MASERU – The village of Ha Ts’iu, Mauteng has a rich history of violence dating back to the early 1990s when residents of that rural settlement started hacking each other leaving over 50 people dead.
Scores of children were orphaned, leaving most households headed by minors because there were no parents to lead them.
Poverty and hunger reigned supreme, forcing most children to drop out of school so that they could go out and fend for themselves.
Most communities in the country blame unemployment and government malfunction as the cause of their hardships.
But residents of Ha Ts’iu attribute their problems to the blood that was spilled in 1992 when their relatives took up arms against one another during a feud that left 56 adults dead.
Today, the effects of that massacre can still be felt and some of the children who were orphaned and forced to drop out of school cannot get employed for lack of essential skills and education.
With all these challenges facing the village, the future looks bleak for residents of Mauteng. The ongoing drought has also aggravated food insecurity in the village because lack of rain has substantially interrupted food production.
Because subsistence farming is the main source of income within the community, lack of rain spells great disaster for the very livelihood of the villagers.
Area headman, Chief Ts’iu Ts’iu articulates that the 1992 mayhem stemmed from the jealousy and theft that were rife in the community around that time.
Leuta says several livestock and other personal belongings were disappearing at an alarming rate and the residents started blaming and fighting each other over that.
Soon, he says, people were assaulted and killed while others were torched alive together with homes.
“There was too much revenge and more people were killed and burnt alive, with animals either being stolen or actually slaughtered.
“As much as some people believed that they were defending themselves against thieves and arsonists, others were perpetrating those criminal activities out of jealous over their more successful neighbours.
“So the looting and torching of their properties was used to get back at other residents.”
The headman says some of the residents who managed to escape the wrath of their furious fellow villagers fled the village and a few have since returned.
“The senseless killings not only destroyed the community but they also negatively impacted on its the future and wellbeing of the community,” Chief Ts’iu says.
People running away from their homes, houses burnt to the ground, burnt bodies, stolen properties and animals were the norm in the village until 2004 when famo music rivalry started to dominate the scenes.
“It was a common sight to collect burnt corpses and bullet-riddled bodies every morning. The villagers worked tirelessly with police to remove the sickening corpses that were all over the place.
“It was indeed a disturbing sight, one that remains in your mind for the rest of your life.”
The permanent stench of burnt bodies and dead people was one of the reasons that drove most young people out of the village, Ts’iu recollects.
’Manthako Letele in her late seventies was left to raise her three grandchildren after the mother ran away from the village nine years ago.
The mother, believed to be staying in Maseru, has never returned to check on her children neither has she send any money for their upkeep.
Life is not easy for Letele and her grandchildren because she does not work.
The family depends on her pension and some of the members of her small family also do odd jobs around the village.
“We mostly do domestic work which, of course, does not pay that much, so often we have to rely on handouts from neighbours,” Letele says.
But things are even worse for her young grandchildren who sometimes go to school on empty stomachs, and without school uniform.
“It actually breaks my heart to see them starve and go to school in torn clothes. One of them had to repeat grade seven because I could not pay her grade eight fees.”
Letele adds: “The hunger at home is something we are all used to, but watching the future of my grandchildren slip away literally breaks my heart”.
SOS Children’s Village is an association that cares for and protects vulnerable children who have lost parental care and those at risk of losing it.
After the association got wind of the tragedy that the community of Ha Ts’iu faced, it stretched a helping hand and donated school uniform, produced by a local supplier, worth M60 000 to learners from the Masabielle Primary School.
According to SOS children’s village national director ’Musa Ntsiki, up to 130 pupils will receive uniforms.
Ntsiki says the collection of funds to buy the school uniforms was a result of teamwork by SOS children’s villages in Lesotho, Switzerland and their SOS international partners.
The Lesotho chapter that was started in 1994 has operations that are solely based in two programmes – the family-based care programme and the family strengthening programme.
Mauteng is one of the places selected as project areas after the distressing events of the 1990s that dispersed families.
To date, according to Ntsiki, SOS has assisted over 2 000 vulnerable children in both Mauteng and Quthing.
“It is an honour that we donated school uniforms to needy learners so that they would also be comfortable and warm like their schoolmates. The idea is to ensure that they concentrate on their studies.”
Masabielle school board member Molahlehi Mokhuts’oane expressed his gratitude to the association on behalf of both the school and the parents.
“At least now the learners will have only food to worry about and not uniform,” he says.
He adds: “I wish the government could heed our plea and feed these children. Most of the time we have to send them back home because they would be so hungry that they can’t concentrate in class. It is a truly pathetic thing to witness without being able to do anything about it.”
The school board has over the years knocked on several doors in government to no avail.
Tlhako Ntelekoa, director of ‘Nts’etso pele ea sechaba’ association is one of the people that work day and night to look after children’s welfare and fight for their rights while also ensuring that they go to school.
Ntelekoa’s association has pledged six sponsorships to six secondary school learners from the Mauteng area.
The association has also donated M10 000 to Masabielle Primary School for a chicken project which has already started.
Ntelekoa believes that with projects, the school will be able to feed its learners and look out for their wellbeing.
One of their ongoing projects is an early childhood care and development centre which currently serves eight children in the village.
Ntelekoa says they are also preparing to open schools in Mauteng to ensure quality education to everyone.
They are in partnership with SOS to ensure that vulnerable families are strengthened in respect of child care, protection and nurturing.
Ntelekoa says they have since identified five families that run small tuck shops to whom they have donated M2 000 each to revamp their businesses.
“We also grouped 10 families each of which received a donation of M10 000. The families have combined their monies and a quality dairy cow. They all look after the cow and manage their small dairy project together. The cow has recently produced a male calf,” he says.
He is hopeful that the project would help develop the lives of the families running it.
Another partner of theirs is Masabielle Primary School with whom they strife for quality education for children in Mauteng.
Through their efforts, the school held one-on-one sessions with parents, teachers and children to monitor the latter’s academic performance.
Ntelekoa is also hopeful that through such initiatives and and others to follow the school will be in a better position to properly educate children within its jurisdiction while also improving their lives.
Maseru District Administer, Mpane Nthunya has expressed gratitude towards SOS for bringing hope to Masabielle Primary School pupils and the community of Mauteng at large.
As a former pupil of Masabielle Primary School himself, Nthunya fully appreciates the pain and struggle of stressing over food, school uniform and studies at the same time.
He further understands the impact the above mentioned challenges have on a poor learner’s performance in class.
“On behalf of the school, I am grateful to SOS for sparing these learners the trouble to stress over their uniforms and focus on their studies even on empty stomachs. I wish to encourage the learners to work hard. Despite their tribulations, they are the future of this country,” he says.