MASERU — Maseru police last week arrested and allegedly assaulted villagers suspected of stoning and burning to death a woman believed to be mentally ill in Ha-Lekhobanyane near Mazenod.
The police allegedly rounded up several villagers, including a pregnant woman, whom they severely assaulted in a bid to force them to name the people who had killed a mentally retarded woman suspected of witchcraft.
The villagers’ arrest followed the gruesome murder of 30-year-old Libuseng Mosandeli who had allegedly escaped from the custody of a spiritual healer, Petrose Mathopela, in the wee hours of June 17.
Mathopela, who is an archbishop with a local church in Ha-Lekhobanyane, had been searching for Mosandeli after she disappeared.
He told the Sunday Express on Friday that when he arrived at the scene of the murder he discovered that the upper body of Mosandeli had been burnt beyond recognition.
Mathopela said he managed to identify Mosandeli because of her familiar shoes and socks that were still on her unburnt feet.
“I saw people standing in groups in places around the charred remains of this young woman. I went to them and asked them why they had killed her,” Mathopela said.
Mahopela said the villagers told her that they had killed the woman because “she was a witch”.
The village chief, Lefu Lekhobanyane, who arrived at the murder scene at the same time with Mathopela, reported the case to the police who came and collected the charred remains of the deceased woman.
On the same day the police also instructed villagers to report to Mazenod police station.
The police then detained Nthejane Lelimo, 24, his pregnant wife Tebello, 20, his sister, Matseliso, 26, two neighbours Malefetsane Mokhele and ’Mantsoti Khutlang and allegedly assaulted them with a knobkerrie.
Several other villagers were also called to the police station for interrogation although they were not assaulted.
Lelimo told the Sunday Express in an interview that the police used vulgar language while they assaulted him with a knobkerrie on the ribs and back.
“The police wanted me to tell them that I knew who had killed the woman. They also wanted me to confess that I had taken part in the killing,” Lelimo said.
“When I told them that I did not even see how she was caught by the villagers and I did not see when they killed her, I was hit with a knobkerrie and others slapped me on the cheeks,” he said.
Lelimo said the police also assaulted his sister, Matseliso, to an extent that she could not walk on her own when they left the police station.
The following day Matseliso was taken to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in the capital where she was treated and released.
At the time of going to print Matseliso was under the care of relatives in Maseru.
A relative who spoke to the Sunday Express said after the police assaulted her Matseliso was unable to walk or talk properly for almost a week.
Lelimo’s neighbour, Malefetsane Mokhele, has been walking with difficulty after the police allegedly assaulted him under the feet with a knobkerrie.
Mokhele showed the Sunday Express crew several bruises on his back where he claimed the police repeatedly hit him.
“They wanted me to admit that I killed this woman and when I refused to do that they were so angry that they started hitting me with the knobkerrie,” Mokhele said.
Another villager, ’Mantsoti Khutlang, sustained a fractured jaw and swollen cheeks after the policemen allegedly repeatedly punched her in the face with clenched fists.
“The policemen said I was an evil woman who coached the other villagers to deny that they killed the woman,” Khutlang said.
The villagers who were arrested and allegedly assaulted are neighbours whose houses are near the scene of the gruesome murder.
The killed woman, Mosandeli, was attacked after breaking into the villagers’ houses allegedly shouting that she was a witch who had come to kill them.
Unlike in folk tales where witches are said to enter homes through tightly shut doors, Mosandeli allegedly broke the door to Lelimo’s house to gain entry.
According to eyewitnesses she also broke Khutlang’s door but did not enter the house.
Folklore suggests that witches go about their business while in the nude but Mosandeli is said to have broken into the village houses wearing all her clothes.
Popular myths also say witches fly but Mosandeli was running on foot when she was pursued by angry villagers who eventually captured, stoned and burnt her to death.
Lelimo said it was after midnight when he heard the woman shouting outside demanding to enter the house.
According to Lelimo the woman said she had been sent to bewitch all the occupants of his house.
It is alleged that Mosandeli was saying Mathopela, an archbishop with a local church, and the church’s priest, Nkopane Khechane, had sent her to bewitch them.
“I was so terrified that I did not try to go out to find out what was going on despite the fact that the attacker was a woman,” Lelimo said.
He said when the woman started to break the door Lelimo and other family members went out through the other door and sought refuge at Mokhele’s house.
While they were still at Mokhele’s house, Lelimo said they saw a cloud of smoke from their bedroom followed quickly by flames.
They went back to put out the fire.
Lelimo said he did not know how Mosandeli was caught and killed because he, together with members of his family, was busy dousing the fire in their burning house.
He said they were not sure how the house had caught fire.
From Lelimo’s house, Mosandeli allegedly went to Khutlang’s house where she also broke the door.
“I was so terrified that I wet my pants,” said Khutlang who lives alone.
Khutlang said she only went out when she heard many male voices around her yard shouting that they had caught the “witch”.
“When I arrived there she was lying down and saying she was a witch,” Khutlang said.
“I could see that the people had stoned her.”
Khutlang said she went back to her house and did not see who had set Mosandeli on fire.
Mathopela said Mosandeli was brought to him by Khechane to be healed.
He said he concluded that Mosandeli was mentally challenged because of her incoherent speech.
“She told me that there were witches in her clenched fists and she had brought them to me,” Mathopela said.
“One night while we were still watching a World Cup match, she bent down before my son and his wife and said she was farting in front of her uncles.”
Mathopela said upon realising that Mosandeli was mentally ill, he sent for her mother, ’Malibuseng Matebesi, so that they could take her to a medical doctor.
But Mosandeli escaped from his custody before her mother could come, Mathopela said.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha confirmed the incident and said investigations into the murder were continuing.
Masupha however said the villagers who claim to have been tortured have not reported the assault to the police.
“I advise them to go to the police and write their statements,” Masupha said.
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