Crime threatens Lesotho, SA relations



MASERU – The surge in reports of horrific criminal activity perpetrated by Lesotho nationals in neighbouring South Africa is putting a strain on relations between the two neighbours, according to the High Commission Consular to the republic Selimo Thabane. Only this past Sunday 97 illegal miners reported to be undocumented Basotho were arrested at Heildelberg in Gauteng. They face charges of illegal mining, human trafficking, possession of explosives, illegal possession of fire arms and ammunition and for being in South Africa illegally.

The incident is just a tip of an iceberg on criminal activities reported this year, which include but are not limited to, the June 5 headline-grabbing arrest of 158 famo gangsters in the Free State province. The famo gangsters were returning from a funeral of one of their members in Lesotho and were found without any identity documents. They were stopped at a roadblock after South African authorities were alerted of the group alleged to have crossed into the country illegally. The group engaged in a shootout with members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force after refusing to stop at the roadblock.

They were also found to be in possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. The SAPS reported then that at around midnight on the day of the incident a convoy of 13 Toyota Quantums refused to stop at the roadblock and, in trying to force them to stop, the gang started shooting at the police officers and soldiers who in turn returned fire.

When the cars finally stopped, on being searched, 158 passengers were found travelling without documents allowing them to be in the country while firearms and ammunition were found hidden in one of the cars. In another incident that recently attracted attention, Basotho were found responsible for the mass shooting at a tavern in Soweto on Sunday July 10 where 15 people died while one remains in critical condition in hospital.

In an interview with Public Eye, Thabane warned that these rising criminal acts committed by Basotho on South African soil are putting the relationship between the two countries at risk, further noting that committing crime and killing people appears to have become the norm for some Basotho living in the country. Thabane said the implications for these actions might be severe for Lesotho if the South African government decides to take action, especially now that the behavior is being questioned by the country’s citizens.

He blasted the nature of trending social media posts of Basotho men displaying large sums of money, singing and brandishing assault firearms, indicating that these trends make them potential suspects of criminal activity in South Africa. “Just recently South Africans were already pointing an accusing finger at Basotho for the Alexandra massacre, only to find out later when a list of suspects was released that Basotho had nothing to do with the incident,” Thabane said.

He said in his area of work, which includes the Eastern Cape, he has been encouraging Basotho to behave and consider that their actions might put their agreement with South Africa to work in the country under the Lesotho Special Permit at risk. The consular was quick to point out, though, that most of these horrifying criminal acts are committed by Basotho who are in South Africa illegally. He said, however, that there are Basotho in South Africa who abide by laws and even formed policing forums to ensure that their compatriots respect the law by reporting those that do not.

Thabane said the Lesotho High Commission in South Africa encourages formation of these forum wherever Basotho live in large numbers, voicing concern that there are still those bad elements that continue criminal activity despite the efforts. “Despite our efforts, we still encounter those compatriots that are dangerous and unapproachable. We still encounter Basotho killing fellow countrymen to try to dissuade them from crime.

“Just a few weeks ago, a community policy forum member from our structures was stabbed by another Mosotho for confronting them on issues concerning crime. “One of these days South Africans will be tired of these crimes and killings. And when they do, they will take action and report the matter to their government which will, in turn, be forced to take action that unfortunately might not be good for Lesotho. “The killings and crime committed by Basotho are putting the country’s relationship with South Africa in massive jeopardy,” Thabane stated.

In a separate interview with Public Eye, Colonel Athlenda Mathe of the SAPS said the 97 illegal Basotho miners aged between 18 and 35 years and detained on Sunday last week will appear before Heildelberg Magistrate’s Court this week. Mathe said the illegal miners were arrested together with a 62-year-old Heidelberg farm-owner, from whose farm the Basotho were operating. The detainees were apprehended by a South African multidisciplinary team established to clamp down on illicit mining activities.

Colonel Mathe said that following an intelligence drive operation, a team consisting of various specialised units in the SAPS swooped on the farm where illegal miners were operating from and, among others, found illegal miners in possession of mining equipment and implements which the security officials confiscated. Found in possession of these illegal miners were three unlicensed fire arms and 570 rounds of ammunition.

“Upon interrogation and inspection, the team seized mining equipment and implements and also discovered that all suspects   were Lesotho nationals and a majority of them were in the country illegally. The firearms have been taken in for ballistic testing to determine if they were used in any other crimes,” Colonel Mathe noted. Mathe further stated that the farm owner who was arrested together with the illegal miners was found in possession of illegal ammunition and gold bearing equipment.

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