IT has been two years since the vicious killing of five-year-old Reitumetse Nthunya.
The child was allegedly stabbed by her family’s tenant in October 2015.
Although the suspected killer, Ntahli Chuene, handed herself in to the police the same day she allegedly committed the murder and even offered to show the police the body, the victim’s family says they are still waiting for justice to be served.
Reitumetse was just a month away from graduating from pre-school when she was allegedly lured from her home with the promise of sweets and potato chips before she was stabbed to death in Masowe.
Her mother, ’Mareitumetse Nthunya, says she still has many questions that only Chuene can answer and would feel better if the wheels of justice could turn faster for the family to have some closure.
“In some ways, the justice system has let us down because we lost a child more than two years ago and we are still waiting for the woman who took our child’s life to be tried. We need to understand why she did it,” Ms Nthunya said.
However, the Nthunya family is not the only one nursing the pain of losing a child in such gruesome circumstances and allegedly at the hands of the same 36-year-old Chuene.
According to High Court documents, two years before the killing of Reitumetse, in October 2013, Mpho Chuene, aged six years, was allegedly also lured from her home in Sea Point to Masowe, where she was stabbed with a knife. In this case, the victim was daughter to the wife of Ntahli Chuene’s maternal grandfather.
The Chuene family has also been waiting for justice for more than four years, with chances that some of the eight witnesses in the case might no longer be available. In both cases, Ntahli Chuene was charged under the Penal Code Act (Number 6 of 2010).
High Court records indicate that no trial was conducted in the first case before the suspect’s release through the Criminal Justice law which provides for a speedy trial and for the accused not to spend more than 60 days without trial with no valid reasons.
However, Chuene is expected at the High Court on 14 February 2018, for an interview with one of the assistant registrars, to discuss how the cases will proceed before the trial date is set.
The Lesotho Times recently visited Chuene at the Women Correctional facility in Maseru where she has been interned for the last two years. She blamed her actions on bitterness over her difficult life circumstances, which she claimed led her astray.
“I ask for forgiveness,” she said, explaining how she wished she could turn back the hands of time and do things differently.
The Superintendent for the Women Correctional facility ‘Marethabile Tale said officers were keeping a close eye on Chuene.
“We are closely monitoring her because the crimes she is accused of have to do with children. We have children in this facility and would not want to put them at any risk, mainly because, we are not yet certain of all the factors surrounding the two alleged murder cases since none of them were tried in court,” Supt Tale said.
However, the killing of Mpho Chuene made headlines in 2013, with police investigations pointing to a family dispute that had degenerated into murder as a weapon of revenge.
Reitumetse’s mother, Ms Nthunya, said her daughter would still be alive had the justice system finalised the first murder case and sentenced Chuene.
“Delays in finalising the first case and the release of the accused, led to the loss of my child. As if that was not enough, it has taken so long for my daughter to get justice,” Ms Nthunya said.
The two murder cases are only the tip of an iceberg reflecting a much bigger problem of how Lesotho’s justice system is struggling to process a backlog of over 3,000 cases, with chances that many of them are even forgotten.
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Service, Ms Mahali Phamotse says the government is looking at employing more judges and magistrates to help reduce the backlog, which has caused many people to lose their trust in the country’s justice delivery system.
“We have a serious shortage of judges and magistrates. As we speak, we are setting out cases to be heard in 2019 and 2020,” Dr Phamotse said, adding: “I can understand the national outcry, with some people complaining that our courts are not efficient, they are not delivering the services they are supposed to on time and yes, justice delayed is justice denied,” she said.
The minister also noted due to the slow pace of hearing some of the cases, some of these had become even more difficult to resolve as either witnesses, complainants or the accused had died or relocated.
Dr Phamotse further said the government was taking corrective measures to ensure quicker delivery of justice and ease the congestion crisis in the correctional service facilities.
However, the consequences of having a judicial system that is seen not to be delivering justice in reasonable time are grave. Some lawyers interviewed by the Lesotho Times said there were many cases of suspects who were released from remand prison only to commit the same crimes they had been arrested for in the first place, including murder and sexual offences.