MASERU –– When ‘Makamohelo Tsietsi bid farewell to her son last Tuesday morning she did not know that by evening he would be lying unconscious on a campus clinic bed.
And when she left the clinic on Tuesday night she did not even dream that the next time she would see him he would be in a coffin.
Three weeks earlier Makhari Tsietsi had enrolled at Lerotholi Polytechnic College to study Plumbing and Sheet Metal.
The past two months had been good for Makhari, a hard-working boy adored by his mother.
He had just married and had been accepted by a leading college, says an inconsolable ‘Makamohelo.
“I was happy and proud of him.”
That happiness ended last Tuesday night when she received a call from the college authorities.
The call brought disturbing news that Makhari had been taken ill.
They said he had been admitted at the campus clinic.
‘Makamohelo and other close relatives rushed to the clinic where they found Makhari lying unconscious on a bed.
“The clinic told us that he had been poisoned,” ‘Makamohelo said.
They went back home but at around 10pm they got the devastating news that Makhari was dead.
Makamohelo could not believe it.
She still has not accepted the news and answers are what she wants.
College authorities have said they suspected he was drowned by some senior students during an “initiation process” that targets first year students.
A commission of inquiry set up to investigate the incident suspects that Makhari’s death was as a result of an “initiation process” that went horribly wrong.
New students at the college are subjected to a torture-like rite of passage before they can be “accepted”
The first year students are forced to drink litres of water.
In some cases they are told to put a shower pipe in the mouth and then forced to “blow the water back to the source”.
In some cases they are put under a cold shower for hours.
Those that fail this test or refuse are thoroughly beaten.
Those that have experienced this humiliating treatment say it’s unbearable.
College authorities say Makhari might have been subjected to this treatment.
Or he might have been fatally beaten when he tried to resist.
Still these are not satisfactory answers for a grieving mother.
Neither can a satisfactory answer console her.
She still cannot believe that her son is gone.
“He was a good boy, always happy and energetic. I loved him with all my heart. He should not have died such a disgraceful death.”
“I will never forgive those who decided the fate of my son. I have heard that they poisoned him when he did not accept their so-called treatment. They killed him because he was ‘cheeky’”.
“They have killed a man. He was a strong man. My heart is sore.”
I wish I had known that we would never see him again. I could have stopped him from going to school if only I knew they were planning to kill him.”
She says she is trying to be strong for the sake of Makhari’s wife.
They had married in August.
‘Matumisang is taking it the hard way.
She could not speak to a Lesotho Times crew that visited the bereaved family on Tuesday this week.
“To think we were accepting his wife just a month ago kills me. Her husband’s death shocked her. She is very weak. I have to stay strong for her,” Makamohelo said.
Her dreams of having grandchildren have also died.
“I wanted the best for them. I was happy when they married. I was looking forward to raising my grandchildren. She is widowed too soon.”
“He was so excited when he got admitted. The college education would change his life for the better. Unfortunately they would not let him live.”
“The last few days have been torture to me. Sometimes when sitting in the house I wish I could see him walk in from school. But that is not going to happen. He is dead and I will never see him.”
Makhari was found lying unconscious behind one of the classrooms.
The school’s authorities have called the practice ‘devilish’.
Machela Nkhethoa, deputy rector of administration and finance at the Lerotholi Polytechnic says the management and the school’s council are ashamed by the incident.
Nkhethoa says the college council had to postpone the graduation ceremony which was supposed to be held last Saturday, just three days after Makhari’s death.
“We are deeply touched by Makhari’s death. It is very shameful that his death is associated with our institution.
“We could not carry on with the ceremony and pretend nothing has happened. One of our students had been killed. There was no way we could celebrate amid the bereavement,” Nkhethoa said.
He says they have been shocked by the “shocking behaviour” of the students.
He said Makhari’s death has revealed other horrifying stories of torture meted against some first year students.
“Victims are forced to drink more than five litres of water at once while they stand under a cold water shower, stripped naked.”
“Students are tortured at any time of the day. Unfortunately we are not aware of it because victims do not report anything to us.”
Nkhethoa said the college authorities are working hard to stop the practice.
“We are going to do all we can to wipe out this culture. It should be eradicated. We declare war against ill-treatment. We hate it.”
Surprisingly, some students are not shocked by Makhari’s death.
A male student who refused to be named says “if Makhari had agreed to the treatment he could not have died”.
“He might have been defensive. He could have simply done whatever they wanted him to do. I have been there and I know how painful it is. But I did everything they ordered me to do and I came out alive.
“It is very unfortunate that he died. No one deserves to die like that,” he said.
“No one says a word about it. It is a men’s secret. When you are a victim, you come out very bitter and you want to take it on someone else the following year.”
However, the college registrar Motlatsi Ntšala says it is going to take a long time before the practice is totally eradicated.
“It is going to be difficult to fight and do away with the ill-treatment. It is their culture as they call it and fighting and conquering culture is not an easy task,” Ntšala said.
He said it was disappointing that some of the people were encouraging instead of condemning this practise.
“I remember how one woman phoned in a radio programme, praising the ill-treatment. She claimed that her husband had undergone it while he was a student here.”