(MENAFN- The Post)
'Masoana Saoana, the principal of Rasetimela Government High School, recalls a time when her school grounds would be turned into a battleground every Friday, with knives flying in the air.
Some heavily armed gangsters from other places, some in their early teens, would come and fight their rivals right in the school compound.
But no one, including the school teachers, dared stop the fights.
But no one, including the school teachers, dared stop the fights.
Their only option was to run to the nearby Mabote Police Station, which housed the crack Special Operations Unit (SOU), pleading with the police to come and intervene.
The police station is only 500 metres away from the school.
“The situation is terrible,” Saoana says.“This is the only way to describe the dire situation at the school.”
She spoke last Friday during an awareness campaign against gangsterism held by Limkokwing University of Creative Technology at her school.
The campaign themed“Rise above rebellion, stand for a better future” is meant to discourage youths from joining deadly gangs that have terrorised communities in the outskirts of Maseru for years.
Saoana says poverty appears to be at the root of the gangster culture in Maseru.
Most of the children who join gangs appear to come from economically disadvantaged families and see the gangster culture as their only route out of grinding poverty, she says.
Some of the students struggle to get enough resources to study efficiently, Saoana says.
When they fail to complete their studies, most of these students end up joining gangs, perpetuating a culture of poverty within families, she says.
Rasetimela Government High School has an enrolment of 800 students.
The school is adjacent to the villages of Naleli, Mabote, Khubetsoana, Koalabata and Sekamaneng which are hotspots of gangsterism.
The Lesotho Defence Force rehabilitated 75 gangsters from some of these villages in June 2020. The jury is still out whether that attempt by the army to reform the gangsters has served its purpose.
Saoana says gangsterism at her school has had a devastating impact on her students with some dropping out completely from their studies.
She says some of her students had confided in them that they had joined the deadly gangs. So far, only boys have joined the gangs.
Saoana says most of the gangsters exhibited odd behaviour, which suggested that they could be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Most of the gang members were involved in crimes such as theft, robbery and other criminal acts in a bid to earn a living.
“These students delve into crime so that they could have (something to eat),” Saoana says.
“They do not feel comfortable when they are with others and they do not have resources,” she says.
She says two years ago, one of their students was stabbed to death during a gang fight.
“He was stabbed to death as a direct result of this culture,” Saoana says.
Two years later, she says they have found it very difficult to forget what happened.
“We are still mourning his death,” she says.
Saoana says they usually hold regular meetings with students to warn them of the dangers of aligning themselves with gangs.
She says this culture has been at her school for at least eight years now.
Stephen Hlongoane from the Limkokwing Faculty of Communication, Media and Broadcasting says the culture of gangsterism has been springing up in schools of late.
He says they want to help students in schools reject this culture.
He says they are intending to roll out the anti-gangsterism programme to other schools in an effort to fight the scourge.
Woman Constable Nthabiseng Makobane, a national coordinator community service in the Crime Prevention Unit within the police, says their role is to sensitise people about the dangers of crime before it occurs.
To achieve this, they often go out to schools, churches and other places where people are gathered in big numbers.
“We are not expecting you to dabble in crime,” WC Makobane told the students, adding that they want to see students having a bright future.
“We are not expecting you to drink alcohol and use other harmful substances,” she says.
Once the students use drugs, they normally end up engaging in unprotected sex where they are highly likely to contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs), she says.
She also spoke about the increasing use of crystal methane, which is becoming a drug of choice among Basotho youths in Maseru.
WC Makobane says if youths indulge in sex and drugs they would usually find themselves at the wrong end of the law.
WC Makobane says most people who commit crimes such as rape would be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
She says the Counter Domestic Violence Act has been enacted to save children from all sorts of abuse. She appealed to the youths to report crime as it happens.
“Please report crime without any fear. If you do not do that you are cowards,” WC Makobane says.
WC Makobane says teachers should play the role of parents while at school.
She says children are vulnerable and have sometimes been victimised in many cases.
“Khubetsoana and Mabote are known for crystal methane,” WC Makobane says.
“Those who use this drug show some odd behaviour in schools,” she says.
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) coordinator Lisebo Kose urged the students to stay away from drugs and other harmful practices.
“It is better for you to work on your future now,” she says.“Please avoid all that is unnecessary.”
Dr Pokane Felix Molumeli, a clinical psychologist from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) says the environment in which a child is brought up is often what determines their character.
He says some families do not have enough time to look after their children and such children usually end up joining the gang groups.
“Lack of family direction fuels gangsterism,” Dr Molumeli says.
“Parents have to provide guidance for their children.”
Because of poverty and unemployment, parents spend a lot of time away from their children and do not have enough time to provide guidance for their children.
So such children usually end up joining gangs and see some group members as their models.
For one to be a member of such groups, one has to go through certain rituals like killing and stealing.
“Parents do not have enough time to monitor and supervise their children,” Dr Molumeli says, adding that they just come back home to sleep.
He says if the members delve in some crime, they are rewarded with some status by their bosses.
Pearl Letsoela, a psychologist from Mohlomi Mental Hospital says there are two major factors that cause gangsterism.
And those factors are conforming and peer pressure.
“Some will join gangsterism because they want to fit in,” Letsoela says, adding that some just join because of peer pressure.
She says gangsterism could also start from being bullied at school or at home where new members are groomed.
“Some people are just bullied or threatened to become members of these groups,” Letsoela says.
She says a few could be recruited and those recruited could also recruit others and the group becomes bigger.
Dr Itumeleng Kimane, a former Sociology and Criminology lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) says poverty is what usually causes gangsterism.
She says problems in the family could fan and fuel gangsterism.
Dr Kimane now works as a consultant on laws and policies that deal with childhood care.
“If the family could not address the needs of the child, that could see a child deserting home,” Dr Kimane says.
Such a child could hunt for someone to respond to his or her needs.
Unfortunately, such a depressed child would get his or her peers to help him fend for his or her needs.
The sad reality is that the deserted child would be misguided and misdirected by those she or he hoped could save him or her.
Dr Kimane says the child could be advised to indulge in alcohol.
She says gangsterism could also start at schools where the children do not usually have someone to always keep an eye on.
She says once a child's work deteriorates, there should be someone to identify the problem and address it.
“Teachers should be aware of such problems,” Dr Kimane says.