Famo terror persists


MASERU – Ladybrand police have arrested a suspect linked to a shooting incident in which two people died in a hail of bullets at the Maseru Border Bridge taxi rank earlier this week. Authorities believe the incident is linked to a notorious “Likobo” or “Famo” gang. Free State police spokesperson, Brigadier Motantsi Makhele, said this week Maseru Bridge police responded to a shooting incident close the border post at the long-distance taxi drop-off point.

Upon reaching the scene, Makhele said police found two males in a pool of blood next to the taxi they had just disembarked from. An unknown group of males jumped out of a white Isuzu bakkie and began shooting at passengers who had just dropped off a taxi from Johannesburg, resulting in the fatal injuries of two males aged 31 and 40.

“After the shooting, the suspects got back into the bakkie and sped off. Nearby stations were instructed to be on the lookout, and the bakkie was stopped on the R26 near Manyatseng by the Ladybrand police. Two suspects fled and disappeared into the dark, leaving the 29-year-old driver,” Makhele said, adding that after searching the vehicle, a 9-mm pistol was found and confiscated. 

Ladybrand police have opened two cases of murder, pleading with anyone who might have information on the suspects to contact police or drop an anonymous tipoff. The incident comes hard on the heels of a declaration by the Government of Lesotho outlawing Famo gangs. Up to 12 Famo music groups have been labelled illegal terror organisations due to their alleged involvement in gun killings that have rocked the country.

In an exclusive interview with Public Eye yesterday, Lucas Moeketsi, a representative of the Manyatseng Taxi Association, said the shooting incident at their workplace poses a serious threat to their transport business operations as this will deter commuting members of the public from using their services. He also disclosed that a third victim, who is well-known to him, was hit by a stray bullet during the incident.

Another shooting incident occurred involving Ficksburg taxis recently. “A similar incident happened in Ficksburg, so I am afraid this is becoming regular,” Moeketsi said, adding that criminal incidents linked to Famo wars are beginning to take a toll on the sector. However, he was quick to emphasise that as an association, they are not in any way linked to the notorious Famo gang causing havoc in Lesotho and South Africa, although the group is associated with the taxi industry.

He assured commuters that the association will do everything possible to guarantee their safety when travelling. On May 10, an Internal Security Declaration was published, prohibiting the Famo groups from functioning and promoting their music genre as part of the Government’s efforts to combat the high levels of crime that resulted in the deaths of 56 individuals in April, as reported by former Acting Police Commissioner Dr. Mahlape Morai.

The killings in April were localised in the northern region of Lesotho. The government’s decision to ban Famo groups follows Prime Minister Samuel Matekane’s declaration of war on Famo gangs in May, labelling them as terrorists and linking them to widespread violent murders.

Matekane expressed concern about the alarming rise in murders committed by Famo gangs. In response, the Government has issued a gazette designating these groups and individuals as terrorists.

The intention behind this move is to enable law enforcement officials to effectively apprehend and detain these criminals and hand out deterrent sentences. “The gazette serves the purpose of facilitating the work of the police in apprehending these offenders,” the Premier said. His statements and the gazette faced opposition from the notorious Famo gangs, who contested the decision.

On the other hand, the ban has caused unease among politicians and supporters of artistic freedom and human rights, who view it as an effort to mute a marginalised group and hinder artistic expression. Journalists are also banned from interviewing Famo group members, while members of the community were instructed not to wear associated regalia, blankets, or even listen to Famo music.

To show the severity of the situation, three Leribe men were recently sentenced to 10 years in prison each for wearing regalia associated with the banned  Famo groups. The government’s strict enforcement of the ban, despite the possibility of a fine, demonstrates commitment to addressing the criminal activities of these groups that have contributed to widespread crime in the country.

The Leribe Magistrate’s Court convicted the trio of Monoeche Mabokoane, 31, Motantjeloe Mokoko, 39, and Lebitso Rammopo, 29, of Khanyane in the same district for wearing regalia of their banned  Famo groups.

Magistrate Koaesa sentenced them to hefty prison terms, making them the first recipients of a new law gazetted to rein in the gangs, which began as music groups to promote their music genre but subsequently faced accusations of morphing into fully fledged criminal enterprises.

Koaesa found them guilty of wearing the Famo regalia and sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment or fines of M10,000 each. They had been remanded in custody pending the payment of the fines. If they fail to pay the fines, they would have to serve the effective 10-year prison sentences. No portion of the sentences was suspended. The M10,000 represents a fortune for many poor ordinary followers of the Famo groups.

According to the charge sheet, the trio was arrested on May 18, 2024, in Khanyane, Leribe, where they were found to be wearing black and blue Letlama blankets, green jerseys emblazoned with the words “Khanyane ke lehae la ka,” (‘Khanyane is my home’), and green hats engraved with “Ha le jeloe Letjala” (carry your own cross).

“The said accused are charged for being members of unlawful organisations that promote or encourage subversive activities in contravention of sections 7, 11, and 12 of the Internal Securities (General) Act No. 24 of 1984, read with Legal Notice No. 40 of 2024 Internal Security (Declaration of Unlawful Organisations),” part of the charge sheet read.

The trio first appeared in court on May 21, 2024, to be conferred with the charges. They pleaded not guilty and were released on M3 000 bail each and M15 000 surety. They were ordered to reappear before the same court this week when they were convicted and sentenced.

Even after the sentencing of the trio, family violence seems to continue unabated. Two individuals and eight horses were fatally shot at Tšepiso “Mosotho” Radebe’s farm in South Africa in an incident linked to the Khosi Mokata Lirope gang, as the tragic shooting of Mosotho’s employees and horses is believed to be connected to the ongoing cycle of  family  revenge violence.

The latest killings followed the murder of six people, including five family members, in April in Mosotho’s home village of Liphakoeng and the nearby village of Fobane in Leribe.

No one has yet been arrested in connection with those killings believed to have stemmed from ongoing feuds between Mosotho’s Terene, the Mokata Lirope group, and the Liala Mabatha gang.

However, the fights still continue, as the gun shooting that occurred at the border gate on Tuesday is also associated with Famo gangs and music. The newly appointed Commissioner of Police, Borotho Matsoso, has his work cut out for him.

The seasoned cop, who has also worked for the Directorate of Crime and Economic Offences as well as the Revenue Services of Lesotho, has vowed to turn the tide of crime, including Famo killings, using his vast experience.

Famo music, a genre deeply rooted in Lesotho’s cultural heritage, originated in the 1920s as a powerful expression of the experiences, hopes, and struggles of Basotho men who worked as migrant labourers in South Africa’s mines.

These men brought their musical traditions and stories to the mines, creating a unique sound that became synonymous with Lesotho’s identity.

However, the accordion-based musical style has unfortunately become associated with deadly gang warfare, contributing to Lesotho’s high murder rate and spilling over into neighbouring South Africa due to feuds over control of illegal mining shafts, thus using Famo music to spite and ridicule others.