LERIBE – IT IS 9:40am and somber atmosphere engulfs the wintry Saturday morning at St Rose Catholic Mission as hundreds of mourners slowly make their way into the church hall to pay their last respects to Sister Julia Nkoto Phateli.
The Roman Catholic Church nun, a victim of shooting allegedly by her estranged 35 year-old lover-turned killer priest was laid to rest yesterday in Peka, Leribe.
The gruesome incident occurred at the Maryland Mission in Lesotho district last month with close sources saying this could have been a crime of passion as the two were in a romantic relationship.
The sources said Sr Phateli, also aged 35, was shot because the priest could not stomach her attempts to end what was said to be an abusive relationship.
A month later, the mourners are still trying to come to terms with the incident. No one is saying anything and the only sounds are those of feet shuffling as people move to find seats ahead of the funeral service.
The sound of the footsteps soon gives way to the Morena ke Molisa oa Ka hymn which is led by Sr Phateli’s fellow nuns all dressed in black and grey.
Leribe Bishop Bane, Qacha’s Nek Bishop Tlhomola, Mohale’s Hoek Bishop Sephamola and Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi O.M.I are all in attendance and the latter takes to the pulpit to deliver a message of hope.
One of the nuns walks towards a small clay pot and breaks it twice to symbolise the life that has been destroyed.
Archbishop Lerotholi tells the faithful that the broken pot symbolises the spirit that has been broken and implores them to go read about the spirit of brokenness in their own good time.
“We are carrying a treasure within our bodies and we have been broken down today, making us understand that our calling is not of this world. There is only one biblical scripture that I know by heart, John 10 verse 10 which says I have come so they have life in abundance,” Archbishop Lerotholi says, adding, it is therefore everyone’s responsibility to receive that life, nourish, protect and respect it.
“Please respect human life. Let us celebrate life so we may receive it in abundance and remember that one of the 10 commandments of God says do not kill. This incident has taken place in our family, they wonder why we are here and we are here because this is too close to home,” he said.
He asks the Christians to think of the dark cloud that had befallen the church as God’s way of communicating with them and that the tragedy must be used for self-introspection.
When Sister Agnes Tsikoane takes to the floor it is take the mourners back to the events of that fateful morning of 18 May at Maryland Mission.
She narrates how she received a call that will be forever etched oh hers and her colleagues’ minds.
“’M’e Luciah told me that she was trying to get hold of Sr Catherine. She told me that she had just received a message that Sr Nkoto had been shot by father Phakoe and that she had been rushed to hospital even though there were indications that she was already dead,” Sr Agnes tells the congregation.
Together with her fellow nuns, they rushed to Maryland Mission in the morning and the silent faces of the nurses at the Maryland Health Centre told the unmistakable story of death.
They were then informed that they needed to allow the law to take its course and that the police would only release Sr Phateli’s body after the postmortem had been conducted.
“We waited until last Wednesday when the police finally handed the body to us. The doctor told that Sr Phateli had a gunshot on her right hand, her thumb was burnt; the bullet went through her chest, destroyed her lungs and exited through the back. May her soul and the souls of the departed Christians rest in peace,” Sr Agnes says in conclusion.
Sr Phateli’s father, Makha Phateli, who has been following proceedings rises and thanks the church for giving his daughter a befitting send-off.
A representative of all the church’s The Religious order speaks afterwards to remind everyone of the task that lies ahead of the church to rebuild the trust and confidence that the murder has destroyed.
“It takes many years to build trust and confidence and it just takes a second to break both. Let us not bury our heads in the sand because of what happened. Let us hold them high and work hard to restore the same peace that we have committed to give to the world,” he says.
He adds that nuns were humans like every other individuals and that they are bound to make mistakes at some point.
“We also get confused at some point and the only way we can get past our challenges is through prayer. We will recover from this though prayer,” he said.
When he finally speaks, Peka Member of Parliament, Lawrence Kibane, is less philosophical and secular in his approach.
He tells everyone that Sr Phatela’s killing and that of many others is simply unacceptable, especially as such murders are being committed by the very people who trusted to save lives.
“It is my belief that we have our own paths but deaths like this one are unacceptable because they put us in a very awkward situation that we were never supposed to be in the first place. Government condemns this killing,” Mr Kibane says matter-of factly.
Indeed, this is one killing too many and it seems that the spirit of killing that has ingrained itself in the national psyche has not had its fill of victims particularly women and children.
In January this year, the Ntširele community in Khubetsoana, Maseru was shocked by the brutal murder of prominent businesswoman ‘Mathabang Radiile (53), allegedly by her live-in partner, Lebohang Nkuebe (41).
Ms Radiile’s four months old grand-daughter was seriously injured after being sprayed with acid in one of the most gruesome cases of women and child abuse in Lesotho.
Mr Nkuebe (41) subsequently appeared in court over the murder and the case is still on-going.
Last year, there were several cases of the killings of women and children that were reported. The violence and killings are part of wider global scourge which the World Bank says affects one in every three women.
In April this year, the World Bank published an article which showed that globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
“One characteristic of Violence against Women and Girls is that it knows no social or economic boundaries: this issue needs to be addressed in both developing and developed countries, and affects women of all socio-economic backgrounds.
“When speaking about violence against women and girls, it is important to remember that this issue involves both men and women and requires a holistic approach. The overwhelming majority of violence is perpetrated by men, and addressing male perpetration is a critical part of addressing the violence,” the World Bank states in its article titled ‘Violence against Women and Girls’,” the World Bank says.