THE bodies of 13 of the 14 Basotho illegal miners who were killed in Benoni, South Africa were repatriated to Lesotho on Tuesday, the same day the South African Police Service (SAPS) announced the arrest of four suspects in connection with the killings.
The first six bodies, with apparent gunshot wounds, were found on the 5th of March while eight more were found the next day, near Benoni.
South Africa’s Acting National Police Commissioner Khothatso Phahlane said three of the four suspects arrested in Lesotho were in possession of unlicensed firearms.
“In relation to the 14 bodies that were found on the 5th and 6th March 2017 in the vicinity of the railway line in Benoni, we have also made a significant breakthrough in the arrest of four people,” Acting Commissioner Phahlane said.
“We can confirm that the victims and suspects are all Lesotho nationals. We are at this stage in discussion with our Interpol colleagues on the extradition of those that are in Lesotho.”
Acting commissioner Phahlane said the illegal firearms found on the three suspects arrested in Lesotho were being subjected to forensic analysis.
He urged anyone with more information to come forward and assist SAPS in bringing the perpetrators to book.
All 14 were from Mafeteng villages, nine of them from Leraleng, two from Tšoeneng, Liqoabing (one), Ha Mokhalinyane (one) and Ha Rahlao (one).
The bodies were repatriated after government officials visited the bereaved families.
Government spokesperson, who is also Communications Minister, Serialong Qoo said government was collaborating with South African police to find ways of ensuring that local conflicts did not spill into the neighbouring country.
“Lesotho and South African police are working hard to come up with strategies to curb these killings, which is why we are asking even parents to encourage their children to report to their area chief immediately after arriving in the country,” Mr Qoo said.
Meanwhile, Kolo Member of Parliament ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli welcomed the arrests, saying the development brought hope to the families that justice would be served.
“Through the facilitation of Lesotho embassy in South Africa, the bodies of the 13 victims are now at a local mortuary while government is making arrangements to have the last one brought home,” Ms Phohleli said.
She said the killings had shocked the Rothe community, especially the Leraleng village which was worst affected.
“Nine of these victims are from Leraleng village. Besides the fact that we have been hit hard by these killings, we need to self-introspect as Leraleng village because there have been a lot of killings in the area,” she said.
Ms Phohleli suggested that leaders must come up with practical and sustainable job creation policies as more Lesotho nationals seeking employment in South Africa’s illegal mining sector were being murdered.
The legislator said it was not fair that voters were forced to risk their lives in the illegal mining sector because politicians had failed to come up with sustainable job creation policies.
She said it was unfortunate that Basotho’s conflicts had spilled into South Africa.
“Sometimes perpetrators go unpunished because South Africa has a primary responsibility to its citizens, not Basotho.
“This is why in most cases South African police end up losing interest in investigating murder cases involving Basotho saying that they cannot waste resources on people who come from their own country to kill each other in South Africa,” Ms Phohleli said.
She said some of these killings were fueled by political differences which ordinary citizens were unable to rise above.