Speaking at a rally held at Kolo in Mafeteng recently, Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane vowed to end crime within six months and even dared citizens to challenge the validity of his promise if he fails to steer Lesotho towards a climate of safety.
He dedicated over ten minutes of his speech to the scourge of crime and appeared to speak right from within his soul.
His words should have brought hope to many Basotho who daily go to bed wondering if they will wake up to kraals emptied by heartless thieves. Some people have even given up on livestock farming and have no recourse to turn to when families are in dire need of priorities such as school fees and other essentials.
Others have long abandoned cultivating their fields as indolent thugs freely help themselves to the crops or set their animals free to rampage on the fields.
Some of our communities — especially those residing in the hot spots of lawlessness — are simply crime-weary and keep wondering when they will be rescued from the claws of rampaging mobs of murderers, rapists, burglars, vehicle and cattle thieves.
Only fools would stand in the way of attempts to make Lesotho safer for the rest of us.
A safer country not only appeals to citizens but also to the much-needed tourists who could be deterred from making our country their preferred destination if crime gets out of hand.
Tourism is the one sector we must fight tooth and nail to protect as it has real potential to generate permanent jobs and incomes for our people.
It is the goose that could lay us the golden eggs.
It is gratifying when a government values the safety of its people and prioritises a crackdown on crime.
This is what we expect from any responsible government and the tireless efforts by the police, the Prime Minister and the minister in charge of police are not going unnoticed by crime-weary citizens.
Seemingly, sleeves have been rolled up to try to defeat this scourge.
Turning Lesotho into a place of safety faces challenges though.
Eradicating crime in all its forms is a tall order in a country where unemployment shows no signs of abating.
Stealing because one is unemployed cannot be condoned but we all know an idle mind is a devil’s paradise.
With nothing meaningful pre-occupying a large number of our people, it will be extremely hard to get them to ditch crime and other unwanted behaviour which threatens general public safety.
Youth unemployment is a problem in many parts of the world and too many energetic young people with nothing to do can always be a threat to democracy.
In our noble attempts to end crime, we must however, guard against acts that could create public hostility towards government.
Recent events in Maputsoe are a case in point.
Following the killing of a prominent businessman in the area, some unfortunate locals met unexpected fury from members of the armed forces.
People were randomly sjamboked in public bars and even while just walking the streets at night in an act that clearly was not targeting those who commit crimes but innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Heavy-handedness in dealing with crime can backfire in the face of those who mean well.
Public protests against police heavy-handedness have already been witnessed in certain parts of the world, including Brazil.
Citizens want to occupy safer spaces but are often averse to extreme use of force, especially when it is meted out on the innocent and not on those who actually deserve less sympathy and have been known to terrorise communities for years.
It is precisely the beating of innocent people which has often landed our police into trouble. Citizens who know their rights will not take this lying down. If bars remain open when they are supposed to be closed, what gives the police or army the right to beat revelers they find drinking? What is the problem with taking the matter up with the bar owners, instead?
Why can’t the Ministry of Trade revoke the licences of businesses which perpetually break their trading hours agreement?
In the aftermath of indiscriminate raids such as that which took place in Maputsoe, the innocent (and their families) who bore the brunt of the armed forces’ brutality are sometimes left with nothing but hatred for their own government.
In the Easter of 2010 a friend of mine and his drinking mates were relaxing in their car parked in front of Sekekete Hotel in Maputsoe when uniformed police suddenly emerged and opened the car doors.
Soon thereafter, lashes started raining on them and on other revellers near the hotel. This included men who had just arrived home from the South African mines and had paused for a drink.
When my friend showed me the pictures of his back, which he took after this senseless beating, I couldn’t bear to look. They were harrowing! Of course he duly sued the police and recently won an out-of-court settlement. This experience however left him with utmost hatred for the previous regime.
He told me he would never forgive them and I understood what he meant.
One day perhaps we shall look back to the defining speech the Prime Minister made at Kolo and discover that he has indeed ushered in a safer Lesotho for us.
At the moment we simply don’t know how effective the crime-fighting state machinery is going to be. We can only hope that this operation paves the way for Basotho to finally enjoy undisturbed nights of sleep and that our international visitors will traverse any part of this country with complete peace of mind.
- Mahao Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho