in the custody of the army.

He was not sure as to when they would be released from the barracks for leave to their homes.

“There are all 69 males and two females so far. They are from the villages of Khubetsoana, Koalabata, Ha Tsolo, Naleli, Qoaling and Sekamaneng,” Lekola concluded.