Stu­dents bear brunt of pas­ture feud

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

NAZARETH — Two Nazareth schools have been left with­out wa­ter and their stu­dents and teach­ers fear­ing for their lives due to a pas­ture dis­pute which has been rag­ing in the area for more than two decades.

John Mount High School and Mas­apong Pri­mary School had their wa­ter cut last month al­legedly af­ter some Ha Ponoane herd-boys van­dalised pipes which sup­ply Ha Ntsi vil­lagers, their “en­e­mies”, with the pre­cious liq­uid fol­low­ing a mass brawl over graz­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, the schools are lo­cated be­tween the feud­ing vil­lages and use the same pipes with Ha Ntsi to get their wa­ter from Ha Ponoane.

This week, Po­lice Min­is­ter Monyane Moleleki, who is also a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for the area, met with the lead­er­ship of the feud­ing vil­lages in an ef­fort to find a last­ing so­lu­tion to the fight­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to John Mount High School Head of Math­e­mat­ics and Sci­ence, Maqoni Male­banye, the sit­u­a­tion had be­come dan­ger­ous for the stu­dents and teach­ers as some Ha Ponoane herd-boys were now ha­rass­ing them and graz­ing their live­stock in the school­yard, where the an­i­mals would eat veg­eta­bles the learn­ers would have cul­ti­vated as part of their lessons.

“The fight be­tween Ha Ponoane and Ha Ntsi vil­lages has left us fear­ing for our lives. Stu­dents are be­ing threat­ened by the herd­boys who de­fi­antly graze their an­i­mals in the school­yard, and in­sult us at ev­ery given op­por­tu­nity,” Ms Male­banye said.

The dis­pute, she added, had since re­sulted in pipes sup­ply­ing wa­ter to the school and Mas­apong be­ing van­dalised.

“The wet­land sup­ply­ing wa­ter to our school, Mas­apong and Ha Ntsi, is lo­cated in Ha Ponoane and ev­ery time there is a fight be­tween the two vil­lages, we pay the price. Ha Ponoane vil­lagers al­ways van­dalise the pipes as a way of pun­ish­ing Ha Ntsi vil­lagers, and ev­ery­time this hap­pens, we are left with­out wa­ter be­cause we use the same pipe­line.

“What is even more scary is that of late, there have been threats that the wa­ter is go­ing to be poi­soned. Ha Ponoane herd­boys also graze their live­stock in our school­yard; they let the an­i­mals eat veg­eta­bles our Form C and Form E stu­dents would have cul­ti­vated for their fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tion projects. If you dare talk to the herd-boys, they will in­sult you and threaten to beat you up, so we now look at them and don’t say any­thing.

“But this in­ter­fer­ence has be­come a huge in­con­ve­nience to the stu­dents, in ad­di­tion to the hu­mil­i­a­tion we are be­ing sub­jected to on a daily ba­sis by the herd-boys.

“We once put a fence around the school, but the herd-boys took it away and built their live-stock kraals with it.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Male­banye, two years ago, the herd-boys at­tacked two fe­male teach­ers at the school, but no one had been pros­e­cuted for the as­sault.

“The at­tack hap­pened right at the en­trance to the school, and the teach­ers were robbed of their be­long­ings in broad day­light. Since then, re­la­tions be­tween the school and the herd-boys have been tense; our elec­tric­ity equip­ment is al­ways van­dal­ized dur­ing hol­i­days and we sus­pect it’s the same herd-boys be­hind all th­ese prob­lems.

“This time around, when we opened the school on 26 Jan­uary, we were forced to send the stu­dents home by lunchtime as there was no wa­ter for the chil­dren. But now the sit­u­a­tion is a bit bet­ter be­cause some com­mu­nity mem­bers man­aged to patch-up the van­dal­ized pipes, but the wa­ter comes in trick­les so we are still faced with a huge chal­lenge ,” Ms Male­banye said.

Ex­plain­ing what prompted the feud, Area Chief Makhaola Theko on Mon­day said Ha Ponoane herd-boys were to blame.

“This fight was started by a Ha Ponoane herd-boy who had been found graz­ing his live­stock on a farm in Ha Ntsi. The landowner didn’t take kindly to this and asked the herd-boy to leave. Ap­par­ently, the herd­boy told the man that he was not uti­liz­ing the farm and re­fused to go,” Chief Theko said.

The herd-boy then called for help af­ter more Ha Ntsi men de­manded that he va­cates the farm, Chief Theko added.

“When they came, the Ha Ponoane herd­boys started as­sault­ing the Ha Ntsi men with fight­ing sticks, and broke the landowner’s hand in the process. The John Mount High School prin­ci­pal then drove to Ha Matela Po­lice Sta­tion where he re­ported the fight­ing and sought as­sis­tance.

“When the po­lice came, they fired warn­ing shots and the herd-boys drove away their cat­tle but left their sheep and goats be­hind. Th­ese were taken away by the po­lice and the fol­low­ing day, the Ha Ponoane vil­lage chief came here say­ing the po­lice had at­tacked his peo­ple and seized their an­i­mals. I ad­vised the chief to go back to his of­fice and write a let­ter to the po­lice re­quest­ing the re­lease of his sub­jects’ live­stock.

“I later learnt that the chief didn’t write the let­ter and that same night, some Ha Ponoane men van­dalised pipes which sup­ply Ha Ntsi and the two schools with wa­ter.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that the wa­ter pro­ject was fi­nanced by the World Food Pro­gramme to the tune of M200 000, and van­dal­iz­ing it will dis­cour­age donors from help­ing com­mu­ni­ties in need.

“And af­ter re­al­is­ing what the Ha Ponoane men had done, Ha Ntsi vil­lagers re­acted by beat­ing-up Ha Ponoane res­i­dents each time they came to their area for er­rands such as shop­ping,” Chief Theko said.

“How­ever, we have sat down as af­fected vil­lagers and come up with a plan to put an end to this prob­lem. We formed a com­mit­tee of coun­cil­lors and chiefs and looked at the pas­ture fight be­cause Ha Ponoane vil­lagers have been go­ing to Ha Ntsi and har­vest­ing fod­der with­out ask­ing for per­mis­sion, and this has been go­ing on for a long time. We have since been call­ing for pub­lic gath­er­ings in an ef­fort to end this prob­lem.”

On Mon­day this week, the com­mit­tee held an­other pub­lic gath­er­ing to ad­dress the bit­ter skir­mishes.

“Be­fore to­day’s meet­ing, we held an­other pub­lic gath­er­ing in Mantsat­lala vil­lage last month where stu­dents from the two schools held plac­ards on which they had writ­ten their griev­ances re­gard­ing the dis­pute and wa­ter sit­u­a­tion, and how they are be­ing af­fected by the fight­ing,” Chief Theko said.

The chief said the sit­u­a­tion had be­come so volatile that Ha Ponoane con­struc­tion work­ers and John Mount stu­dents were at­tacked last month on their way to their re­spec­tive en­gage­ments.

Mean­while, Mon­day’s pub­lic gath­er­ing was called by Mr Moleleki af­ter the min­is­ter wit­nessed one of the fights on his visit to the area last week.

“We be­lieve that to­day’s meet­ing will put an end to this mat­ter and the po­lice have in­formed me that their in­ves­ti­ga­tions are al­most com­plete and sus­pects would soon be ar­rested and brought be­fore the courts.”

Asked if pros­e­cut­ing this mat­ter was not go­ing to com­pro­mise ef­forts to bring peace be­tween the two vil­lages, Chief Theko said the law needed to take its course.

“I don’t think this will worsen the sit­u­a­tion be­cause just to­day, Ha Ponoane vil­lagers sug­gested so­lu­tions to this prob­lem; they said there was ur­gent need to form a herd­boys’ as­so­ci­a­tion be­cause they are not be­ing in­volved in ef­forts to find a last­ing so­lu­tion to this mat­ter.

“They said their fight­ing was be­cause they had their own un­der­stand­ing of is­sues and lan­guage, so train­ing would help them be part of the broader so­ci­ety.

“We should not ne­glect cer­tain groups within our vil­lages and as chiefs and lead­ers of this coun­try, we need to set a con­flict­man­age­ment ex­am­ple, like we did to­day.”

Dur­ing his visit to John Mount High School on Mon­day, Mr Moleleki told the Le­sotho Times that he had de­cided to some­thing about the sit­u­a­tion be­cause it was get­ting out of hand.

“I didn’t come here as a govern­ment of­fi­cial but rather, as a res­i­dent of this con­stituency be­cause if I can ad­dress them as Po­lice Min­is­ter, I would talk about hand­cuffs, hold­ing cells, pros­e­cu­tion and ar­rest and I can­not do that to my peo­ple. That is why I sim­ply asked them to make peace with each other,” Mr Moleleki said.

The min­is­ter em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of build­ing friend­ship and mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties, while also propos­ing joint sport­ing events be­tween the war­ring vil­lagers.

“Right there, where we held a pub­lic gath­er­ing, we are open­ing an or­phan­age which will cater for the needs of all de­serv­ing chil­dren around Machache and this is one of the unit­ing mech­a­nism we will use,” Mr Moleleki said.

“We are also open­ing a spe­cial mu­sic school right there at the or­phan­age, which should be up and run­ning around July/au­gust this year.”

Mr Moleleki also said he would en­sure John Mount High School stu­dents are safe while ef­forts to en­sure peace in the area are in progress.

“The po­lice will be com­ing here un­til Easter to work with the school man­age­ment and give ev­ery­body there peace of mind.”

On his part, Chief Mo­hau Pholo of Ha Ponoane vil­lage on Tues­day told the Le­sotho Times that he wel­comed the peace ini­tia­tive, and con­ceded his sub­ject had started the lat­est round of clashes.

“Have you ever heard the proverb, Thut­soana e ch­esa hlaaha? (one match­stick burns the veld). It is true that one of our herd-boys went to Ha Ntsi to graze his live­stock. He then called for help, re­sult­ing in the vi­o­lence which has left school­child­ren and their teach­ers fear­ing for their lives,” Chief Pholo said.

The sus­pected trou­ble-maker, he added, had since dis­ap­peared.

“No one has seen him since that day, and the po­lice are look­ing for him,” he said.

Chief Pholo fur­ther said the feud­ing had brought fear among the res­i­dents, with the most af­fected be­ing school­child­ren.

“Just yes­ter­day, I saw school­child­ren wait­ing for pub­lic trans­port in the middle of nowhere as they are now afraid of the herd­boys. And this morn­ing (Tues­day) at around 5am, the po­lice ar­rested a group of sus­pects from both vil­lages and I think this will put an end to this prob­lem.”

How­ever, Chief Pholo said both sets of vil­lagers were to blame for the vi­o­lence.

“The po­lice have re­alised that Ha Ponoane vil­lagers have been wronged be­fore and their mis­take was seek­ing re­venge in­stead of re­port­ing their is­sues to the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties. In this case, in­stead of re­port­ing their griev­ances, they re­sorted to cut­ting pipes sup­ply­ing wa­ter to Ha Ntsi, leav­ing two schools with­out wa­ter.

“But our prob­lem with Ha Ntsi started way back when we fought over bound­aries and based on what their chief said yes­ter­day dur­ing the pub­lic gath­er­ing, this is still a prob­lem. I think the only so­lu­tion to our prob­lems is for me and Chief Thamae to sit and talk chief-to-chief.”

On his part, Chief Thamae Thamae of Ha Ntsi said it was time Ha Ponoane res­i­dents re­spected bound­aries set to sep­a­rate the two vil­lages.

“It is true that I said the main prob­lem is the bound­ary which was not fair to us; the bound­ary was set a long time ago by our fore­fa­thers but we ac­cepted it as it was. But what is more dis­turb­ing is that de­spite the fact that we were cheated, Ha Ponoane herd-boys still come to our vil­lage and graze their live­stock on our farms, beat­ing up any­one who tries to stop them,” Chief Thamae said.

“We have cases that took place in 2001, but which have not been pros­e­cuted to this day. At times, peo­ple take the law into their own hands with the be­lief that the wheels of jus­tice are not turn­ing at all, but that is no ex­cuse for one to break the law.”

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the po­lice re­gard­ing the skir­mishes.

ONE of the van­dalised pipes sup­ply­ing wa­ter to Ha Ntsi vil­lage.

NAZARETH area Chief Makhaola theko.

PO­LICE Min­is­ter Monyane Moleleki.

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