Pascalinah Kabi and Motsamai Mokotjo
Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Likeleli Tampane says famo should be temporarily banned from all radio stations while government seeks a long-lasting solution to the killings triggered by this traditional music genre.
Ms Tampane also says her ministry is considering petitioning studios to temporarily stop recording famo music and has further appealed to Basotho to shun all famo-related regalia until a lasting solution is found to the violence which has claimed dozens of lives since 2009.
The minister’s anticipated crackdown comes hard on the heels of last week’s five famo-related murders in Maseru which left the music industry once again counting the cost of the senseless violence by rival gangs.
The first to die was a 35-year-old Thabana-Morena, who was found with gunshot wounds in Thetsane on the morning of 4 October. It is suspected he was killed on his way from a famo music festival at AME Hall.
A day later, Bongani Phafoli (19), his friend Bakoena Mohapi (16), and famo artistes Lepelesana and Botlenyana, were gunned down during a brief meeting near Memorial Hall in Sea-Point.
Phafoli was stepson to famo producer, Justice Mpitsa, who survived the shooting alongside another famo artist.
Minister Tampane visited the families of the deceased teenagers in Ha Tšosane on Monday to pay her condolences. After addressing the Phafoli family, Ms Tampane told the Lesotho Times that drastic action needed to be taken to end the killings believed to be a result of the music’s lyrics which advocate intolerance and insult rival artists.
Famo is dominated by two Mafeteng-linked gangs nicknamed Terene and Seakhi, which are identified by the colours of their blankets. The two gangs have been fighting for supremacy over the years, but the turf war has since escalated to warrant government’s intervention.
According to Ms Tampane, a four-member ministerial task-team had now been established to investigate the reasons behind the killings, while also suggesting temporary measures to ensure the situation does not get completely out of hand.
“I have been instructed by the prime minister and his deputy to visit all the bereaved families and make sure there is a clear working plan to end these famo-related killings,” Ms Tampane told the Lesotho Times.
“We have since established a sub-committee made up of myself, Police Minister Monyane Moleleki, Communications, Science and Technology Minister Khotso Letsatsi, as well as Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa to come up with this plan of action.”
Ms Tampane further said her ministry had engaged the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) to help manage the situation due to the organisation’s expertise in conflict-resolution.
“After realising that these killings are the result of famo’s offensive lyrics, we have also taken a decision to temporarily ban the music from our national radio stations. We are also making arrangements to engage famo artists and discuss their music and the violence emanating from it,” Ms Tampane said.
However, Terene leader, Mosotho Chakela has lashed out at the minister for her statements, insisting music is not the reason behind the killings.
“Instead of dealing with the real issue here, the minister goes to the media and says she is going to ban music and blankets, yet that’s not the solution to these killings,” Mr Chakela said.
“She has failed the very first test towards finding a solution to this problem. She should have started by uniting Terene and Seakhi artists and bringing us into one room for discussion so that we find common ground.
“Famo is not gospel music, and people should not expect us to produce those kinds of songs. The minister talks about banning our blankets, but this dress has nothing to do with the killings.
“Her so-called solutions are not only going to kill the famo industry but also our culture because this music is part of Basotho traditions.”
Seakhi leader Bereng ‘Lekase’ Majoro was not readily available for comment on the minister’s intentions.
Meanwhile, Lesotho Music Rights Association public relations officer, Tšepang ‘Nyaka-Nyaka’ Makakole, has condemned the minister’s intentions as ill-advised.
“Whoever advised the minister on these decisions misled her because they will not end the violence, but rather attract unwanted attention towards the music,” Mr Makakole said.
“In addition, such moves would have dire financial consequences not only for artists but other people who earn a living through this music. Here I am talking about producers, studio employees, promoters, vendors and their families. All these people depend on the success of famo music, and this will not be possible should the minister go ahead and effect these measures she is proposing.”
Mr Makakole further said banning famo and its related attire was avoiding the real issue.
“The first step should be dealing directly with people behind these killings. The police know these people, and the minister cannot expect studios making a minimum of M5000 per recording to turn away these famo musicians. And if she does succeed, they will simply record the music in South Africa,” he warned.
Asked what the minister could do to bring order to the industry and end the turf war between Seakhi and Terene, Mr Makakole said the artists should be called for discussion as a group and then be part of whatever plan government eventually puts in place to end the killings.
“The past government led by Ntate Thabane approached us and we recommended possible solutions but unfortunately, they were never implemented.
“We were hoping the minister would approach us and hear our recommendations before going public about her intentions,” Mr Makakole said.
On his part, police spokesperson, Clifford Molefe told the Lesotho Times that members of the Police Special Operations Unit had been deployed at the Maseru Bus Stop area—a crime hotspot—in a bid to curb such killings.
“The police will conduct random searches and seize dangerous weapons from the public.
“The police would also want to warn anyone committing crime to stop doing so immediately,” Senior Inspector Molefe.
He however, said no one had been arrested in connection with the latest famo-related killings.
“Police investigations are still continuing and we appeal to anyone with information related to the killings to bring it to the attention of the police,” Senior Inspector Molefe said.