POLICE in Thaba-Tseka have launched an investigation into the death of a herd man who died after an altercation with villagers who had apprehended him on suspicion that he had stolen their sheep.
The incident which occurred at the Lesobeng animal post comes at a time when the police thought they had won the battle against livestock theft which has haunted livestock farmers in the mountainous districts of Lesotho for many years.
According to Senior Inspector Ngaka Setoki of the Thaba-Tseka police post, the man who has been identified as Seolo ‘Matli of Methalaneng died in a scuffle with some animal farmers from his village who alleged that he had stolen and slaughtered their sheep.
“The Mantšonyane police were earlier today (Friday) called to assist a group of animal farmers who had apprehended one Selo ‘Matli at his animal post,” Snr Insp Setoki said.
“The farmers had gone to the post in search of their missing sheep where they found a head of a sheep which they identified as theirs using livestock branding marks. They also found a sheep hide of a recently slaughtered animal.
“It is alleged that the farmers then somehow maltreated the suspect and subsequently called the police when they realised that he may have died. It still has not yet been established how Mr ‘Matli was maltreated.
“At the moment, we are only speculating over the cause of death but a murder case has been opened against the animal farmers who were at the scene while investigation into the cause of death are continuing,” Snr Insp Setoki said.
Snr Insp Setoki said the incident came at a time when the Thaba-Tseka police were beginning to celebrate their perceived win of the fight against livestock theft which has remained a menace in the mountainous districts of Lesotho.
For several years, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), through its anti-stock theft unit, has been up in arms to end the crime which has often ended with loss of life, leaving many families whose livelihoods depend on animal rearing without any source of income.
Districts such as Butha-Buthe, Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek have remained targets for animal rustling, with the thieves taking advantage of the inaccessible Drakensburg mountain range to move herds of stolen animals to some parts of South Africa in exchange for illegal firearms.
Snr Insp Setoki said they were almost successful in ending livestock theft in the Thaba-Tseka district but the Friday incident was a reminder that the battle is still on.
“We have been successful in curbing the cross-border cases of stock-theft. We have not had such cases in a long time now. However, we are still confronted by cases where herd boys who are deployed to mind animals at the posts steal from each other when they run out of food supplies.
“We have appealed to the owners of the livestock to visit their animal minders periodically to ensure that they have food so that they are not tempted to steal from one another. They seem to understand us but we learn from the recurrence of cases as this one we are dealing with that they do not heed on our calls,” Snr Insp Setoki said.