‘Rough upbringing drove me to join manomoro’



Notorious criminal gangs commonly comprise of groups of adolescents and young adults who share a common identity and are involved in wrongful or delinquent activities. Most of these gang members tend to be male adolescents or young adults, however, recent trends in the country indicate that children and young girls are being recruited into gangs at a much earlier age, some when they are still in secondary school. Traditionally, gang activity has been confined to prisons but gangs are no longer just within prison walls as they also exist in smaller towns and rural areas – in your neighbourhood.

Of late these groups can include people of every gender, race, culture and socio-economic groups. Most adolescents are motivated to join a gang for a sense of connection or to define a new sense of who they are. Others are motivated by peer pressure, and the need to protect themselves and their family because a family member also is in a gang, or to make money. One of the worst effects of gang membership, according to psychologists, is exposure to violence.

Gang members may be pressured to commit a crime to become part of the gang. Consequences of gang membership may include exposure to drugs and alcohol, age-inappropriate sexual behaviour, difficulty finding a job because of lack of education and work skills, removal from one’s family, imprisonment and even death. As a boy-child raised by a single mother, Bokang Makhetha’s desire has always been to have a father-figure in his life. Above all Bokang itched for a sense of belonging.

The 31-year-old was born and bred at Borokhoaneng, Maseru, and says his life has been intense since early in his childhood and ever since challenges have been flowing like a waterfall on a rainy season. Bokang’s mother did the utmost to make life easier for him and his sister since they were both bright children who loved school. He studied at St James Primary School and later enrolled with Maseru High School for his secondary education. He states that, growing up without his father was tough; he never knew his father.

When his playmates bragged about their fathers he always felt left out. He wanted to find out who he was and why he was not present in his life. Life was also difficult as the family struggled to make ends meet, and that made him develop resentment for his absent father, which later morphed into anger. To make matters worse, he was the only boy child in the family and in those times whenever one did not have a brother for protection, bullies took turns to make his life unbearable.

His mother was always away working in South Africa when he was still in primary school, which resulted in him relocating several times. Bokang moved in with his grandmother, who due to her old age had limited interest in her grandson’s education, driving the young man to fail and repeat several of his grades. Later a cousin took him in after realising his potential and the struggles he was facing at his grandmother’ place.

Still at primary school, Bokang started smoking cigarettes when in Standard 6 and befriending older boys at school. He also started stealing money at home and at school. Sometimes on school breaks, he and his peers would do odd jobs and buy alcohol with the money they were paid. But regardless of his delinquency he managed to pass his Standard 7 and went on to do his secondary education at Maseru High School.

At high school he found his childhood friends were seniors and they would “treat” his fellow peers excluding him as he was well known for his wayward ways, which gave him an advantage of not being treated like his fellow peers. He states that even though his cousin took him in, despite his bad character, there were issues that some family members were not impressed with regarding his cousin’s decisions and wanted him thrown to the wolves.

That depressed him more as he did as he pleased without thinking of the consequences he would encounter after. He never considered his cousin’s feelings in that process and that made the good relationship they had to collapse. He threw him out and Bokang had to move in with his grandmother again. “Some of the life choices I made ‘sestere’ (my sister) will never make my life normal again. My life has been something I was not expecting at all; there was even a point when I thought I was going to die.

“But I had to fight. I don’t even know why I fought because still, even now, I cannot run away from all the bad things that I did,” he continues with feisty eyes staring as if deep into one’s soul. Tattoos all over his body are proof enough that he had a dangerous life of crime and time in prison. Every minute, his pauses, his hostile stare, the constant pulling of his trousers and the folding of his arms betrays his gangster mannerisms. He had to learn to be independent for him to fulfil his thirst for a good education.

Bokang says that in high school he had to pay fees and have certain educational aids needed for a scholar, and that it was difficult to have all those because of financial issues at home. He had to make a plan to stay at school. In most schools, learners who have not paid their fees are sent home and he says whenever they were addressed on the issue of school fees he always replied he was sponsored, which was a lie.

It was difficult for him to continue with his studies even after he managed to acquire sponsorship from the Ministry of Social Development but he still strove to at least complete Form E, which he accomplished. After completion of Form E he impregnated a fellow home girl and had to cohabit with her for four years and in 2016 he got arrested for possession of an unlicensed firearm and robbery in Bloemfontein, South Africa. A year later he was released because of lack of evidence.

In the process, he became addicted to drugs and would do anything for a fix. That is when he joined gangsterism, the famously known ‘manomoro’ prison gangs. Bokang narrates that being a part of these gangs gave him a sense of security, especially while he was still in jail. He says that most people do not understand what ‘manomoro’ really are and tend to do criminal activities then claim to be part of these gangs.

He said what drove him to join these gangsters in jail was firstly because he was a foreigner and, secondly, he had no relatives in Bloemfontein, which resulted in him having no visitors to check on his well-being or bring him the necessities he needed while still in jail and lastly, observing the life situation in jail far from home. He argues that despite what is commonly believed ‘manomoro’ are disciplined inmates – not what people out here say they are. “In prison, there are a lot of groups calling themselves ‘manomoro’ for instance, maBTK, maNIGEL and other ssuch as ma666 but those are not ‘manomoro’, they are just claiming to be.

“Even here in Lesotho there are some calling themselves those names having no clarity on what they are getting themselves into or what ‘nomoro’ actually is,” he continues. He adds that ‘nomoro’ is about life in prison, mostly having a splendid approach and respect for fellow inmates and wardens, not about committing crime. Bokang joined the 26 gang because that is where he felt he belonged after his observations, and after a hard decision he had to make it for his safety.

After his case was dismissed, he came back into the country and got arrested and was incarcerated again from 2018 until 2021 for car theft. He states that here in Lesotho he never faced the challenges he did in South Africa because he was already a member of the 26 gang. This got him respect in prison as most inmates were terrified of him. He was later paroled and decided on a journey to reform his life because “with age, one gets wiser.” It was time he changed his life for the better.

God works in mysterious ways, he says. Bokang feels that jail rehabilitated him and he is thankful he was arrested at that time, for if not, he would have died like his fellow peers who committed similar crimes like his. He further clarifies that, being a member of ‘manomoro’ saved him, but he does not wish anyone to join those gangs. He adds that being part of a ‘nomoro’ is a commitment and a burden heavy on ones’ shoulders.

Psychologist, Mokhali Mokhu, shed light on childhood trauma that most gangsters experienced in their lives indicating that apparently there are numerous reasons compelling people to end up in such crews. Firstly, family background; many people have unresolved issues like witnessing domestic abuse and end up viewing it as a way of life. Some have deeply rooted anger that one did not get certain benefits such as educational, economical or even emotional support and resort to being violent.

Imitating other people’s life, on the other hand, also plays a huge role because most people are like copy-cats and imitate mostly terrific deeds. Furthermore, Mokhu points out that economic struggles force many people to join even unwanted groups in order to end up fending for families. Lastly, genetic inheritance from forebears before ones’ generation also plays a part. Young people join gangs for a variety of reasons, which can be influenced by conditions in their family, school and neighborhood.

A vulnerable child seeks love, protection and the acceptance of his or her peers. Youth, who lack parental guidance and support, or opportunities for positive involvement with their peers, often turn to a gang to meet these needs. Once a child is lost to a gang, it is hard to get him or her back because the gang can literally become a surrogate family for that young person. The loyalties, love and dedication normally found in traditional nuclear families are transferred to the gang family. Members can also develop intense bonds with other members and feel a need to protect them.

Many times, problems at home act as a cohesive factor for gang members. Other reasons for joining a gang include: excitement, physical protection, peer pressure, family tradition, perceived financial gain, an avenue to gain respect, being wanted and valued by a group, being feared by others, getting girlfriends, gaining notoriety or out of boredom. Many gang members doubt their ability to achieve at school or to obtain job skills and employment. Many prospective gang members are youth who are not successful at school and are not receiving the attention and support they feel they need from their family.

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