MASERU — A prominent member of the Seakhi famo group, Lehlohonolo Maketsi, was arrested a week before Christmas on suspicion of possessing illegal firearms, the Lesotho Times heard this week.
The Seakhi group had until late last year been locked in a vicious power struggle with a rival group called Terene. The violence between the two groups left over a hundred musicians and producers dead.
Maketsi was arrested along with colleagues who were not named, after the Koro-Koro police were tipped off by one of his friends during a police interrogation about his whereabouts.
The police had picked up information that Maketsi had in his possession some illegal weapons.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha confirmed yesterday that Maketsi, alias Mahlanya, (Lunatics) was arrested on suspicion of having illegal firearms but later released when the search drew a blank.
“He was searched but the police did not find any guns on him and was therefore released from police custody,” Masupha said.
Maketsi along with Bereng Majoro alias Lekase lead the Seakhi famo group which has since 2009 been entangled in a bloody battle with the Terene gang being led by Rethabile Mokete alias Mosotho Chakela.
In September, Mokete and Majoro speaking on behalf of their groups declared a truce and promised to put an end to the bloody famo gang wars following attempts to foster reconciliation between the groups by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition government.
In return, the government promised that if the gangs threw their weight behind the peace-keeping initiative and engaged in constructive dialogue, their members would not be arrested.
Those who had fled to South Africa were also encouraged to return to Lesotho.
Molobeli Soulo, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, is coordinating the peace initiative together with Local Government deputy minister Selibe Mochoboroane.
The duo has been travelling nationwide with members of the two groups to address supporters and encourage them to support the venture.
Seakhi has links to the LCD while Terene associates itself with the ABC, a senior partner in Thabane’s administration.
However, sources who spoke to this paper this week have alleged that when they were arrested, Maketsi and his colleagues were in possession of illegal firearms but were quickly released under a cloud of controversy after Mochoboroane intervened to secure their release.
According to one of the sources, Mochoboroane negotiated Maketsi’s release with the Koro-Koro police on grounds that government had undertaken to deal with famo gang members.
“Mochoboroane convinced the police to release Mahlanya to him telling them that if he was kept in police custody, it would undermine the peace initiative and create controversy,” the source alleged.
Another source added that the Terene camp, upon hearing that Maketsi had been released “was irked that the law did not take its course”.
“There was dissent in the Terene camp and people had to be calmed down. It was even worse on December 26 during a famo concert when members of Terene present heard about the arrest and speedy release,” the source alleged.
But, when contacted for comment yesterday, Terene leader Mokete was adamant that he had not heard about Maketsi’s arrest and could therefore not comment.
However, Mokete was quick to dismiss the claims that his camp was irked by Maketsi’s release from police custody.
“It’s a lie that we’re angry. As I’ve said, I know nothing about the arrest and we have not discussed it with any of my people. I’d have known or somehow heard about it,” Mokete said.
“People who are making these malicious claims that my camp is angry only want to sow confusion and frustrate this beautiful peace initiative.”
But, Mokete was firm on his assertion that the police should not be biased when dealing with the Terene and Seakhi camps in that similar treatment should be meted on members of both groups.
“When police carry out roadblocks or raids in search for illegal weapons, members of both camps should receive similar treatment. Why search only Seakhi members and not those of Terene and vice versa?” Mokete challenged.
“The law should take its course on all people who engage in criminal activities, regardless of which camp they belong to.”
When contacted for comment yesterday, Mochoboroane told this paper that on the day Maketsi was arrested, he had been with him in Ribaneng in the Mafeteng district earlier in the day to attend a function where the two famo groups were addressing the community.
“We went to Ribaneng where he pledged to work for peace in front of the community and other stakeholders,” Mochoboroane said.
“After the Ribaneng occasion, I was with Maketsi when he received a phone call informing him that one of the men he had come with from South Africa had been arrested after the Koro-koro police found him in possession of unlicensed firearm.”
According to the deputy minister, soon thereafter Maketsi left saying he was going to check what was happening and “he expressed shock that one of the men who had accompanied him had a gun”.
The man who had been arrested, Mochoboroane said, led the police to a certain house in Maseru where he said one of the men in his group also had a gun.
“Upon arrival in Maseru the police found that the man they were in search of was with Maketsi and both of them were arrested and taken to the police station for questioning,” Mochoboroane said.
The police did not find any gun in their possession, he said.
“The police told me that they were aware that I was working with Lehlohonolo in the peace negotiations but that they could not release him without hearing our side, the government’s side as regards the peace process, but since I was there they would release him, which they did,” Mochoboroane said.
“I learnt later from the man who was arrested first that he implicated the man who was with Lehlohonolo (Maketsi) because the police tortured him so that he would confess to the other men having guns too.”
Mochoboroane also revealed that the man had appeared before the Maseru magistrate’s court and was sentenced for illegal possession of firearm.
Mochoboroane added that Maketsi had agreed to return to Lesotho after he assured him that he needed to engage in the peace-keeping venture.
“I went to South Africa to meet Lehlohonolo, also known as Mahlanya, to encourage him to align himself with peace negotiation processes in the Kingdom and he agreed to come with me to Lesotho,” Mochoboroane said.