MASERU — The principal chief of Thaba-Bosiu is furious over the continued operation of an initiation school on a plateau earmarked for development projects in the capital.
Chief Khoabane Theko had ordered that the school, on the Qoaling plateau, be closed and moved to the outskirts of Maseru by November 1.
But Khoeli Rajoele, who runs the initiation school, has defied the chief.
Rajoele, who works in South Africa, could not be reached for comment.
But the school’s overseer, Ts’eliso Marou, said moving the school would not be simple and would entail angering the “spirits of the ancestors”.
Marou told the Sunday Express that he had only heard rumours that Chief Theko had ordered the removal of the school from Qoaling.
“I have never received such an order from anybody,” Marou said.
“I only heard through the grapevine that the chief of the mountain (Theko) has ordered us to move to ’Malehloane.”
Marou said transferring to ’Malehloane mountain in Thaba-Bosiu, in Maseru district, would be “dangerous” for the initiates.
“Removing the school from here is beyond merely removing these boys and this hut here,” he said.
“It involves tampering with the spirits of the ancestors of these boys and the powers in the herbs buried around this hut to protect them from any harm.”
Marou said he did not understand why Chief Theko would want the initiation school moved when the principal chief’s office had in the first place granted Rajoele permission to establish the school at Qoaling.
“It sounds illogical for the chief of the mountain to permit us to open the school here and later reverse his order after we have put much effort to have the school running,” he said.
“We have a letter from his Thaba-Bosiu office permitting us to conduct initiation school on this plateau.”
The letter, shown to this paper, bears the office stamp of the Thaba-Bosiu principal chief and is signed by Bolepo Theko, the chief’s assistant.
Chief Theko, however, told this paper that he never instructed Bolepo to write the letter.
“Both Chief Bolepo and the owner of the school are breaking the law,” Chief Theko said.
“I am going to take action and I want to assure you that the school will be removed from Qoaling.
“I know that as chief I am the custodian of our customs but I will not allow anybody to break the law merely because he purports to observe the traditions.”
Chief Theko said his decision that the school be removed from Qoaling to ’Malehloane was final.
“I do not expect anybody to defy me on this issue because I am the one entrusted with allocating areas for initiation schools,” he said.
“I have made a decision and my decision is final.
“The school will be removed from Qoaling.”
Chief Theko did not, however, specify the action he would take to force the school to transfer.
The main reason Chief Theko wants the initiation school moved is because he believes the presence of the school at Qoaling might infringe on the rights of people who might be involved in other businesses around the plateau.
Already there is a plantation started by the Ministry of Forestry at Qoaling, within 10km from the city centre.
Under Basotho customs, an uninitiated person is prohibited to go anywhere near the initiation school.
The custom is meant to protect initiation secrets that include a song known only to the initiates called koma.
If anyone who has not been to an initiation school is seen near one, he is abducted and forced to undergo initiation rites.
Women are particularly kept away from boys’ initiation schools as it is believed that their presence around a school weakens traditional medicines that “protect” against evil spirits.
Women who are found near initiation schools are believed to be witches.
Initiation schools fall under the Laws of Lerotholi — a compilation of Basotho customary laws.
Chief Theko reasoned that the presence of the school atop Qoaling plateau would especially infringe on the rights of uninitiated development workers who might want to go to the mountain.
A councillor for Qoaling, ’Mats’epo Tuoane, said she was surprised that Rajoele had not yet removed the boys from the plateau as agreed at a meeting.
The meeting, held last month, was attended by Chief Theko, local chiefs, Qoaling councillors, Rajoele and Malefetsane Liau, a representative of the Lesotho Council of Traditional Doctors.
“The boys should have been removed to ’Malehloane a long time ago,” Tuoane said.
“That plateau has been earmarked for development and we as the council and Chief Theko agreed that there should not be initiation schools on top of the mountain as well as on its slopes.
“The principal chief gave an order and he should be obeyed.”
However, Liau is against the moving of the school.
“It is not customary to do that and I want to tell you that the students will become sick if they are removed from there,” Liau told the Sunday Express.
“Our association from the onset did not agree with Chief Theko that the boys should be taken to another place.
“In our custom there is nothing as such.”
Liau also said it was illogical that the boys would be taken far away from their families.
“It is the right of members of their families who underwent initiation to visit them and teach them their cultural values according to their different clans,” he said.
“The aged members of their families will find it difficult to go to ’Malehloane because it is too far.”
An expert in traditional customs said it was possible to move the initiation school provided a cleansing ritual was done first.
The initiates would secretly use a “cleansed” route to ’Malehloane during the night, according to the expert, who did not want to be named.
“I do not know whether it ever happened anywhere but I understand it can be done,” the expert said.
“The initiation school can be removed from its original place for various reasons and their sangoma should cleanse the way for them.”