Monday, 29 November 2021 01:59 GMT

Lesotho - 'Mahlompho: gone too soon

(MENAFN- The Post) MASERU -NOVEMBER 6, 2012 Rethabile Mofolo, glowing and stunning, walks down the aisle of St Cecilia Roman Catholic Mission in Ha-Mabekenyane.

Waiting for her at the pulpit is Qamo Matela, her sweetheart she is about to marry after what some described as a whirlwind romance.

Reverend Pule Mahlaku, the soft-spoken cleric, solemnised their marriage amid wild cheers from the congregation of relatives, friends and neighbours.

The Mofolos and Matelas were now relatives connected by love, marriage and blood.

They were one family and their children were one flesh.
November 6, 2021, the body of Rethabile Mofolo, renamed 'Mahlompho Matela after marriage, lies in a casket under a tent at Ha-Mabote football ground.

Some of those who were at the wedding nine years ago are here too, not to celebrate a holy union but to bid farewell to 'Mahlompho who died two months ago.

Reverend Mahlaku back, not to preside over what is arguably the most acrimonious and emotionally charged funeral in recent memory.
The Mofolos and Matelas are visibly quarrelling, fingers are being pointed and vitriol spilt.

Under different circumstances, this gathering would have been to celebrate the couple's ninth anniversary. There would have been happy speeches of a blissful marriage, lots of laughter, dancing and a toast to 'another nine more years of happiness'.

'Mahlompho and Qamo would have spoken.
But this was to mark the heart-wrenching event marking the end to what was a calamitous marriage. The wife lay in a casket. The husband stands accused of killing his wife.

Instead of hugs, kisses and ululations there was animosity, tears, threats, mistrust and wishes of bad luck as family, friends and community members congregated to bury 'Mahlompho.

The Mofolos, 'Mahlompho's family, says she succumbed to injuries sustained after Qamo brutally assaulted her during an argument. This was murder, they say.

Qamo's family, the Matelas, deny the allegation and insist Mahlompho was ill. This was an unfortunate death, they say, insisting that they too are mourning their daughter-in-law.

As family members spoke, it was clear that this was not a normal funeral.
This was a combustive contest of narratives. The eulogies were punctuated not with memories of a life lived but anecdotes of what happened in the days leading to 'Mahlompho's transfer to a Bloemfontein Hospital and her demise a few days later.

It was as if each family had come to defend their own.
The Matela's repeated what their son had told them while the Mofolos insisted on what their daughter had told them.

That this was supposed to be the ninth anniversary of a marriage he had solemnised nine years earlier was not lost on Reverend Mahlaku.
“This is not what we meant by 'till death do us part',” he said.

“It does not mean one has to kill the other,” he added, lamenting that the case was one of many that have come to his attention.
“Nowadays there is no week that passes without hearing bad news of women killed by a man, and especially by their husbands.”

'Mahlompho Matela moved from her maiden home in Maqhaka to her matrimonial home in Ha-Mabote after marrying Qamo.

After her death, 'Mahlompho's body was taken from Ha-Mabote to Maqhaka for burial, about 15 kilometres away, contrary to cultural norms of burying a woman at her in-laws' place.

Her in-laws say she just collapsed in her bathroom but her maiden family alleges that the post-mortem report shows she was strangled and beaten to death.

The funeral, held amid police presence as directed by the High Court order, was emotional as well as frenzied because of the heckling of the Matela family.
All hell broke loose when Qamo's brother, Maloi Matela, narrated how 'Mahlompho allegedly died and mentioned that even her doctor at Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein had intimated that he could not tell the cause of death.

Maloi, amid loud jeering from many angry mourners and loud obscenities by a few, said he was called to 'Mahlompho's home where he was only told that she was not well.

He said he was called again after some days and told that she had collapsed and taken to Maseru Private Hospital where a doctor said she should go for a scan at another health facility in Maputsoe.

He told mourners that he had been informed that 'Mahlompho fell in her bathroom and had convulsions.

He however mentioned that at some point the couple was supposed to go for a counselling session but 'Mahlompho had to go to a doctor on that day. He did not speak about the alleged beating and strangulation.

'Mahlompho's sister, Rorisang Mofolo, gave the mourners an entirely different story.

Rorisang Mofolo, said she had a video call with 'Mahlompho after hearing that she was sick. Rorisang said she saw bruises on her sister's face, and seemed so shaken that she barred Rorisang from visiting her in the presence of her husband.

She said 'Mahlompho told her that Qamo had strangled and hit her with fists while pinning her to the ground.

Rorisang claimed that post-mortem results showed that the strangulation was so fierce that veins in the neck burst and that 'Mahlompho suffered internal bleeding in the chest and parts of her abdomen.

She said a nurse at Pelonomi Hospital, after breaking the news of 'Mahlompho's death, advised her to open a murder case with the police before going to the hospital for the identification of the corpse“because, she told me, this is a case for the police”.

Advocate Lineo Tsikoane, who directed the funeral programme, read part of the High Court judgment in which the judge said 'Mahlompho had informed the doctor in Bloemfontein that she had been assaulted by her husband.

Speaker after speaker at the funeral attacked the Matela family for allegedly trying to cover up the case.

Kaizer Matela, a former MP for the Lesotho People's Congress (LPC), tried to calm the mourners by suggesting that people should wait for the court verdict before coming to conclusions. He too was heckled.

'Mahlompho's uncle, Lebohang Mofolo, got to the podium surrounded by Maroala (name of the regiment of Chief Majara Moshoeshoe I) clad in red Seana-Marena blankets with black decorations.

They had stuck M20 notes on their hats, a mockery to the Matela family because of an allegation that made rounds on social media that Qamo killed his wife because she had refused to give his mother M20.

The Maroala were singing a lekhele whose lyrics suggested that the hurt feelings would descend down to the heart and curse the perpetrator.
As they sang, they gave the M20 notes to one of their members who tore the notes in front of everyone.

Lebohang Mofolo said the Matela family gave him the same story that 'Mahlompho had fallen in the bathroom when he enquired about the death of his niece.“I told them that I would find out through my own means,” he said.

Chieftainess 'Mamolapo Majara made a startling allegation at the funeral, claiming that her in-laws were already vying for inheritance.

The Principal Chief of Ha-Majara made the allegations to the bewilderment of mourners who were singing makhele (songs of the Basotho initiates that nowadays are used to incite violence).

The chieftainess was addressing the mourners who were shouting disapproving comments about the Matela family.

Chieftainess Majara said she was shocked when the family sent her a letter appointing one of them to be in control of the estate, in particular the money.

She said after she refused to help them, the family later sent an emissary, the paternal uncle to Qamo, who told her that the family had decided that he would be in control of the finances.

“I want all of you to understand that the office of the Master of the High Court has been established for things such as this one,” Chieftainess Majara said.

“These people should know that we, as parliament, deemed it fit to give this job to the Master of the High Court,” she said, adding that the office“protects minor children whose properties are taken away by their relatives”.

She said it is now a norm for relatives to grab properties of deceased people, thereby depriving the remaining children.

'Mahlompho's death comes as cases of gender-based violence, especially domestic ones, are making headlines in the country. In many of the cases, husbands or boyfriends are accused of killing their partners.

Last year, a Commonwealth report revealed that violence against women and girls costs Lesotho more than $113 million (about M1.9 billion) a year.
The report estimated the total cost, including loss of income and expenses associated with medical, legal and police support, equated to around 5.5 percent of Lesotho's gross domestic product (GDP).

The M1.9 billion, according to the report, means each Lesotho citizen loses at least (M1 800) every year because of violence against women and girls.
The bulk – $45 million (about M750 million) – is attributed to legal protection, healthcare, social services and learning loss.

This is more than twice the amount – $21 million (about M336 million) – Lesotho spent on health, education and energy in the last fiscal year.
'Mahlompho, 31, left behind two young children below the age of 10.
Qamo has been charged with murder and is out on bail.

One day, he will have to tell his children how their mother died.
Will he answer that question from a prison cell or the comfort of his home?
Only time will tell.

Caswell Tlali

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