The parents grinned with joy and satisfaction, while the victims grimaced and cringed with disgust at the news delivered by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to the Koalabata community.
News that the Koalabata youths in military police detention for infamously terrorising their community as well as neighbouring villages, are unharmed and in good health was received by mixed reactions by members of their community.
â€œI am really very happy and relieved that they are still in good conditions, I event visited them to see for myself how they are doing and confirmed that they have not been beaten, assaulted or abused in any way, but they are fineâ€ said one â€˜Maletlatsa Ralitapole speaking on behalf of parents to the youths.
She said she is very glad that this is happening to them and their children. She explained that at first as a parent she was worried after hearing rumours that their children were being subjected to torment and torture at the hands of the soldiers.
She said this during a gathering for the Koalabata community earlier this week wherein representatives of the LDF had visited the village to address its members regarding the state of their children who have been detained by the military over the past week for acts of terror meted against them.
The army is one of the national security agencies known for its heavy-handedness in dealing with persons/suspects detained by its military police, especially since the arm dals in particular with army personnel who contravene the military precepts. In recent times, and in dealing with the Covid-19 regulations, members of the army have been roped in to help maintain the law and have often been criticised for dealing violently with those in cahoots with the law. It is for this reason that as soon as the youths were detained by the army rumours started doing the rounds that they would certainly be clobbered into cooperation, especially seeing the intensity of allegations against them.
The youths, most of them in their mid-teens were allegedly a slowly encroaching reign of terror in the community, abusing villagers whom they robbed off valuables such as money, cell-phones and even going as far as stabbing them mercilessly not even bothered about killing. All these were said to be done as part of prison-affiliated gang practices and rituals.
Address the matter, Major Motlalepula Qhubu from the LDF Legal Division assured the parents of the youths as well as fellow villagers that rumours of assault were merely just that-rumours with no truth in them. He said under the current command, the LDF is no longer what it was known for as the monster that beats people irrespective of the law.
â€œLike the commander of the LDF always says, the LDF is the hope of the nation, our responsibility is to protect not harass our people,â€ said Qhubu.
He further noted that the programme was established to help these kids not end up in prison but to offer counselling to them. Qhubu said that the youths are kept in the military police to receive counselling. He further said that their job in this programme is not so difficult because the kids are willing to be helped according to their corporation with the LDF.
He pointed out that it would appear that they are victims of the whims of peer pressure since some of them have been in jail before, thus flaunting it as a manly thing to do for one to be duly recognised in the gangs hence they behave the way they do.
He urged the community to accept them back when they return home as they would come out duly corrected.
According to Qhubu, there are 38 of them currently being held in military detention, the eldest of whom is 34 years old while the youngest is aged 15 years, and that two of them are girls.
LDF Counselling Departmentâ€™s Lieutenant Dick Makoetlane said the programme serves as a youth development and rehabilitation to these kids. He said there are many departments working to achieve the goal of helping them.
â€œThis is not a one-man show by the LDF, we are working together with other security agencies,â€ he said. He noted that the LMPS, LDF and LCS are also on-board joining hands to put these groups to an end.
Meanwhile, Makhomo Makoanyane the chief of Koalabata, revealed that the said reign of terror dates as far back as around 2015 when some of them had just been home after completing traditional initiation school training. She said the gangs started the killings among themselves but later many crimes were reported to her related to the gangs.
Her attempts to find help, she said, had landed her to the Mabote Police â€œuntil the battle became too strong for them tooâ€. She explained that more than 30 people were murdered in her village consequent to these gangs. She said things had become so bad to the point where they could no longer send their children to certain villages in fear that they may be killed by the gang of that village.
â€œWhen I saw how bad the situation was becoming, I approached the military for interventionâ€ explained Makhomo as she expressed her gratitude to the military for their intervention.
A victim who was robbed off money, shoes and phones by the gangs, Lefu Valeni said he was not satisfied by the way the matter is being handled where the perpetrators are seemingly being handled with woollen gloves. He said they deserve to be treated as other criminals because they are criminals indeed.
â€œI wonder if my stuff which they took from me will be found, I am not satisfied I want them to suffer the consequences of what they chosen to live,â€ said Valeni.
The youths are expected to re-join the community immediately when they are ready to live amongst them. Their rehabilitation programme is also expected to continue even beyond their release in order to follow their progress.