Zama-zama wreak havoc in Qeme

Turf war be­tween Ba­sotho look­ing for gold in aban­doned SA mi­ne­shafts spills into Maseru

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

QEME — ‘Malekata Le­buso re­mem­bers that tragic day as if it was yes­ter­day.

The el­derly woman stares at the bowl of por­ridge be­fore her as if obliv­i­ous of the peo­ple around her. She slowly lifts the basin and takes a swig of the thin por­ridge and starts speak­ing about Retha­bile — her 34-year-old son shot dead by un­known as­sailants last month in North West Prov­ince in South Africa.

A day be­fore the 9 Novem­ber shoot­ing, the Le­buso home in Ha Thabe vil­lage in Qeme, had been torched by an ar­son­ist who re­mains un­known to this day, but ‘ Malekata — just like the rest of her vil­lage — has a very good idea of who could have been be­hind th­ese at­tacks that have been rag­ing since 2004.

That year alone, seven peo­ple were shot dead in the vil­lages of Ha Thabe and Ha Motheho in Qeme — the re­sult of a vi­cious fight for con­trol of aban­doned gold mi­ne­shafts in the North West and the Free State, as the Le­sotho Times was told this week.

More peo­ple have con­tin­ued to die and suf­fer se­ri­ous in­juries through bru­tal as­saults in the two vil­lages over the past 11 years with res­i­dents blam­ing the vi­o­lence on the zama-zama — as the il­le­gal min­ers are com­monly known in South Africa.

How­ever, the killings have left vil­lagers pet­ri­fied that not even a chief was pre­pared to be iden­ti­fied as he and his sub­jects nar­rated the ter­ror to the Le­sotho Times.

Only ‘ Malekata, who grieves for her son to this day, could come out and pub­licly con­demn the vi­o­lence she said was mak­ing some of the vil­lagers sleep “in the moun­tains” for fear of be­ing killed.

“My son was taken too soon,” ‘ Malekata said as she shifted slightly on the mat­tress she was sit­ting on.

“His death left us dev­as­tated. His house, our home, was burnt down just a day be­fore he was shot. He was our sole bread­win­ner and we have been suf­fer­ing since he passed on, leav­ing be­hind a wife and very young child.”

Ac­cord­ing to the ter­ri­fied vil­lagers, the zama-zama turf war spilled into Qeme early 2004 when a bru­tal fight broke out be­tween two of the il­le­gal min­ers who had been drink­ing at a lo­cal bar. The min­ers were from Ha Thabe and Ha Motheho vil­lages which are ad­ja­cent to each other. Mr Le­buso, from Ha Thabe, was said to have been later in­volved in the fight, which his mother con­firmed on Mon­day.

One of the vil­lagers this week es­ti­mated the death toll of the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute at “more than 12’ since 2004, adding fights be­tween res­i­dents of the two vil­lages have be­come com­mon since that bar­room scrap.

“It all started when two men from Ha Motheho and Ha Thabe vil­lages who were zama-za­mas in South Africa sud­denly started a fist­fight in a lo­cal bar.

“The Ha Motheho man (name with­held) was drink­ing at the vil­lage bar and when his Ha Thaba coun­ter­part ar­rived, they started drink­ing to­gether as they knew each other from South Africa,” the vil­lager said.

“We don’t re­ally know what hap­pened be­tween the two min­ers but they started ar­gu­ing and fight­ing, and the Ha Motheho man was badly in­jured in the brawl.”

The in­jured Ha Motheho man is said to have sought re­in­force­ments from his vil­lage and looked for his as­sailant.

“He was beaten again by the Ha Thabe man (name also with­held) to­gether with the nowde­ceased Retha­bile. How­ever, af­ter the fight, the two men’s fam­i­lies went to Ha Motheho of­fer­ing to pay the man’s med­i­cal bills but that olive branch was re­jected.

“The man’s brother told them they had enough money to pay their son’s med­i­cal bills. We later learnt that the two were mem­bers of zama-zama ri­val gangs in South Africa and since that day, we have been liv­ing in fear be­cause in 2004 alone, Ha Thabe vil­lage had seven bru­tal killings linked to the zama-zama gang war.

“To make mat­ters worse, the po­lice are not do­ing much to stop this war as they are paid by th­ese zama-za­mas to look the other way. The po­lice take sides with the peo­ple who bribe them with more money. ”

The vil­lager said some res­i­dents were now sleep­ing “in the moun­tain just above this vil­lage” as they no longer feel safe in their homes.

And ac­cord­ing to ‘Malekata, had the peace-of­fer­ing been ac­cepted when that fight broke out in 2004, the two vil­lages of Ha Motheho and Ha Thabe would be liv­ing in peace.

“I re­mem­ber that it was in 2004 and we were com­ing from re­ceiv­ing do­na­tions from an­other vil­lage. I saw this man that I knew, and he was cov­ered in blood.

“I later learnt what had hap­pened at the bar and be­cause the in­jured man was look­ing for his at­tacker and his fam­ily, we de­cided to alert the man be­ing hunted about it. We wanted him to hide so that there would be no more trou­ble but we could not find him.

“We were later in­formed that the in­jured man had found his at­tacker in the com­pany of my son, Retha­bile, and that there was an­other fight.

“The fol­low­ing day, we went to his house of­fer­ing to foot his med­i­cal bills as a sign of friend­ship, and that we did not want any prob­lems, but the of­fer was re­jected.

“From that day, we have not known peace and what is worse is that the po­lice are not do­ing much to end the bad blood be­tween our two vil­lages as the fight has since in­volved so many peo­ple it has al­most be­come a war be­tween Ha Motheho and Ha Thabe. We hear all sorts of al­le­ga­tions that the po­lice are be­ing bribed not to ar­rest the per­pe­tra­tors of this vi­o­lence,” she said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we don’t have money to bribe the po­lice so we are the least of their wor­ries. We were just lucky that when our house was burnt down, we were not here oth­er­wise we could have all died in the fire.”

The Le­sotho Times also learnt that the Le­buso fam­ily home was torched a night af­ter a Ha Motheho’s home was set alight by un­known as­sailants. The fam­ily was not around when the Le­sotho Times crew vis­ited the vil­lage on Mon­day morn­ing.

“There were four peo­ple in the house at the time, and luck­ily, all of them es­caped un­harmed, al­though they lost all their be­long­ings in the fire,” a Ha Motheho vil­lager who also spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity for fear of vic­tim­i­sa­tion by the zama-za­mas said.

A Ha Thabe chief on Mon­day told the Le­sotho Times that the sit­u­a­tion was so volatile he was even afraid to be seen talk­ing to “strangers”. The chief also re­quested not to be named for fear of the il­le­gal min­ers.

“You would think be­cause of my sta­tus, I can speak freely about this but I can­not be­cause I am also fear­ing for my life,” said the vis­i­bly wor­ried chief.

“Zama-zama and Mafeteng famo gang wars are in­ter­twined and th­ese peo­ple are now tak­ing their South African dif­fer­ences back home, with Ha Thabe and Ha Motheho, now turned into a bat­tle­field.

“Over 12 peo­ple have been killed and I have lost count of those who have been in­jured in the fight­ing. Houses have been burnt down and most of our peo­ple are sleep­ing in the moun­tain fear­ing for their lives,” the chief said.

“Even my­self, I spend the whole night awake. We have a fe­male pen­sioner who has fled her own house for fear of be­ing set alight in her sleep be­cause of th­ese fights.”

The chief also blamed the po­lice for not do­ing enough to end the fight­ing.

“You should un­der­stand that th­ese zama-za­mas make huge monies in South Africa and they spend it freely and that in­cludes brib­ing the po­lice,” the chief said.

“Some sus­pects are never taken for ques­tion­ing while oth­ers don’t even spend a night in po­lice cells if they hap­pen to be ar­rested, be­cause they would have bribed the po­lice.”

The chief said the fact that no one had been found guilty of any of the atroc­i­ties since they broke our 11 years ago was “clear tes­ti­mony” that the po­lice were be­ing bribed not to pur­sue the cases.

On his part, Qeme 42 Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Nkaku Kabi, said the sit­u­a­tion in the two vil­lages was so volatile it needed in­ter­ven­tion.

“It’s so bad that some men work­ing in South Africa are no longer com­ing home for fear of the vi­o­lence,” Mr Kabi said.

“Un­less we en­gage the vil­lagers in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­grammes, I don’t think we will be able to find a last­ing so­lu­tion to this blood­shed.

“We now have sit­u­a­tions where some heads of fam­i­lies work­ing in South Africa hire ve­hi­cles to bring them here late at night and never leave their homes un­til they re­turn to South Africa.

“Through­out their stay, they use buck­ets to re­lieve them­selves as they don’t want to be seen by their ri­vals. And like I said, there is need for me­di­a­tion be­tween the two sets of vil­lagers to put this an­i­mos­ity to an end.”

Asked about the vil­lagers’ al­le­ga­tions about the po­lice be­ing bribed not to ar­rest the zama-za­mas ac­cused of crime and the bloody clashes, po­lice spokesper­son Clifford Molefe said: “We have opened both ar­son and at­tempted mur­der cases re­gard­ing the at­tack which took place last month (in Ha Thabe).

“What usu­ally hap­pens is the sus­pects flee to South Africa soon af­ter com­mit­ting th­ese crime, which frus­trates po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“Ef­forts to bring a last­ing so­lu­tion to this prob­lem are be­ing made and to­day (Tues­day) we will be hold­ing a pub­lic gath­er­ing for res­i­dents of the two vil­lages.

“As for claims of bribery against the po­lice, we have not re­ceived any such re­ports.”

THE Le­buso fam­ily house was burnt down in a zama-zam gang war that has spilled into Qeme vil­lages.

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