WHEN Mafeteng-based famo musicians formed various Makhotla (gangs) in the early 2000s, the primary aim was to assist each other in times of need such as in the event of illness and death.
While a number of the groups continue to play that noble role, over the years they have become more synonymous with the bloody turf war which has claimed over 25 lives since 2009.
Of the six Makhotla in the country, two gangs nicknamed Terene and Seakhi have been at loggerheads with their fighting one of the most divisive topics in Lesotho due to its political undertones. The other Makhotla include Phula Bobete, Thanya Masoleng, Mahana Puso, Tornado and Terata ea Hlaba.
Terene is headed by Mokete Chakela, popularly known as Mosotho Chakela, with the rival Seakhi led by Bereng “Lekase” Majoro.
So fierce has been the animosity between Terene and Seakhi that in 2012 then prime minister, Thomas Thabane, dispatched Molobeli Soulo and Selibe Mochoboroane, who were Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Local Government deputy minister respectively, to facilitate talks between the rival gangs.
Although the mediation resulted in the simmering of tension after the signing of a peace accord between the warring gangs, the rivalry continued to rear its ugly head in the lyrics of their music which incited violence. Efforts to resolve the impasse, over the years, have seemed doomed to failure as the gangs remain miles apart in their views on how to resolve the crisis.
According to Phula Bobete leader, Molefi “‘Mantsoaki” Themolane, while it was difficult to establish the root cause of the conflict, the 2004 killing of Terene member Earnest “Sanko” Setenane set off the bloody turf war.
“I forayed into famo music at a time peace was reigning among famo artists. It was never like what it has become now. We did a lot of things together, like attending the funerals of various Makhotla members,” ‘Mantsoaki said.
“However, all hell broke loose after the police arrested suspects in the murder of Sanko. He was the first to be gunned down and the killers were found after a very long time. From then on, the turf war has been the order of the day.”
Instead of bringing closure, he said, Sanko’s killing “fueled the spirit of revenge”.
“This was because the suspects were associated with Seakhi gang member, Mosotho ‘Rantšo’ Makesi, who was also gunned down soon afterwards,” said ‘Mantsoaki.
Among the suspects in Rantšo’s killing was Mabelete a Terene hit maker Tšepo “Botlenyana” Mapatle who was out of custody on bail at the time he was also shot dead last month near Memorial Hall in Sea-Point.
Botlenyana was killed along with fellow famo musician Lepelesana Molumaela after unknown gunmen opened fire. The gunmen also killed Bongani Phafoli (19) and his friend Bakoena Mohapi (16). Phafoli was stepson to famo producer, Justice Mpitsa, who survived the shooting.
Asked whether illegal miners from South Africa, known as litotomeng, could have sparked the famo-related killings, ‘Mantsoaki said they only contributed to a problem that was already there.
“Litotomeng wreaked havoc years after Sanko and Rantšo were gunned down in cold blood, so they could not have been the cause of the bloodshed,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Chakela said while it was believed that the illegal mining in SA was the cause of famo-related turf wars, the killings started in 2003.
“The root cause of these killings started way back in 2003 when I was shot three times and managed to survive,” Chakela said.
“To some extent, it is true that illegal miners were involved in the famo killings, but we cannot place all the blame on them. Because of these multiple murders, some criminals are taking advantage and killing people in the name of famo.”
Addressing a public opinion gathering at the Police Training College, last week, Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Senior Assistant Commissioner Moshe Raleting said the famo-related killings were linked to illegal mining in South Africa.
He said while the gun battles were concentrated in the southern part of Lesotho, especially in Mafeteng, they had since spread to other areas such as Maseru.
Senior Assistant Commissioner Raleting called on Basotho to be vigilant in reporting criminal behaviour, adding that it was the responsibility of Community Policing Committees (CPC) to keep the public safe.
“The LMPS is working hard to strengthen such bodies as the CPC to play their role through building regional committees to prevent crime throughout the country,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Lekase were fruitless at the time of going to print.