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The return of the heroes



QACHA’S NEK – “THEY love us more than their lives.” This is how the appreciative Mosaqane people talk about two young soldiers who were arrested in South Africa as they tried to stop cattle rustlers in June last year. Ululations, cheers, song and fanfare marked the return of Private Rorisang Moepi, 22, and Private Dumile Tšoeunyane, 26, to the Mosaqane army base last Saturday. The release on bail of the two soldiers after a year in detention may have been a sigh of relief for the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and other civil organisations that called for the dropping of charges against them. Their families were also relieved to have them back home. But to the people of Mosaqane, where Moepi and Tšoeunyane were based when they crossed the border into South Africa while chasing livestock thieves who were driving animals from Lesotho, they are larger than life heroes. Community members tired of losing livestock to cross border gangs gathered to welcome “the return of our boys”. They told thepost how they have lost livestock over the years, explaining why they viewed the two soldiers as lifesavers rather than criminals. Mphatsoe Rametsi was one of the people who were at the army base to give the two soldiers a rousing welcome. “I am a victim of stock theft. It was back in 2017 when I woke up in the morning to find that I had nothing in the kraal,” Rametsi told thepost this week. “I had 57 goats and they were all gone. I was angry, I was weak, I did not know where to go or what to do,” he said. “I cancelled going to work and I went all the way to look for my animals,” said Rametsi. He launched a search party with 19 other village men and the trail led them to South Africa where they found the goats in a cave at one of the farms. “We came back with them but I got a call from one man who was staying in Matatiele but originally from here in Mosaqane,” Rametsi said. Mosaqane and Matatiele are neighbouring villages, Mosaqane being in Lesotho while Matatiele is across the border in South Africa. “This man asked me why I was doing what I was doing. I told him the story but he seemed unhappy. I realised that he knew something about the animals, maybe he was the one who stole them,” Rametsi said. Another victim, 64-year-old Nkoko Shale, 64, said he suffered several attacks by livestock thieves. He said back in 2012, his 20 sheep were stolen from his kraal. In 2017 they stole another 28 sheep and 30 in 2019. At the end of 2019 they came for the remaining 18 sheep. “I am still in pain and I feel like killing someone,” Shale said. “I know the person who is doing this to me. We were living in the same village but he is not living here anymore. He is running for his life,” he said. “I survived on my livestock. Now I am struggling. I was selling wool and mohair and my life was good but now I have nothing.” A widow, ’Maphomolo Mapae, 50, said thieves stole her 48 goats and 18 sheep on the same day. “My livestock were taken in full view of the herdsman,” Mapae said. “They tied him to a tree near the kraal and told him that they were taking the livestock by force but they did not beat him,” she said. “In the morning he came home and told us that the thieves came and took all the animals.” “I did not know what to do because that was where my hope was. I was stressed. I was so angry and I was angry that I was unable to stop it,” she said. The three experiences shed light on why the Mosaqane community felt a personal loss when the two LDF privates were arrested in South Africa last year. Acting on a tip off, the soldiers had run to stop the theft but unfortunately the thieves were quicker and managed to cross the border to South Africa before the soldiers could catch them. In pursuit, the soldiers crossed the border too but the thieves called the South African police who arrested and beat them up before handing them over to the Matatilele magistrate’s court for prosecution. The duo is charged with illegally entering South Africa, stock theft, robbery and possession of unlicensed firearms. They however denied the charges, insisting that they were on patrol and only crossed the border to pursue rustlers who had stolen cattle from Lesotho. Appreciative villagers back home in Mosaqane prepared a feast for them upon their return from South African detention. The Qacha’s Nek District Administrator, Mantsi Tšeane, said the celebrations were a message that the two soldiers are not criminals. “We thought these soldiers would never come back home. We thought they were dead but with joy and peace they are back. We are very happy,” Tšeane said. He said he has discovered that the thieves once lived in Lesotho and had since moved to South Africa. They come at night or during the day to capture the livestock by force and drive them to South Africa, he said. “This is bad. I wonder why they are doing this to their brothers. Anyway I am very happy that you guys are back and you are alive,” he said. On behalf of the LDF, Deputy Commander Major General Matela Matobakele, said these two soldiers “did what a soldier is supposed to do”. “They cared for the nation, they cared for the lives of Basotho and they cared about their livestock,” Major General Matobakele said. “This is what is meant by a soldier, caring for the nation. We thank you, we are proud to have soldiers like you, continue to work hard for this nation,” he said. The LDF dispatched soldiers in Mosaqane in 2019 in response to an outcry by villagers who were being overpowered by heavily armed cattle raiders. Rametsi, the villager, said the presence of soldiers there helped a lot. “They are risking their lives for the benefit of the community,” he said. “We do not have enough words for what you did, but we thank you as a community. We wish we could work with you forever,” he said. Thooe Ramolibeli

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