SEMONKONG — Ha-Ralimpe Village in Semonkong is torn apart.
Thirteen years ago a four-year-old girl disappeared from this tiny village where cars cannot reach and belief in witchcraft and traditional medicine is a way of life.
She was never seen again and a murder case was opened.
Fingers were pointed at the village chief, Masupha Posholi, 10 men and a woman.
They were arrested and put on trial.
The state alleged that Posholi and his accomplices had killed the girl for ritual purposes.
But the trial dragged on for 13 years until last week when the High Court acquitted Posholi and his alleged accomplices.
The High Court judgment, delivered last Monday, has left this poor village divided.
It’s a division between the jubilant and the bitter.
Those related to the accused say the judgment was a victory.
The Tlali family whose child was murdered say it’s a big blow and a travesty of justice.
‘Malekhotla Tlali, 72, this week told the Sunday Express she could not believe that people accused of her granddaughter’s murder have been acquitted.
She said she had lost confidence in the justice system.
“When I saw them (Posholi and his co-accused) arrive in the village I could not believe my eyes,” ‘Malekhotla said.
“But there was no use crying because the court had decided to set them free despite the pain they caused us.”
She said she was shocked to see Posholi and some of his co-accused entering the village.
“I suddenly heard ululation from their houses. I then began to believe the media reports which announced that those (alleged) killers were free,” ‘Malekhotla said.
“I then began to realise that there is no justice in the courts of law. If there was, these ‘murderers’ could have been jailed but they are here in the village when my granddaughter is no more.”
In her judgment, Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane said the body could have been washed away by a flooding river as evidence in court had indicated there was heavy rainfall on that day.
‘Malekhotla, however, said this statement clearly showed the court had been misled.
“Snow had fallen and it is wrong for the judge to conclude that there was a flooding river.
“Actually there is no river passing near our village. It is only this small stream,” she said pointing to the stream in the northern side of the village.
The child’s mother died two years ago.
“My daughter-in-law died two years ago. Her daughter’s death was tormenting her ever since. She was in so much pain,” ‘Malekhotla said.
The dead child’s grandfather, Rabele Tlali, is also a bitter man.
He said he was initially accused of taking part in the killing of his grandchild but was later cleared.
“These cruel people know that they killed my granddaughter but the judge decided the way she did. Soon they will suffer consequences of their deeds,” he said.
He said he was still shocked that the chief and his co-accused were acquitted even when the court had been told that they had handed some portions of human flesh to the police.
He alleged that they confessed that they were taken from his granddaughter’s body.
Senior Inspector Mathaha Mathaha had told the court during the trial that Posholi and his co-accused had handed some pieces of flesh which they said were cut from the murdered child.
“My child is gone and we will not see her again.
“But her murderers are boasting in the village,” Tlali said.
Tlali said a few days after his grandchild had disappeared they had consulted a “prophet” from the Zion church.
“The prophet told us (members of the family) that we were busy going up and down looking for the child while the child was still in the village,” he said.
“He told us that if a search could be conducted in the houses within the village the child would be found.
“We approached the chief to approve the search but Tséliso Nkuebe, who was in the chief’s office, refused and the plan was abandoned.”
Tlali said he believed the people who killed his granddaughter had made strong muti to help cover up the criminal case.
He alleged that a few months before the killing some of the accused men had beaten a local man they accused of cattle rustling.
“We believe in the use of herbs. That is why these assassins used my child’s flesh to try to conceal the case but their medicine failed,” Tlali said.
“Now they boast to my family members. They even mock me around yet they have sinned against my family.”
It’s not only the Tlali family that was shocked by the court’s verdict.
Chai Khutlang, 91, said he was amazed that Posholi and his co-accused had been acquitted.
“I am surprised that the court did not see the obvious,” Khutlang said. “He (Posholi) is supposed to be the protector but look what he has done. I cannot believe this.”
Chief Posholi was not at his home on Friday when the Sunday Express visited the village.
His relatives refused to say where he was.
Ha-Ralimpe is one of the many villages where traditional medicine takes precedence over modern medicine.
They believe that muti can bring luck and solve problems.
Tlali did not explicitly say he wanted revenge but he was adamant that “they will soon face consequences”.