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Lesotho nationals arrested for illegal guns in SA

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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Seithati Mphatsoane

THREE Lesotho nationals have been arrested in Klerksdorp, South Africa after being found with illegal guns.

The trio, whose names were not given were arrested last week by the Hawks. The Hawks is unit within the South African Police Services (SAPS) charged with the investigation and prevention of serious organised crime, commercial crime and corruption.

In a statement, Hawks spokesperson, Colonel Katlego Mogale, said the police had received a tip-off that the suspects, who were travelling from Lesotho to Klerksdorp in a taxi, were in possession of unlicensed firearms.

“Upon arrival at Klerksdorp, the suspects were searched and two pistols were found in their possession,” Colonel Mogale said.

Although she did not disclose the identities of the suspects or what business they had in Klerksdorp, the North-West city is known to be a stronghold of one of Lesotho’s feared Famo gangs led by Sarele ‘Lehlanya’ Sello.

Sello and four of his gang members are on the South African police’s wanted list for for the murder of 16 patrons and the attempted murder of seven others at a Soweto tavern in July this year.

Besides Sello, the SAPS has also issued arrest warrants for Tšepiso Elliot Radebe, Thabang Radikatara, Tšeliso Moleko and Keletso Rabasotho, all Lesotho nationals.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times last month, Mr Sello had said he and his fellow gang members would surrender themselves to South African police and challenge all the charges preferred against them.

He had insisted they were innocent of the charges. Three weeks ago, the South African police said they had arrested two suspects in connection with the gruesome killings. Although they refused to release the names of the suspects, Mr Sello and his followers were not among those arrested. The South African police also said no one had given themselves up despite Mr Sello’s promises.

The Famo gang leader is now singing a different tune, saying he will not hand himself over because the South African police have got the real culprits. This is despite that no statement to that effect has been issued by the South African police. Just three weeks ago, Mr Sello and his followers were spotted at an All Basotho Convention (ABC) election campaign rally where they pledged their support to the party and its leader, Nkaku Kabi.  The gang had been a constant presence at ABC rallies throughout the campaign period and Mr Kabi had himself visited them at their Klerksdorp base in July this year as a testament of their close ties. The ABC subsequently bombed spectacularly at the polls, losing in all 80 constituencies. Had it not been for the proportional representation (PR) system which gave it eight PR seats in the soon-to-be inaugurated 11th parliament, the former ruling party would have been completely wiped off Lesotho’s political scene. Various reasons, including the party’s dalliances with the feared Famo gang, have been advanced for its poor showing at the polls which were won by the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party.

Meanwhile, the South African police have also arrested 21 people during an operation against illegal miners in Stilfontein, North West.

Colonel Mogale said the police had seized a firearms cache from the illegal miners who are suspected to be foreign nationals.

She said they were arrested by a team led by the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation assisted by members of the Hawks’ Tactical Management Section, the National Intervention Unit, the District Illegal Mining Task Team, the Tactical Response Team, Bidvest Protea Coin and Harmony Gold Mine.

“The operation came following weeks of surveillance into the alleged illegal mining activities of the suspects resulting in the arrest of 21 suspects and the seizure of 15 AK47s, six hunting rifles, two shotguns and one R5, boxes full of ammunition, explosives and an undisclosed amount of money,” Colonel Mogale said.

Over the years, illegal miners mostly from Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have developed a fearsome reputation for gang-related killings and other serious crimes in South Africa.

Apart from fighting deadly turf wars among themselves, the illegal miners, popularly known as Zama-Zamas, have often been blamed for rampant murders, rape, armed robberies and other violent crimes in various parts of South Africa.