Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The government has taken a decisive step in addressing the escalating violence and retaliatory killings linked to FAMO music groups by declaring them as unlawful.

Famo is a Sesotho music genre of melodies created and sung with accordion and has been famous over the years both in Lesotho and South Africa (SA).

Through the Legal Notice No 37, Vol 69 the Minister of Home Affairs, Chieftainship, Local Government and Police Hon Lebona Lephema declares them as “unlawful”.

During his first public appearance after sick leave, the Prime Minister Rt Hon Ntsokoane Matekane at Matlakeng constituency assures that his led government is to decisively deal with the perpetrators of heinous crimes.

“[The] Minister responsible for local government, chieftainship, home affairs and police declare the organizations named and described below unlawful by reason of being involved in or promoting or encouraging subversive activities,” reads the Gazette.

These groups are: Terene ea Mokata-lirope; Terene ea Chakela; Letlama (Seakhi); Letlama le le Khubelu; Liala Mabatha; Khang Kholo; Sephiri; Phula Bobete; Parachuti; Tonado; Mahanapuso and Terata ea hlaba. 

According to the gazette, other organizations whose activities match the definition of the subversive activity are assumed unlawful.

These legal provisions empower the police officer to arrest “without warrant a person whom he reasonably suspects to be a person involved in subversive activity”.

They further say waive the provisions of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 1981 that will apply when police arrest suspects through invocation of this gazette.

It also reads: “14(1) If it appears to the Commissioner that there are grounds for suspecting a person to be involved in subversive activity,  the Commissioner [of Police] may make an interim custody order for the further temporary detention of that person for a period not exceeding 14 days.

“14(3) If a person is detained under an interim custody order and a detention order is not made in respect of that person within 14 days following the date of the interim custody order, that interim order shall cease to have effect and the person detained shall be released unless he is in custody under some other provision of this or any other law or is arrested under this Part or information, other than, or for reasons, other than, those stated under section 17(1) in respect of the interim custody order.”

These provisions also empower the Police Minister to appoint advisers on matters concerning the detention and release of persons.

Meanwhile, the developments have been received with mixed reactions as there are people who support them while others have denounced this move by the government citing possible acts of torture and arbitrary arrests to citizens linked to these formations.

There are videos circulating across the social media platforms showing alleged members of these groups flaunting stacks of money, believed to be proceeds of crime. Some of these videos also depict them displaying high-caliber guns and weapons which are also allegedly without licenses.

Over the years, there have been rivalry between the leaders of this genre which resulted in insinuations that can be heard in the songs, fights and revengeful killings.

At one time in the National Assembly, the current Minister of Energy Prof Nqosa Mahao proposed a law to address the crimes decisively.

However, the Deputy Prime Minister who doubles as the Leader of the House Justice Nthomeng Majara informs the august house that the government is already addressing similar laws and is on top of the situation. Nonetheless, the proposed law has not yet been tabled.

These groups are implicated in criminal acts especially cold-blooded murder and some of its members are also involved in illegal mining activities in SA.

Some of the FAMO groups and leaders are affiliated with certain political parties and politicians in parliament. Some members of the security agencies are also said to be affiliated with these groups.

The guns that went missing at Mafeteng Police Post in 2021 were also linked to these groups.

They are identifiable by the type of blankets they wear and were previously prevalent in Mafeteng district but have since spread throughout the country over the years.

Efforts have been made by governments over the years to broker peace and reconciliation between these groups. However, these efforts have been temporary, as the conflicts continue to escalate, resulting in numerous deaths, insinuations in their music, attacks and insults on rivalry groups.

Speaking on national television earlier this week, Lephema highlights that members of these groups commit crimes in one SA and then flee to Lesotho when sought by relevant forces in such a country, and vice versa.

This behavior not only compromises countries’ security, it also impacts on negotiations and relations between Lesotho and SA and this is manifest  in the treatment of Basotho citizens at SA border gates.

Recently SA media reported that Gauteng is “under threat from illegal mining” activities and some of those illegal miners are linked to the FAMO groups.