MASERU — One was killed last week.
Another was left for dead with five gunshot wounds.
Another got murdered three weeks ago.
Seven artists killed in three months.
Nearly 30 shot dead since the beginning of the year.
In one year nearly 100 have been killed in South Africa and Lesotho.
This is not war-torn Iraq but Lesotho.
That’s the latest body count in the famo gang war that has been raging for years.
Makhaula Hlakane, 35, a promising famo artist who has become the latest statistic, had just alighted from a taxi in Mohale’s Hoek on July 6 when unknown gunmen opened fire and killed him.
A day before, another artist, Kuenane Ratio, was battling for his life at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru after gunmen pumped five bullets into him and left him for dead.
“We are being killed,” says famo artist Lephats’oa Lebajoa, popularly known as Selomo.
So serious is the carnage that Selomo, who leads a group called Fito, has pleaded with the government to intervene.
At the centre of the war are two gangs, Terene and Seakhi.
Rethabile Mokete, better known as Mosotho Chakela, leads the Terene group while Bereng Majoro, alias Lekase, heads the Seakhi group.
Those who have been killed this year belonged to either of the two groups.
The battle is over the market for records, airplay on radio stations and fans.
But Selomo believes what has triggered the latest wave of killings are the violent and insulting lyrics that famo artists spew in their songs.
In those lyrics mothers have been insulted and clans disparaged.
Families and people’s wives have been called names.
Gangs have been humiliated.
The musicians have traded insults through their vitriol-laden lyrics.
Tempers have flared and people have been killed.
Eventually it has turned into a full-fledged war between the gangs.
Yet these groups were started with noble intentions, Selomo says.
“We wanted to be there for each other in times of trouble and help ourselves grow as musicians,” he adds.
Selomo says he recently met Communications Minister Mothejoa Metsing to ask the government to help stop the bloodshed in the industry.
He says he told Metsing that the government “should do something because people are being killed”.
Metsing, Selomo says, promised to “see if he can help”.
“But since then more famo artists have died and the government has not done anything,” he complains.
“If the government was working hard enough to solve these problems the numbers of people who are dying would not be accumulating on a daily basis.
“The government has turned a blind eye to the fights in famo music industry.”
Selomo says he suggested to Metsing that famo music should be banned on radio stations “because either their lyrics contain vulgar language or idiomatic expressions that are offensive”.
Selomo himself was recently targeted for assassination together with another famo artist, Sarele Sello, as well as two presenters from Catholic Radio and People’s Choice FM.
Sello belongs to Selomo’s Fito group.
The plotters, two of them, were arrested before they could execute their plan.
They were jailed for four years each but later released on bail pending appeal against the conviction.
During their trial the two men told the court that Selomo and Sello were targeted because they were from the Fito group.
The suspects said the man behind their mission was Lekase, leader of Seakhi.
The two radio presenters, the suspects said, were targeted because they were accused of playing music from a rival group.
Selomo says over seven artists have been killed in the past three months but “nothing has been done”.
Hlakane belonged to the Seakhi group that was led by the late Rants’o Makepi who was shot dead
His second and latest album, Hlaba Sea Luma 2, was released in April and his stable says it is doing well on the market.
Hlakane’s death has left members of his group and stable terrified.
Some say they fear they might be the next victims.
And they have reason to be afraid: since the beginning of the year four members of the stable have been murdered, they say.
A producer from Seakhi who wants to remain anonymous says the industry has become dangerous.
“In our Seakhi group this (Hlakane) is the third artist who has been killed. A producer was also killed,” he says.
“We are worried because we don’t know who will be the next victim.
“Someone told me to watch my back because soon they are going to kill me.”
Even the gang leaders themselves are now living in fear.
Chakela, the leader of the Terene group, says some people have threatened to kill him.
“I receive text messages and calls from people who insult and threaten to kill me,” Chakela says.
“I am now living in fear because it seems like these people have information about my whereabouts every time.”
His fear is not without reason because in 2002 he survived an attempt on his life that left him with three bullets — on his back, leg and shoulder.
“Those people wanted to kill me and I just survived through the grace of God,” Chakela says.
And it seems one does not need to belong to any of the warring groups to be targeted.
Ratio, 37, who spoke to this paper from his hospital bed at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, says he is lucky to be alive after unknown gunmen shot him five times at his home in Thetsane on July 5.
He says it was around 8pm when he heard someone calling his name.
“I was from the toilet and I heard a voice calling my name. After a few seconds I heard gun shots,” Ratio said.
When he woke up he was on his hospital bed nursing three injuries on the back, leg and arm.
He says police found eight bullet shells in his yard.
“This has really shocked me because these people wanted to kill me,” Ratio says.
“Unfortunately I am not even part of these groups that are fighting and I have nothing against anyone.”
Ratio, who has seven albums to his name, says he now fears that his family might be attacked as well.
in October last year.