Ritual killings: Basotho fight to shake off old practice

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MASERU — The mutilated remains of a 70-year-old woman were found dumped in a ditch in Ha-Leqele last week plunging the nation into yet another shock.

The woman’s breasts, genitals and hands were missing.

A couple that was staying with the woman has since been arrested in connection with the murder.

The police say they have launched a manhunt for a 25-year-old “traditional healer” who is believed to be the master-mind behind the killing.

The brutal murder came hardly two months after a 13-year-old boy from Koalabata was murdered under similar circumstances.

Moholobela Seetsa, who was killed in Koalabata, also had his body parts missing.

The feet, hands, genitals and heart were missing.

The mind-boggling murders have stocked fears that ritual killers are now prowling in our midst.

Traditionalists who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week said there was a widespread belief among a small section of Basotho that human body parts could unlock power, success and wealth.

They said the killers cut their victims’ thumbs (monoana o motona) because they believed the use of the thumbs could give them power or secure promotion at work.

The female and male genitals, which are symbols of regeneration, are believed to bring success in business.

The killers also believe the human tongue could give them the “final say or word” in matters under dispute.

But the practice is not limited to Lesotho.

Ritual killings are found right across the African continent.

In Tanzania, the killing of twins and Albinos is common.

They believe the Albinos body parts such as limbs, throats and flesh can also bring them good luck.

The perpetrators strongly believe that killing twins and using their body parts will double or multiply their luck.

A sociologist and lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Habokethe Sekonyela, says ritual killing has a long history in Lesotho.

In the 1800s ritual killing was commonly known to be committed by the traditional chiefs as they sought to entrench their positions as chiefs, Sekonyela says.

“Then chiefs, fearing that they would lose their powers, would kill people for their body parts or blood to fortify themselves,” Sekonyela says.

The practice is still common, he says.

He adds that politicians and businessmen were now mostly implicated in the ritual killings.

“They follow the orders of witch-doctors to kill and take human body parts hoping to strengthen their positions.

“Most of the time it is illegitimate positions they are holding,” Sekonyela says.

He adds that ritual killing is a satanic practice that is performed by witch-doctors who believe in evil deeds.

“They and their followers worship demons.

“Their practices are similar to those of Satanism,” Sekonyela says.

A traditionalist and member of the Lesotho Council of Traditional Doctors, Khathatso Mokhohlane, says ritual killing is an evil practice that is foreign to Basotho culture.

“Ritual murder is not part of our tradition.

“It is performed by evil people who pretend to be traditional doctors when they are not,” he says.

He adds that ritual murder runs counter to Sesotho cultural practices and beliefs.

“In Sesotho a person’s death symbolises bad luck and solemnity.

“There is no way one’s pain and blood can bring any luck to anyone.

“Killing someone and taking away their body parts is evil and the belief that by so doing one will gain power and riches is wicked.”

Malefetsane Liau, who is the president of the Traditional Doctors Council, says it is unfortunate that traditional healers are being implicated in the dirty practice.

He says the council will disqualify and throw out any member who is found guilty of ritual murder.

“We have been informed that they even sell body parts to their clients.

“They are murderers not traditional doctors.

“Traditional doctors heal. “They do not kill,” Liau says.

Police spokesperson, Masupha Masupha, says he was not able to provide statistics on cases of ritual killings in Lesotho for the past year.

He says the figures are not readily available and promised to consult the Department of Statistics.

However, the Lesotho Times has consistently reported on the widespread practice over the past two years.

For instance, in July 2010, five men were arrested in Qacha’s Nek in connection with the ritual killing of three women and a one-year-old girl.

The women’s mutilated bodies were found at an illegal crossing point between Qacha’s Nek and Matatiele.

In Mapoteng, Berea, two women were murdered in separate incidents in what police suspected were ritual murders.

Police said the deceased were found with some missing body parts.

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