Cattle rustlers’ reign of terror

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Daring thieves raid, slaughter beasts on spot as owners sleep

 

MASERU –– Mokone Motemekoane got the shock of his life last Saturday when he found his kraal empty. His three cows, the only ones he had, were gone.

A carcass of one of his cows was just a few metres away from his yard. Thieves had taken the meat and fled with the other two cows.

He still can’t believe that people could be so daring to steal his cows and slaughter one of them a few metres from the house.

“I still find it shocking that I did not hear them moving the cow. But it is more shocking that nobody heard the cow being slaughtered,” said Motemekoane.

“Even my neighbours did not hear and no dog barked that morning.”

There are eight dogs in the households neighbouring Motemekoane.

“Even the smell of fresh blood did not attract the dogs to the cow’s slaughter scene,” said Motemekoane.

Motemekoane has fallen victim to a new style of stock theft that has claimed five cows and 15 sheep in Koalabata and nearby villages. Stock thieves in Koalabata and close villages of Naleli, Sekamaneng and Sekhutlong not only steal the animals but they also slaughter them right in the owner’s yard. 

A series of this kind of theft has left villagers horrified. Motemekoane told the Lesotho Times in an interview that he spent sleepless nights wondering what will happen if the thieves decide to attack people in their homes.

Motemekoane said theft of his cows and others from fellow farmers was frightening because nobody hears anything when the thieves have attacked.

“We are lucky that they do not kill us in our sleep,” Motemekoane said. “Stealing cattle and sheep and slaughtering them right besides our houses in which we are asleep shows that these thieves can be very dangerous if they decide to attack us,” he said.

But there is something else about these daring stock thieves that has also shocked the villagers.

The thieves leave some meat for the owners. At some houses they have left the intestines at doorsteps. The carcass belonging to Motemekoane’s cow did not have limbs. 

“It seems the thieves were interested only in hindquarters and upper front legs because that is where there is a lot of meat,” Motemekoane said.

“As for the other parts they were still intact,” he said.

“I wonder how long it took them to kill the cow and remove some meat from some of its parts without us hearing,” he said.

“It is frightening.”

The acting chief of Koalabata, Elias Makoanyane, said he suspected that people renting houses in the villages were the thieves or at least they harboured them.

“We do not know who these people are and when they disappear from our village after committing crimes we are unable to trace them,” Makoanyane said.

“Some people have disappeared since the beginning of this series of thefts and we do not know who they were and where they came from.”

“A village chief is bound by law to know each and every person living in his village and the landlords have a responsibility to bring their tenants to the chief but this has not been happening.

“The thieves seem to know the village very well.”

Makoanyane said the village anti-crime committee, formed in response to the thefts, was planning to raid the village in search of foreigners who have not complied with the law.

“Anyone who has not complied with this law will have to be dealt with according to the law,” he said.

Police spokesperson, Inspector Pheello Mphana, said the villagers were working with the police in an effort to find the culprits.

Mphana said the police were training the committee to gather evidence as well as proper ways to handle suspects.

Mphana said the police were conducting raids in villages in the districts every week under their Operation Zero Tolerance to Crime campaign.

Mphana said the police focus mainly on confiscating illegal firearms which are often used to loot livestock.

“We also request documents proving that a person owns animals found in his possession,” he said.  

Mphana said animals were also being stolen from village kraals and at times whole villages have been attacked and all the stock driven off.

He said much of the stock theft seems to be co-ordinated by well-organised criminal gangs.

Stock theft has been a problem for years throughout the country.

Studies reveal that families’ economies have over the years collapsed due to stock theft.

A recent study conducted by respected researchers, John Zimba and ’Mats’olo Matooane, reveals that the proportion of households that own livestock is declining.

The study says over  the past 20 years at least 70 percent of stock owners have reported having had their stock stolen more than once while 40 percent said all their animals had been stolen.

It also says in recent years cattle ownership fell from 48 percent to 39 percent while ownership of sheep and goats fell from 32 percent to 26 percent.

Cattle are used for payment of bride price, raise school fees and festive celebrations.

Stock theft has also led to clashes between Basotho and South Africans living along the borders of the two countries.

Police from both countries have been battling to stamp out cross-border stock theft with little success.

Earlier this year, the joint operation between Lesotho and South African police in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, recovered 79 cattle that were seized in Mokhotlong.

People from Kwazulu-Natal province had seized herds of cattle in Mokhotlong district in what residents suspected to have been an act of retaliation.

The Lesotho police said the South Africans were following the trail of their stolen cattle until they reached the cattle posts in Mokhotlong and seized 150 cattle, 40 sheep and nine goats.

Three herd-boys were kidnapped but later escaped.

However the police said it was impossible to open a case concerning the kidnapping of the herd-boys because they could not identify their kidnappers.

The police recovered 57 of the cattle that were impounded at Indzanga chief’s place after they were driven away from the fields where they were abandoned.

The joint police forces found other 22 cattle abandoned in the veld.

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