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Barbarism in the name of tradition



Staff Reporter




IT was brutal.

And the torture was intense.

Battered into submission and after hours of excruciating torture, the six new students at Lerotholi Polytechnic could hardly take in any further pain.

They were beaten and dipped into cold water until they were so tired they could hardly swim.

One of the victims got stuck in the mud and when a rescue team arrived he could not get out of the water by himself and had to be dragged to safety.

“None of the victims got injured. They were only treated for post-traumatic stress,” the police spokesman Superintendent Clifford Molefe says.

The torture, part of a decades-old shocking initiation practice to welcome new students, happened on Sunday in the Mohakare River.

Molefe says no arrests have been made and the police are investigating the matter.

On Monday, the Maseru Urban police commander Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola held a closed-door meeting with the Lerotholi Polytechnic athorities at the college’s premises.

What was discussed at the meeting remains unclear but the college’s deputy rector, Thabo Fonya, told a press conference on Tuesday that the school had decided to stop the students from wearing blue overalls after hours.

Fonya said they realised that when the students wear the blue overalls their behaviour changes from good to bad.

He said the college had also banned the singing of mangae, graduation songs of initiated Basotho young men. He blamed the songs for influencing violent and unruly behaviour by the students.

Fonya added the college is working with the police to investigate the violence at school.

In an article the police published on their website, the police said a number of students had lost their lives during initiation practices at Lerotholi Polytechnic since 2009.

In 2009, a student was killed while undergoing torture by older students while in 2012 two more students were murdered.

In 2014 two more newcomers, Tokelo Masiea and Motlatsi Matete, both from Mafeteng were killed.

Four students, Abiel Mokete from Le-Coop in Mafeteng, Refiloe Mohale from Wepener in Mafeteng, Moloi Makoanyane from Baroeng in Butha-Buthe and Tseko Sebata from Likhutlong were charged with murder.

The four are still waiting for their day in court in prison.

Two more suspects were nabbed in connection with the 2009 murder and they are facing murder charges in the High Court.

The school says it is doing its utmost to stop these killings.

A 2014/2015 rule implemented by the college makes it an offence for any student not to report ill-treatment or initiation practices to the authorities or the police.

The police however say their investigations have revealed that some of the teachers are involved in promoting the practices by denying uninitiated students access to academic materials so that they may fail their exams.

The uninitiated ones are called Lijankate, a derogatory term whose meaning is not known to people outside the circle of the initiated, while those who underwent initiation are called Batho (humans).

But Fonya denied knowledge of the involvement of teachers at the press conference, saying all teachers are committed to peace and proper education of the students.

However, some students who spoke to thepost on condition of anonymity say the school authorities know the existence of this ritual of “welcoming new ones in this brutal way”.

“The practice has been reported both formally and informally to the authorities and we are sure that the teachers know of it but they do not deal with it effectively,” one student said.

“I have not undergone the initiation but I know the teachers know about this and I believe that some of them support the practice,” said another.

A student who underwent initiation was so afraid that he told thepost that he could not talk about the secret because doing so is dangerous.

The police have also said some of the students they interviewed told them that some businesses that are run by Lerotholi Polytechnic alumni do not employ the uninitiated.

The Lijankata or the uninitiated are also said to be denied attachment opportunities in companies that are run by former students of Lerotholi Polytechnic.

“Under the circumstances, some students are willingly offering themselves to be initiated and once they become part of the group they have secrets they cannot share with outsiders,” a student said.

Both the police and the school authorities have appealed for information to put a stop to these “ruinous acts”.

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