CHIEF Letsie Shoaepane of Ha Shoaepane in Matsieng is facing trafficking charges after he allegedly transported a 20-year-old woman from Thaba-Tseka district, kept her in his house and subjected her to forced labour and repeatedly rape in September 2016.
Letsie first appeared before Maseru Magistrates’ Court on 12 December 2016 and he is currently on bail awaiting his next court appearance in October this year.
He is charged with contravening section 5(1) of Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act No 1 of 2011 and section 3 (2) read with section 32 of Sexual Offences Act No.3 of 2003.
This case is presided over by Chief Magistrate ’Matankiso Nthunya.
Section 5 (1) of the anti-trafficking act states that “a person who traffics another person commits an offence of trafficking and is liable to a fine of M1 000 000 or imprisonment for a period of 25 years”.
Lesotho’s customary law entrusts chiefs with enforcing the rule of law, a responsibility which Letsie is alleged to have dishonoured by contravening the said laws.
According to court papers seen by MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, “…the said accused did unlawfully traffic (name withheld) by recruiting, transporting, transferring and harbouring her for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour or involuntary servitude”.
Letsie is alleged to have lured the victim by promising her a domestic job in South Africa but instead he turned her into his own house maid without payment and committed unlawful sexual acts with her against her will.
“The accused did unlawfully commit sexual acts with the victim by inserting his penis into her vagina without her consent,” part of the court papers state.
He first applied for bail stating that “I just buried my father a month ago and I have used all the money I had for his funeral”.
“When the police first approached me, it was during the loss as I was trying to bury him. They gave me time to do so and right now I am broke.
“I am the one who is now headman of my village after my father’s demise and I will do everything the court wants me to do. I cannot run away as I have responsibilities to my people and I promise I will comply with all the orders that this court will give me,” Letsie stated in his application.
Letsie initially failed to pay the money for his release on bail and he was remanded in custody for 11 days until 23 December 2016 when his mother put up her cattle as surety to secure his release.
Senior Inspector Beleme Moerane – the officer commanding the Police Child and Gender Protection Unit – recently told MNNCIJ that the alleged victim was a domestic worker in Maseru where she was paid M400 on a monthly basis. A friend advised that she could earn more as a domestic worker in South Africa.
The victim’s friend then took her to Letsie who claimed to be searching for someone to work for his relatives in South Africa.
The duo left Maseru for Letsie’s home in Ha Shoaepane where they would be picked by his relatives who would then proceed with them to South Africa.
However, in a turn of events, the victim was told that she would have to work for Letsie himself and it later transpired that her friend was in fact Letsie’s lover.
A 2016 police report further states that Letsie subsequently informed the victim that there was never a job offer from South Africa and that she would work for him without remuneration. The report further states that Letsie assaulted the victim whenever he saw her talking to his neighbours.
“They (Letsie and his lover) slept on the same bed with the victim but Letsie would force the victim into sexual activities in the presence of his ‘girlfriend’. She was even forced to do village or farm work for the chief without payment for about three months and the Chief even threatened to impregnate the victim.”
Letsie’s lover is now a state witness in the case and it appears that she was also made to believe that she would be employed by Letsie’s relatives in South Africa.
There could be more victims after villagers told the police that Letsie would frequently host female strangers “from time to time”.