MASERU – The callous murder last week of Mafeteng taxi boss Motau Thulo in broad daylight has again focused national attention on famo killings, which seem to go on unabated.
Thulo, who belonged to the Kerebae (wheelbarrow) cabal, was gunned down in the Hospital Area on Monday in what is widely believed to be a territorial war with sworn rivals and erstwhile comrades – Terene members.
While the nation was fixated on the goings-on in Prime Minster Thomas Thabane’s ABC party, businessman and Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) party leader Teboho Mojapela stole a march on his opponents by pledging to mediate between warring famo groups in the hope of stemming the bloodletting.
Public Eye can, however, report the two leaders of the opposed gangs differ sharply over Mojapela’s intervention with one welcoming the SR leader’s “noble efforts” while the other is uncomfortable because “we come from different sides of the political divide”.
The long-standing impasse that has claimed hundreds of lives started when Sarele Sello aka Lehlanya broke away from Terene led by Rethabile Mokete aka Chakela, in 2018.
Sello is worried that Mojapela is leader of his own political party SR while he is a member of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) adding that “to avoid the wrath of ABC supporters, I have to treat this matter with the sensitivity it deserves”.
However, his rival Mokete says “I welcome whoever comes to intervene because they are genuinely concerned, regardless of their political affiliation”.
The rivalry between the groups began to rear its ugly head in late 2017 as an intra-group rivalry but exploded into the open towards mid-2018.
Since then, the two groups’ members have bumped their rivals off and released derogatory voice clips on social media platforms.
Additionally, they have made songs with insulting and provocative lyrics.
The latest death, it has been speculated, was to exact revenge for the killing of Terene member Ngaka Mahao, who was shot and killed at Ha-Toloane in December last year.
Mojapela was accused of playing a key role in Thulo’s murder and was also accused of financing Chakela’s Terene gang.
This was however quickly recanted by Thato Thulo a close associate and relative of Motau, on Mafeteng Community Radio station.
On Tuesday, Thulo told this paper that he had apologised to Mojapela and that he welcomed his intervention.
He added it had since been established that the allegation against Mojapela could have been politically motivated, adding politicians were capitalising on famo gang wars to advance their own political interests.
“Following Motau’s death we were emotional and confused, hence it was easy for us to believe whatever we were told. We realised that whoever called us to tip us off about Ntate Mojapela’s alleged role in Motau’s murder, did it because they are scared that since he has already offered to intervene in the conflict, he will succeed to reconcile the warring parties.”
Mojapela on Monday expressed frustration at the perennial famo murders, adding Motau was gunned down three weeks into his mediation effort.
This was after he had already engaged Sello and Mokete, whose personal conflict has been blamed for the latest round of killings.
Mojapela said: “My intervention regarding the famo music gang killings is informed by the fact that they are spiraling out of control. It is not acceptable that these men are killing each other left, right and centre.
“I mean men with families, children, spouses and loved ones. It is most painful that while these men kill each other like flies, there are also beneficiaries of the dirt.”
Mojapela said as a political leader, he understood that one should be there to share in the highs and lows of a nation and that it was unethical leaders across the board were not paying attention to the murders.
The SR leader added that his efforts to intervene and help curb famo killings dated back to 2017, when he and some colleagues attempted to end turf wars between Terene and rival group Seakhi/Letlama, which has also claimed over 200 lives.
Mojapela also said he wanted the famo gangsters to understand that “we only live once” and that “life is the best gift ever”.
According to Mojapela, he contacted the tragic Thulo in early January with a view to resolving the conflict, adding that the deceased was “cooperative and seemingly willing to make peace with the Terene side”.
Mojapela is a former member and financier of the ruling ABC who broke away from the party to form his own SR in 2017 after falling out with Thabane and First Lady ’MaIsaiah Thabane.
Last year it became apparent that Terene was headed for a split when members clashed at an ABC political rally in Malimong constituency.
Both Lehlanya and Chakela opted to keep mum as their men sniped at each other on social media platforms.
At one point while attending the funeral of a Terene member at Matelile, a pro-Chakela group comprising at least 30 people was assaulted by local police. Lehlanya’s group was accused of conniving with the police to carry out the assault.
Sello this week acknowledged Mojapela’s efforts adding that the businessman had called him with a view to meeting and resolving the conflict but that due to their differing political affiliation he did not feel comfortable.
“My name is Sarele Sello but my fans call me Lehlanya or Hlanyiza. I can confirm that Mr Mojapela called me saying that he wanted to intervene in my conflict with Chakela and reconcile us.
“I do not have a problem with sitting down with Chakela and resolving our differences. He remains my brother. Our conflict is something that can still be resolved,” Sello said.
“Our conflict only spiraled out of control because there were people who decided to interfere in pursuit of their personal interests. It’s bad that many people who follow us are dying as a result of the conflict; I mean people who have families and loved ones.”
Sello, however, said he could not open up to Mojapela just yet because of their different political inclinations and that he had told the SR leader to “hold it while I consult with my leader”.
“As you well know, Mr. Mojapela is now the leader of his own political party. He was a member of the ABC at some point and I had absolutely no problem with him.
“But when we look at his intervention from a political point of view, I am compelled to approach my own ABC leader to inform him about this development,” Sello said.
But, Sello was distraught by the endless killings adding that he earnestly wished he and Mokete could “resolve our differences”.
“The murders are haunting us. Nobody can say they are happy that people are dying in this manner. I am saddened because Chakela and I are like siblings.
“However, there are people whose intervention is meant solely to sow more confusion and deepen the roots of our conflict. For instance, whenever someone is murdered in cold-blood it is attributed either to me or Chakela,” Sello said.
“I lived with Chakela for so many years. He knows how important I was to him and I also know how valuable he was to me. I remember how I was once told by him that if we did not resolve our problems, his wife and mother would hate me and that the same would apply from my own family. Chakela and I were like a blanket and safety pin, we were never apart.”
Sello added that he had been blind-sided by Thulo’s death because he had a promising future as a businessman.
On Wednesday, Mokete said he welcomed Mojapela’s intervention and that he would not judge efforts based on people’s political inclinations.
“I do not have a problem with whoever pledges intervention with a view to ending the famo wars. I don’t care where the intervention comes from. Be it from the ABC, AD, LCD, DC, SR, MEC, etc, just as long whoever tries to build peace between us is genuine,” Mokete said.
“Let me tell you that even if it was a journalist who came to us and asked that we came together to make peace, I would readily agree as long your intentions are genuine.
“The former ruling Democratic Congress (DC) and its coalition partners approached us way back with a view to reconciling Terene and Seakhi/Letlama. They delegated Ms. Likeleli Tampane, Motlalentoa Letsosa and Phallang Monare who were cabinet ministers at the time.
“I called all groups that allied with Terene to the meeting. I went into those meetings with an open mind because it did not matter to me who intervened, as long as the intention was noble.
“Whoever comes in peace, I will work with them. I am not going to reject any Good Samaritan just because we are from different sides of the political divide.”
However, Chakela expressed regret that because of politics he was “a drifter who cannot even enter Lesotho”.
“Because of politics, I am a drifter who cannot even freely enter his country of origin. I can’t come to Lesotho for fear of being killed, despite the political party I helped build being in power today. I am talking about ABC which I started and therefore have no intention to part with,” Mokete said.
The Terene leader said despite opening up to other political parties offering to lend a helping hand in resolving the impasse, he was neither willing nor ready to part with ABC which he had helped establish in 2006.
“I am a member of ABC and nobody will make me leave the party. The ABC leader came to me and asked that I joined the party. I was a bit hesitant at first as I feared that joining politics would destroy our music. But eventually I became convinced that joining was the right thing to do,” Mokete said.
“The ABC leader did try to intervene. He called me and Lehlanya to try to reconcile us. But soon thereafter many of my people were killed like flies in Gauteng.
“Shortly after that, another attack followed at Ficksburg, where more of my people who were attending a night vigil preceding the funeral of one of their colleagues were killed in cold blood,” Mokete said.
Mokete also noted that Mojapela’s intervention began in January and that he was taken by surprise when the businessman offered to help.
“Ntate Mojapela came to me saying that he wanted to intervene and that he had already spoken with Motau. I assigned one of my men to assist. My group was being victimised by police all the time, with most of my men being assaulted at every turn. But still we kept our cool,” Mokete said.
“I must also dispel rumours that Terene group members are killing each other. Terene has not experienced a split. It is still intact. What happened is that the late Motau and Lehlanya broke away from Terene to form their group called Kerebae,” he said.
Mokete added that while he was willing to make peace with Sello, it should be noted that since their groups were now two separate entities “we should thereafter keep out of each other’s way but maintain peace”.
“I also don’t have a problem making peace with Lehlanya and company. But it must be clear that once that has happened it shouldn’t mean that we will become one again.
“Terene will continue to go about its business, and so should they. All we must strive for is to maintain peace between our groups, and nothing more,” Mokete said.
On Thulo’s death, Mokete expressed sadness despite breaking away from Terene, they were still in contact adding it was in fact the deceased who had warned him against coming to Lesotho because his life could be in danger.
“When I learnt that Motau had been murdered, I felt a deep pain in my heart. It felt as though someone had just splashed my whole body with a bucketful of cold water. All I yearn for is peace because there is no winner in this whole thing.”