MASERU – The wife of a former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officer in exile says she is living in fear after some people claiming to be police officers attacked her house last Friday.
‘Mamalebanye Lerotholi, whose husband, Makotoko ‘Mashai’ Lerotholi is in exile after the 2007 political instability said three heavily armed men raided her family, saying they had a search warrant.
She said the man claimed that they were from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
Lerotholi was not at the house when the attack happened but she said she was now worried.
She said she has since approached the CID to help protect her.
She said the CID told her that they were not aware of the search and the decision to raid her home.
‘Mathabo Matjeeane, a family member who was at the house when the attack happened, said they were startled by the noise at the door at around 2 am.
“They first tried to open the bugler prove but failed. Then there was a heavy knock at the door. We opened when they identified themselves as CIDs,” Matjeeane said.
Matjeeane said they were not able to read the men’s names on their identification cards.
“We were scared of their guns. They did not say what they were looking for. They did not answer any of our questions,” Matjeeane said.
“They searched open room of the house but they could not access the main bedroom since it was locked. They asked us if there were more people in the house.”
After the search the men ordered Matjeeane to unlock the gate.
She said she was shocked when she found a group of armed men dressed in the army uniforms outside the fence.
“I tried to run back to the house but they stopped me. I was shocked because as when were approaching the gate more men emerged from the dark.”
Lerotholi said the head of the CID told her that his department had not carried out the operation.
“The head of the CID said no one had been sent on any mission that night,” she said.
“I am now afraid. Who knows what they will do next time they decide to come back. They might harm my family.”
She suspects the men had come to see if he was not back from exile.
Now Lerotholi suspects the men got a false tip-off that he might be back. The police spokesperson inspector Pheello Mphana said he did not receive a report about the attack.
“We have no such report,” Mphana said.
STORY 8 FEATURE: Wheels of justice too slow for the disabled
MASERU – How does a mentally disabled boy tell a story of how he was sodomised by his employer?
Or how does a mentally disabled woman stand in the witness’s box and convince the court that her neighbour, a family friend, turned villain and raped her repeatedly?
How does she prove that her two sons are not a result of consensual sex but rape by the neighbour?
These are the questions that Lesotho’s justice and policing systems are grappling with as they try to protect the disabled members of society.
The wheels of justice in Lesotho are notoriously slow but for the disabled it seems they don’t move at all.
The systems are not equipped to fully protect the rights of disabled people.
As a result of these deficiencies the deaf might as well suffer in silence because the courts do not have a comprehensive system to gather evidence from them.
Very few understand sign language.
Translators are not well trained to deal with such cases.
Neither are they equipped to deal with mentally disabled victims of abuse.
The mentally ill people are even more vulnerable.
Masingoaneng (not her real name) from Mathokoane was born with a mental disability.
She fell pregnant after being raped by her neighbour three years ago.
Since then the neighbour has allegedly continued to rape her.
Last year she had her second son as a result of the rape.
She is now HIV positive.
Her relatives have been trying to get justice but the case has been moving slowly.
“We have reported the matter to the police but there has been little progress on the matter,” said Masingoaneng’s aunt.
“As I speak now the culprit is still amongst us. We are not sure if he has stopped, all we can do is try and protect her but we are not with her always.”
Makhokolotso (not her real name), has been living alone since her parents died six years ago.
She is paralysed from the waist.
Life has been a struggle. Her worst nightmare started last year.
“It was in the middle of the night when I heard a violent knock on the door. The stranger banged into the house and started undressing me,” she recalls.
“I tried to scream but he told me that if I make more noise he would kill me.”
“I struggled with him. I fought for my life. I tried to push him away but his grip was too strong. Eventually I managed to push him away.”
Makhokolotso remembers that after the initial struggle the man went outside briefly.
“I thought he had given up but soon he was back holding a huge stick which he used to beat me,” Makhokolotso said.
“When the stick didn’t work, he took a paraffin stove, lit it and threw it into my face.”
She woke up the next day on a hospital bed, her face disfigured.
“I woke up the next morning in a hospital bed. My whole body hurting and my face felt very hot. Only my neighbour was sitting on my bed side.”
She said she managed to recognise the culprit.
“I could identify him by his voice but when he was picked up by the police he denied ever trying to rape her. I don’t know what became of the case but I am sure that the man is still roaming the streets.”
She is now staying with a distant relative but she is still traumatised by the incident.
“Sometimes I have nightmares of him coming to rape me again. What worries me is that the culprit is still out there and probably continuing his evil deeds.”
Some cases are even more bizarre.
Take for instance the case of 10-year-old Lehakoe from Sehlabeng. She is mentally disabled.
She lives with her grandmother.
Last year Lehakoe disappeared from the centre where she used to attend school.
“It was cloudy so it became dark very early and when it started raining I knew they would not let them go when it’s raining. I waited for her and she never showed up,” recalls her grandmother Manthabiseng.
She said she asked neighbours if they had seen her but no one knew where she had been,” she said.
Announcements were made on local radio stations and in newspapers.
Then two weeks later villagers in Lower Thamae reported that there was a young girl who stays with a 48-year-old man.
The little girl was Lehakoe.
“The man told the police that he had eloped with my Lehakoe and he was waiting for his relatives to come and report the girl’s whereabouts next week.”
The man also said he was planning to marry her and as they had had an ‘affair’ for some time.
He was charged with abduction and sexually abusing a minor. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
But Lehakoe’s troubles were just beginning.
Late last year she disappeared with another man for four months.
“After the man had done his dirty job he threw her in the streets. She was found at night by villagers in Mazenod. She had been infected with HIV.”
“I am wondering what will happen to my child if ever I die before her because she is already using ARVs. I am already old and get ill from time to time,” said ‘Manthabiseng.
What hurts her more is that the culprit could still be out there.
The executive director of the Law Society of Lesotho, Malebakeng Forere, says the problem is structural.
“Although we have a comprehensive law dealing with the issue the state has not put in place enough mechanisms to protect rights of people with disabilities,” Forere said.
“We have a lot of people with disabilities who are being raped. The biggest challenge is with people with mental disabilities. In most cases they don’t even know that they have been raped and therefore cannot initiate cases.”
Societal attitudes are also partly to blame, Forere said.
“We live in a society that neglects mentally disabled people. These people are vulnerable because they are left to roam the streets without any care.
“I think we need to have a law that makes it an offence for relatives to neglect people with any form of disabilities. We need to make the family structure accountable for such people.”
Forere said the other problem is that the judiciary and police are not well equipped to deal with such cases.
“We need a special department to deal with such cases because they require special skills.”
The programmes manager of National Association of the Deaf Lesotho, Lokopo Lesoetsa, said communication barriers were the major problem.
“In most cases you find that magistrates, prosecutors and police who are dealing with our cases cannot understand sign language,” Lokopo said.
“Even some family members also have difficulties communicating with deaf people. This makes it difficult for deaf people to communicate if they are raped or abused.”
“Police and prosecutors sometimes say the evidence is not enough. They think a person who is interpreting might be saying things that are not true.