SERIALONG LELUMA RAMPO
MASERU –Tavern owners are concerned about security following a spike in violent clashes involving use of firearms by patrons.This despite effort by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) to advise the public against possession and the use of unlicensed firearms; and also following a call by the police for members of the public in possession of illegal firearms to hand them in to the LMPS or face prosecution after expiry of the set March 2021 deadline.
Speaking to Public Eye, Boiki Khatala who owns the Roadside Public Bar at Sekamaneng in Maseru said fail on their responsibility of ensuring that their patrons feel safe by searching every occasionally searching customers coming in of their businesses. He said this was the reason almost always finds illegal weapons in taverns and night clubs.“I sometimes do search each customer as they come to my business even though it’s something I do occasionally, especially during month end since those are busy days. It is on such days that we are likely to see people being shot or injured,” he said.He also pleaded with the police to ‘Stop and Search’ operations regularly as he believes that might not only contribute to the reduction of illegal possession of firearms but also to the reduced number of people killed either by knifes or guns.
Some of the tavern customers claim that the horrific killings occurring at bars lately make them feel unsafe while they are supposed to be relaxed at bars, and urged the police for visibility.Katleho Mosoka, aged 32, from Naleli in Maseru says “one thing that made me to no longer go to taverns at night is people who always fight when they are drunk and end up killing each other, that simply says the bar owner did not do his job to search all his customers while coming through and make sure that no one is carrying any harmful object for our safety.
I also urge the police to do daily inspections at bars, especially that operate through the night because the customers who usually come to bars at night are mostly caught with harmful objects and claim to carry such objects for their safety yet they end up killing others with them.”One of the people the paper spoke, but requested anonymity, said that he does have unregistered firearms which he only purchased for personal safety; especially because he is a heavy drinker who usually prefers frequenting night clubs at night. He said when he returns from his escapades he sometimes meets opportunists who waylay people walking alone at night to rob them.
These reactions after, according to the LMPS on October 24 three men appeared before the Mafeteng Magistrate Court charged with illegal possession of firearms and bullets, the arrest of the trio happened during a ‘Stop and Search’ operation by the district’s Crime Combatting Unit in search of illegal weapons at bars and night clubs.The three men were all sentenced to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of M2 000, which two were able to pay while one was sent to prison as he was unable to pay.
Paolo Mofo, aged 32, of Tšakholo, Ha Leteketa was found with a 9mm pistol and Tankiso Mafatle, aged 25, and also from Tšakholo, Ha Mpobe was also found with 9mm pistol and four bullets – the two were able to pay their fines.31-year-old Teboho Tšlo of Likhoele, Ha Qobete, was found with a 22mm pistol, he was not able to pay the fine imposed and was, therefore, jailed to serve his two years’ sentence.Upon arrival at one bar in Mafeteng town on the night of October 22 the police found and seized four firearms and four bullets.
“While our team members stationed in Mafeteng went on a routine search for illegal weapons at bars, they found four guns and four bullets. On searching the three suspects, they found two 9mm and 22mm pistols together with the four bullets.The fourth pistol was found abandoned by its owner on the floor,” LMPS deputy spokesperson Sub-Inspector ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka said during this week’s crime briefing.The accused were detained on a charge of illegal possession of firearms and bullets. Mofoka said the firearms will be send for ballistic testing and – ownership of the guns is yet to be determined.
She further stressed that a sterner punishment given to the perpetrators by the courts might be an influence to the high increase of illegal ownership of firearms.“I cannot press on this issue but all I can say is that I believe the punishment given to these perpetrators seem too lenient, that is why we are always dealing with the same problem…and very often the same people,” stated Mofoka.
Drawn to discuss state the number of firearms that have been reported missing or stolen during the last five months, Mofoka said such statistics are very hard to obtain and would require a district by district inspection. Sub-Inspector Mofoka continued to urge people with illegal firearms to hand them to police stations nearest to them to avoid been dragged to court if found in possession of an unlicensed gun.