MASERU – The old saying that there is no place like home is not exactly how the community of Ha Abia feels about their neighbourhood as the residents live in constant fear of criminals who badger them indiscriminately.
The rate of crime in the area gets unparalleled in winter as the criminals take advantage of the early darkness to rob homes, people in the streets, businesses, assault the weak as well as sexually molest both women and girls.
These crimes are customarily perpetuated by syndicates of young criminals aged between 18 and 35 whose sole purpose in life is to make a living hell for other people.
The situation has left the community so furious that it is actually planning to take matters into its own hands and retaliate on the suspects who roam their streets freely.
A lot of lives have been shattered by these criminals while police, on the other hand, are frustrated as they seemingly fail to get the suspects to toe the line.
Efforts by both the Lithoteng Police and the area chief to bring order to the chaotic situation are insignificant because the level of crime in the area keeps mounting by the day.
A recent attack on a 71-year-old resident, ’Mamothepane Moiketsi, has prompted the community to break its silence and finally jump into action to curtail the unbriddled lawlessness.
Moiketsi was allegedly mugged and stabbed with a knife by a gang of youths as she left her home in the early hours of Thursday May 16 while on her way to a local health centre for a routine check-up.
She says she saw three boys approaching her but never thought they would harm her because she took them for schoolboys on their way to school.
But within seconds the innocent looking youths were all over her. She says one strangled her as another stabbed her with the knife while the third one snatched her handbag and fled.
“The boy stabbed me behind the ear and on the chin. None of them said a word, the attack was in silence and when they finally left me alone, I was covered with blood all over,” the elderly lady says.
Her frantic scream for help were in vain as nobody came to her rescue until she dragged herself back home.
“The handbag contained my medical records, my personal phone and cash amounting to M400,” she notes.
She later reported the attack to the Lithoteng Police and area chief.
“But to my astonishment, police told me to keep asking about the suspects and report back to them after five days.
“The chief has been quiet about the whole issue and neither taken any action or come to check my condition,” she says disappointedly.
Her medical records and passport which were allegedly dumped in a gully outside the village were later found by fellow villagers.
One of the men who found the missing property is confident that he has an idea of who the suspects are but adds, however, that they could not do anything without the area chief’s permission.
The man who declined to be named for fear of reprisals says most of the criminals are youths from the neighbourhood and are known to the rest of the community.
Some members of the community told this publication that they feel that both police and the area chief are not doing enough to ensure their safety.
“They do not seem interested in eradicating crime in the area and that is encouraging these criminals to do as they please against the general public.
“Although we are keen to search the suspects’ homes, that will not happen without both the police and chief’s authority.
“So, if we do not get the lawful assistance we require, we will take the law into our own hands and opt for mob justice. We cannot afford to have our homes broken into, our women raped and assaulted as these criminals wish with the police watching helplessly.
“What did police mean when they told ’M’e ’Mamothepane to go and ask around about the suspects and later return to report what she had learnt? That only means they expect the public to do their work for them.
“We are sick and tired of living in fear in our homes, if we do not do anything about this on our own, this thing will keep happening until all gets out of control,” one of the villagers.
Another resident who later transported the gravely injured Moiketsi to hospital described Ha Abia as a God-forsaken village.
The woman, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said unless the authority stepped in, the situation would completely spiral out of control.
’Mathabo Sekete who works out of town and knocks off late says the community has been living in fear for the longest time with no hope of the situation improving.
Sekete says all efforts to put the situation under control or to eradicate the crime have been in vain.
“What discourages us from relying on the law is that even after the suspects have been identified and arrested, they are released within a short time and come back to the society to continue harassing the community.”
She says the criminal activities, among other things, affect businesses and discourage entrepreneurs from bringing their businesses to their village.
“Businesses suffer because they are always robbed and investors lose a lot of money as people are reluctant to live in unsafe neighbourhoods,” she also says.
Their only hope is if the government, through the Maseru City Council, installs street lights as they would deter criminal activities which are perpetuated by darkness.
The area headman Chief Bofihla Khongoana-Nts’o was not available to comment on the matter.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says if the matter was reported to the Lithoteng Police like it is alleged and no action was duly taken, then those police have a lot to explain.
Mopeli says it is police responsibility to investigate reported crimes and not ask the victims to keep their ears on the ground about the crimes allegedly committed against them.
He discouraged mob justice saying it is illegal in Lesotho, saying any criminal activity should be reported to the police at all times.
He agrees that because it normally gets dark early in winter, criminals take advantage and commit crimes.
“This is why in winter we always change our policing strategies to ensure that we respond to the situation at hand.
“This includes changing schedules of police patrols in the villages and using other strategies such as encouraging community policing,” he says.
Mopeli notes that as much as police work hard to curb crime throughout the country, lack of resources is the major challenge they face.
He says because police do not cover all villages in Maseru, they are therefore forced to rotate their patrol schedules in all surrounding villages.
“The challenge normally arises when a crime has been committed when we are not patrolling a particular area. But with limited resources, it is always difficult to get to the crime scene and assist victims.
“The other alternative to eradicating crime in our villages and townships is to practice community policing.
“In that way, the community is able to come up with a policing strategy that will address their needs either by guarding the neighbourhood at night or alerting police immediately after a crime has been committed and also by working together to make their communities safer,” he says.