BEREA — Police in Teyateyaneng raided the Thota-Peli village in the wee hours of April 12, sjamboked and punted the villagers and ordered some of them to roll in the morning dew naked.
The police were searching for illegal firearms they suspected could have been used in a violent clash over grazing land between Thota-Peli villagers and a neigbouring village.
The fierce clash, Thota-Peli villagers say, left two men dead.
The villagers say the police have left many of them with scars after the raid.
The raid for illegal firearms was targeted at men but women and children were the ones who suffered most.
Some of them, the villagers say, were dragged out of their homes naked and when they asked the police for a chance to go and get dressed the police officers allegedly told them they were “not seeing buttocks for the first time in their lives”.
Elderly, pregnant women and those in poor health were not spared, the villagers say.
Maria Koloba, 82, says her knee has been painful since then because she crashed into the ground after being ordered to roll “by the police boys”.
“When I opened the door, half-naked, they said I should give them a gun and when I told them I did not have one they ordered me to go to the chief’s place,” Koloba says.
“They also hit me with a gun (butt) on the ribs,” she adds.
“I think these police boys wanted to see lithelerina (smooth behinds) but they only saw liteka (wrinkled ones).
“I have never felt so embarrassed in my life.”
Koloba says after pulling her from her hut the police force-marched her and other villagers to the chief’s homestead.
There the beating started, Koloba says.
“In the meantime the police were laughing and making nasty comments about the women’s bodies,” she says.
’Maseabata Pita, 59, was coming from a church night vigil together with her husband Lehasa when they heard gunshots in the village and saw one of the village boys running away.
“We thought perhaps they had come to arrest some people but we were shocked when we realised that the whole village was being raided and people gathered at the chief’s place,” Pita recalls.
“Immediately after we arrived at home the police arrived too and they told me to give them a gun and when I said I did not have one they said my son had it and they wanted me to hand it to them.
“They said I was lying and I had hidden a gun beneath my skirt.
“They were so angry that in my fright I voluntarily pulled up my skirt for them to feel me all over my body and check if I had hidden any gun.
“That police boy was not ashamed to put his dirty hands on my naked body and patted my waist and buttocks.”
Her husband, Lehasa, says when he told the police that he did not have a gun one of them strangled him while another pulled his private parts.
“These boys embarrassed me,” he says. “I have never touched a gun in my entire life.”
’Matebello Thamae, 22, a mother nursing a toddler, says when the police hit her door with what she believed were gun butts she refused to open thinking criminals had pounced.
“I was terrified and thought criminals had attacked me and so I refused to open the door,” Thamae says.
“I also heard gunshots in the village and when the men at the door told me they were police officers I said they should wait for a moment because I was getting dressed.
“They angrily told me that I should open the door immediately as they would not see a woman’s buttocks for the first time.
“They were banging on the door and I opened for them in a hurry.”
The villagers have similar stories of how the police treated them in their own houses before they ordered them to go to the chief’s place.
At the chief’s homestead the older men were taken to an open space where they were ordered to roll in the cold morning dew.
Among them was 87-year-old Jobo Tlali whose frail body could not allow him to roll quickly as the police had ordered.
“Many of those rolled faster than me and when I was tired and could move no more they rolled me,” Tlali says.
“My whole body is still aching.”
Next to roll were women some of who had nothing beneath the shawls they had wrapped around their waists.
“Just imagine what you can see when a naked woman rolls on the ground,” Thamae says.
“I was only wearing my pant beneath the shawl and the shawl loosened when I rolled.
“The policemen were there admiring us, seeing our nakedness.”
The young men were taken to a nearby football ground where they were also assaulted and ordered to roll from one end of the field to the other.
The police managed to find three unlicensed guns, the villagers say.
The next morning the villagers decided to march to Teyateyaneng Police Station to report the matter.
But the police intercepted them before they could reach the town and beat them again, the villagers claim.
Those that eventually made it to the police station were told that the district commander was away on business in Botswana.
They also say the officers at the station threatened to lock them up and spray tear gas in their holding cells.
A Good Samaritan who volunteered to take them back home in his van was allegedly arrested for a traffic offence.
Having failed to talk to the district police boss the villagers say they have approached a lawyer in Maseru to take up their case.
“We have contacted a lawyer in Maseru who will take our case to the courts,” says village chairman Seele Khoabane who spoke on behalf of Chief Molomo Mopeli who had gone to the principal chief’s place to discuss the abuse his people had allegedly suffered at the hands of the police.
“We are currently collecting money to pay for legal fees.”
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha told the Sunday Express yesterday that the villagers had not formally lodged their complaints with the police and to him their claims were just hearsay.
“I encourage them to follow the right procedure to report their case to the police,” Masupha said.
“If they failed to meet the Berea police commander, then they should go to the regional commander in Leribe.”