Villagers, chief in unending conflict

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Chief of Ha Ramatšeliso, Likupa Letsie

By Neo Kolane

The chief of Ha Ramatṧeliso in Thaba Tseka, a district 170km from Maseru, Likupa Letsie, is living in constant fear due to an intermittent flare up of incidents between himself and a highly volatile section of his subjects that is hell bent on criminal activities.  

Letsie is the area chief of the villages of Lihlabaneng, Ha Morapeli and Ha Ramatṧeliso. There are 200 households in the three rural villages. He was installed as chief in December 2016 following the death of his grandmother.

The 36-year old chief told theReporter that it is only a smaller portion of the community that obeys his lawful orders and instructions. He said these citizens approve of his lack of tolerance to the unbridled criminality in the community, because they themselves do not approve of the anarchy that that accompanies it.

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Letsie explained that during the reign of his late grandmother, stock theft was at its peak as animals were not marked. The rangelands and fields were burned as villagers unleashed regular attacks on their nieghbours.

He said when he took office, he kick-started an initiative to deal with criminal activities, such as stoppage to burning of pastures and fields. He added that the area was also awash with crimes that included rape, assaults and theft.

 “I understand that my assuming powers as a chief has angered many villages who are now going rampant to commit heinous crime. They are bitterly opposed to my reign. I think this is why they go out of their way to destroy my properties. On one occasion, as I was in one of my crop fields my beans plantation was destroyed after it set on fire. I think I will eventually get killed given the developments in the area.

“Last year, my cattle were stolen and have since not been recovered. On that fateful day I was assaulted by two boys, one of whom I was able to identify. I reported the incident to the Thaba-Tseka police who told me to report to the Sehonghong police, where I was referred back to Thaba-Tseka station,” the tormented Letsie said.

In another recent incident, his 21 cattle were also stolen at one of the grazing pastures and have never been traced.

His attempts to track down the cattle thieves drew blanks but the perpetrators were later on nabbed by the Thaba Tseka police.

The case has since gone cold.

“The police did not even give a thought to my assault report, yet they were very much enthusiastic to handle that of stock theft. I was pushed from pillar to post when I sought police intervention,” he remembered.

“Just in June this year one of my field where I had planted beans was burned. The next day, some of the beans were stolen. Soon afterwards, my cousin’s maize field was set alight,” he claimed.

He said he was able to identify the suspect who stole his beans. The crime suspect later on confessed he was the one who had set his fields on fire, destroying the crops, Letsie added.

 “I tried to brush off the incident regarding the maize crop field. I succeeded to identify the person involved in theft of the beans and fined him. He has since not managed to pay off the fine.

 “I am in the business of selling beans and I make money out of it. I asked the culprit to pay me five bags and five canisters of beans. The fine was later reduced to three bags and two canisters of beans. But to date, he has not been able to pay back although we had agreed in writing,” he stressed.

The chief said he lost M1 100 from that incident only.

“I am trying to persuade him to pay me but my intention is to seek recourse from the courts of law,” the chief said while remarking that four cattle from people who are close to him were stolen.

Likupa’s uncle of Likupa, Molapo Letsie told this publication that some of the community members were a law unto themselves. He accused them of being unruly and “hated being subjected to the rule of law”.

“The villagers here are grateful they wake up alive the next day,” Molapo Letsie observed.  

A Ha Ramatseliso villager, Rakaibe Litaba is fearful for his life. He claimed to be very close to the area chief.

Litaba is worried that he might be attacked in one way or another if he is seen in company with his chief.

Another villager who demanded not to be identified, expressed his displeasure with the chief’s handling of administrative matters. He did not understand why livestock should be tattoo-marked claiming that “they produce unpalatable meat as they undergo weight loss. In extreme cases the animals die from the tattoo-marking.”

Another dweller was vehemently against the idea of tattoo-marking and the Chief Letise keeping a livestock register.

Meanwhile, the acting director of chieftainship in the ministry of local government and chieftainship affairs, Maipato Moremoholo, said criminal activities like those at Ha Ramatṧeliso should be reported to the police.  

She said there is no law that specifically addresses the protection of chiefs. She added that any suspected acts of criminality carried out by anyone, should be reported to the police to investigate.

She warned that chiefs, by law have no bodyguards provided by the state to protect them.

Moremoholo recalled that such outbreaks that occurred in Matukeng where one undisclosed chief fled the area for safety.

 “All we do is to advise the chiefs. I will talk to the district administrator to hear what he has done about the situation if he has heard about it,” Moremoholo said.

Approached for comment, the district administrator of Thaba Tseka, Motete Mokonyane, told said this week he had discussed developments at Lihlabaneng Chief Lekupa Letsie. The two agreed to hold talks about the disturbing issues of criminality tormenting the area.

Attempts to get a comment from the Thaba Tseka police were unsuccessful as the phone rang unanswered. Police spokesperson Mpiti Mopeli could not be found to comment either.