MASERU — Wailing fills the air at the Cenez High School ground as Reverend Beatrice Motokoa bellows a prayer, asking for divine intervention.
She is asking God to look over the Basotho nation.
Thousands of shocked Basotho gathered at the school ground last Saturday to join a mass prayer session to call on God to “cast away the evil spirits” in Koalabata, a village on the outskirts of the capital where two people were murdered.
Moholobela Seetsa, 13, and Kamohelo Mohata, 20, were killed in what are suspected to be ritual murders.
“Enough is enough of the murders,” says Reverend Motokoa.
The suspects, Lehlohonolo Scott, 25, and his 54-year-old mother ’Malehlohonolo Scott, are awaiting trial in police custody for Mohata’s murder.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said the murders have to “stop now”, and has ordered the police to leave no stone unturned in bringing the murderers to book.
He says Basotho must start a debate on the use of capital punishment.
In both murders, the bodies were dismembered and some of the parts have not yet been recovered.
This has fed fears that the murders were done for ritual purposes.
Traditionalists say those that kill for ritual purposes believe some body parts have powerful medicinal value.
They say the heart and genitals are the target.
However, Malefetsane Lepheane, leader of the Lesotho Traditional Medical Practitioners Council, says the belief that body parts have medicinal value is misdirected and evil.
“People who murder others for medicinal purpose are not true traditionalists as they claim. They are murderers who kill people to make a mockery of human life,” says Lepheane.
He says real traditional healers use only herbs and water.
“In the 18 years that I have practised as a traditional healer I have not seen or heard where lifeless body parts can be mixed with herbs or water for healing purposes. Death is such a fearful part of life that is compared to darkness.”
“Darkness and traditional healing do not go together. Mixing body parts, especially parts of a dead person, with herbs would only soil the medicine,” he says.
“There is no way murdering a person can bring anyone luck. We condemn it as traditional medical practitioners. How can we perform such devilish acts when the legal notice of 1969 even protects our patients from exposure to excessive fauna and flora? What more of a human life that the Bible says shouldn’t be ended?”
He adds that young traditional healers are cautioned not to be lured into killing people for medicine.
“In all our meetings we warn our members of the unfortunate acts of killing people for money.”
Frustrated and scared by the murders, people say ritual murderers should be hanged to set an example.
“This is scary. Those who kill should be killed just the same way they killed others. They should not be left to live with other people. They are heartless,” says a woman only identified as Tiisetso.
A Koalabata resident who refused to be named says the mood is tense.
“We are so tense in the village. We have stopped trusting each other. You cannot just talk to anyone anymore because you do not know who was involved in the killing of those boys,” says the woman.
More people are baying for the alleged murderers’ blood, she adds.
“People say the police and courts of law should better keep them away or they will kill them. People are angry. They feel disrespected. Some claim one of the suspects was in the front line when another suspected villager’s house was attacked.
The police have however appealed to the public not to attack the suspects.
Superintendent Sehlabo Makhakhe of the Mabote police says there are many murder cases that are being investigated across the country.
“We appeal to the people not to attack the suspects but rather inform the police. Then necessary investigations will lead to the suspects who will be taken to the courts of law for sentencing. Let’s all pray that these unfortunate murders come to an end,” says Makhakhe.
In his book Medicine Murder in Colonial Lesotho: The Anatomy of a Moral Crisis, Colin Murray narrates the history of medicine murder in Lesotho and how human body parts were believed to give people power.
“Medicine murder involved the cutting of body parts from victims, usually while they were still alive. These parts were then used in medicines intended to enhance the power of the murderers,” says a small summary of the book.
The book says a startling increase in cases of medicine murder apparently took place in Basutoland (now Lesotho), in southern Africa, in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, Murray says.