MASERU — Theirs is one of the most recognised families in Lesotho.
But thirst for power has torn apart the Bakuena clan as brother turns against brother.
What has been happening to the Bakuena clan is however not an isolated incident.
Fights between rival chiefs have made headlines in recent weeks.
The conflict, in most cases, has been over land and grazing pastures.
For instance, a week ago, the residence of the president of the Setleketseng local court, Pontšo Serame, was attacked.
Serame escaped unhurt but his security guard, Moro Makhanya, was not so lucky.
He died in the attack.
The attack, according to sources close to the matter, happened because some people were not happy with a judgment delivered recently by the president of the local court in a land dispute.
Makhanya’s murder was the latest in a long list of killings directly connected to land disputes.
Just three days after the attack at the local president’s home, there was yet another attack in Ha-Kori, a small village in Setleketseng under Chief Moshoeshoe Letsie.
Letsie’s brother, Tebelo Letsie, was shot in the leg during the attack.
Motšeare Morie’s house was burnt down during the attacks.
Villagers say the situation has drastically deteriorated to the extent that they can no longer move freely in the area.
They say they are now living in perpetual fear.
When the Sunday Express visited Setleketseng on Friday, the commanding officer of Maseru Rural, Senior Superintendent Seturumane Seturumane, had called a meeting with all villagers to discuss ways of fighting crime in their area.
The police have however vowed to take drastic action against perpetrators of the violence and any villagers who refuse to co-operate.
Chief Ramabanta Matete from Lithathaneng, another small village in Setleketseng under the Bakuena chieftainship, said the recent fights over land were a real embarrassment to the family.
He said the fights had painted a bad picture of the family.
“The attacks are very embarrassing to the Bakuena clan; they are all unnecessary. We are brothers, not enemies.
“We were chosen by the law not to own land but to look after our people,” Matete said.
He said the land disputes which were mainly between the chiefs of Ha-Makhema and Ha-Kori should have been resolved in a meeting the two leaders held with the principal chief of Matsieng, Masupha Seeiso, late last year.
But the feuding chiefs refused to co-operate, escalating the bitter row, Matete said.
Matete said the dispute began after the two chiefs confiscated cattle which belonged to the other claiming they were illegally grazing on the land.
“One was claiming that the land belonged to him with the other alleging the same thing. Fellow chiefs even offered to mediate in the dispute regarding the boundaries,” Matete said.
When they refused to co-operate, Chief Seeiso then suggested that they put their concerns before the courts of law in the hope that the fight would come to an end.
“Indeed they went to court. But it seems someone was not satisfied with the judgment,” Matete said.
“Instead of appealing to a higher court, they start all this violence.
“It is a shame.”
‘Makobo Pepenene, 75, said the recent violence over grazing land had left her badly shaken.
Pepenene said she would have fled her own village “a long time ago” if she had “any other place to go”.
She said living in Setleketseng village of late had become “a risk”.
“This is no place to be. It has become a war zone because of young men who are power hungry. We used to be a peaceful people,” Pepenene said, her voice shaking with emotion.
Another villager, 25-year-old Ramasiu Moheeane, said he felt quite impotent over what was happening in his village.
Moheeane said they were afraid to get “too involved” in the dispute lest they became victims themselves.
“This is a matter which the young men of this village could resolve but we wonder if we won’t be hunted down if we get too involved.
“These people have guns and we don’t. We are scared they might come after us,” Moheeane said.
Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent Seturumane warned villagers against engaging in any acts of violence and banditry.
He urged residents to report perpetrators of violence insisting this was the only way the police could end such senseless bloodshed.
“Malitsue Sekhala of Ha-Kori was attacked by people from Ha-Makhema late last year leaving him disabled. But the Setleketseng villagers have refused to say who did it.
“This makes it difficult for the police to find the attackers. But we can assure you that we are going to do whatever it takes to find this group of bandits.
“People should just beware that they do not get implicated in matters they could have simply avoided by giving the police a tip-off,” Seturumane told the villagers.
In November last year, the Thaba-Bosiu community was shaken when a bloody fight erupted between Ha-Ramakabatane and Ha-Nqosa villagers.
Heavily armed Ha-Nqosa villagers had allegedly raided Ha-Ramakabatane, terrorising residents.
Nqosa villagers were claiming Ramakabatane residents had “seized” their cattle for grazing on land they (Ramakabatane people) said belonged to them.
But the Nqosa villagers were also insisting that the land belonged to them.
The dispute degenerated into a fight resulting in some villagers sustaining serious injuries.
‘Mabereng Letsie, an assistant in the office of the Mokhotlong principal chief, told the Sunday Express they were also worried by the land-related violence in their area.
Letsie said earlier this year fighting over pastures erupted between villagers of Tsoenene and Bobatsi.
“The Bobatsi people accused those of Tsoenene of letting their livestock graze on their land. The matter was however peacefully resolved,” Letsie said.
It could have ended badly, Letsie said, as it was the people’s tendency to fight over chieftainship and boundaries.
“These kinds of disputes normally end in brutal fights. People argue about who should be chosen chief. They also fight about boundaries and grazing land,” she said.