Lesotho: Lehlanya Breaks Silence

South African Police Service officer's badge.
24 September 2022

promises to surrender to SA police to clear his name

insists he did not kill 16 people in Soweto

'Marafaele Mohloboli

CONTROVERSIAL Famo gang leader, Sarele 'Lehlanya' Sello, wanted in South Africa for allegedly killing 16 tavern patrons and seriously wounding seven others, says he and his fellow gang members will surrender themselves to South African police and challenge all the charges preferred against them.

In the end, Sello is adamant that he and his gang will be vindicated. He insists they did not commit the dastardly 10 July 2022 crime which dumbfounded the world and left the South African Police Service (SAPS) scrambling to unravel its motive. Though he did not explain why the SAPS could just bolt from the blue and link him to the crime, the Famo gang leader is pleading his "full innocence".

He spoke exclusively to the Lesotho Times this week in the wake of the SAPS's recent announcement that they had launched a manhunt for him and four of his gang members.

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

Sello did not say when he will surrender. All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Nkaku Kabi, whose political campaign Sello has been spearheading, has since urged the Famo boss to hand himself over to the SAPS and clear his name if indeed he did not mastermind the crime.

Sello and other Famo music groups have been accused of committing a spate of violent crimes in both Lesotho and South Africa, in turf wars for control of lucrative criminal networks in illegal mining as well as dominance in their music genre. Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro's government has since branded them "internal terrorists".

Of all their alleged crimes, the allegation that they stormed Mdlalose's Tavern in Soweto on the night of 10 July 2022 and opened fire at joyful patrons, killing 16 instantly and seriously wounding seven others is particularly galling.

After more than two months of investigations, the SAPS finally splashed Sello and his co-accused's faces in police stations and in newspapers last week after linking them to the heinous crime.

Sello in turn said this week their decision to hand themselves over was because they were "innocent and have nothing to hide".

News of the SAPS manhunt against Sello and his alleged co-conspirators had prompted ABC leader, Mr Kabi, who has been routinely hobnobbing with the Famo gangsters, to address a hastily arranged press conference last Wednesday at which he publicly exhorted Sello and his cohorts to surrender themselves and clear their names if they did not commit the crime.

Mr Kabi has been hobnobbing with Sello and members of his Terene faction despite the designation of the Famo artists as "terrorists".

The ABC leader's decision to hastily convene the presser appears to have been part of a damage limitation exercise in the wake of the SAPS's announcement linking the Terene gang, so central to his campaign, to the heinous crime. Before the announcement, the SAPS had allegedly tried to work with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) to get the Famo boss and his acolytes arrested and handed over seemingly to no avail. The LMPS has since denied that allegation.

Sello has been a regular feature at ABC campaign rallies where he is often given the platform to address and even berate Mr Kabi's detractors, including Prime Minister Majoro. At one such rally, Sello vowed to deal severely with Dr Majoro - for not attending ABC rallies despite having been catapulted to the premiership by the party - a threat that must have dispatched a cold shiver down the premier's spine.

Normally, the issuance of arrest warrants would either cause suspects to immediately hand themselves over to the police or go into hiding - but not Sello and his associates.

They still made a grand appearance at an ABC rally in Kolonyama, Leribe, on Sunday as if nothing was happening. Clad in the black and gold coloured blankets, which have become synonymous with the Terene faction of the Famo gangs, Sello cut an expressionless figure at the rally, seemingly unworried that his face has been gracing front pages of newspapers and notice boards of police stations across South Africa.

Amid all the pomp and fanfare at the rally, he and his gang members even escorted Mr Kabi to the main podium. The only act of restraint was that Sello did not address the crowd as has become his routine at ABC rallies.

But he subsequently poured his heart out in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times.

He said they would heed Mr Kabi's advice to hand themselves over to SAPS because they were 'innocent' of the charges levelled against them. He however, did not say when they would surrender to the SAPS.

"We are going to do as the (ABC) party leader has asked us to do," Sello said in the interview.

"We are all innocent. Even those (SAPS) who have called us know that we have nothing to do with what we are being accused of. We have nothing to hide and we are willing to co-operate with them (SAPS) to clear our names. Even if we were to be arrested, we would still be released because we did nothing wrong," Sello added.

The linking of Sello and his gang members to the dastardly crime remains a huge embarrassment to some in the ABC nonetheless. They question why the party should continue fraternising with alleged criminals yet fighting rampant crime in Lesotho is one of its core manifesto issues in the upcoming 7 October 2022 general elections.

Sello and his gang have sided with Mr Kabi in his power struggle with Dr Majoro.

Two months ago, Sello took to the podium at an ABC rally in Mohale's Hoek and threatened to "deal" with Dr Majoro for snubbing ABC rallies. He did not specify what action he was contemplating against the premier but that mere warning should have been chilling for Dr Majoro.

Sello issued the chilling threat after Mr Kabi had claimed he had smoked the peace pipe with Dr Majoro, whom he had beaten in the race for the ABC leadership in January this year, before his unsuccessful acrimonious bid to then oust him as prime minister.

The ABC leader had vowed that he and Dr Majoro would be addressing joint rallies as a show of their newly found unity. The prime minister has nonetheless been a no show at all the ABC rallies held since Mr Kabi's pledge. That seems to have incensed Sello, prompting his threat against the premier.

Mr Kabi has nonetheless urged Sello to surrender himself to the SAPS and clear himself in the South African courts in the wake of the damning allegations against him and his cohorts.

If need be, Mr Kabi said he would himself arrange for Sello and his four acolytes to be picked up at the border by the South African police.

He had warned them against delaying their surrender as that could be construed to mean they were indeed guilty of the 16 murder and seven attempted murder crimes they were being accused of.

But Sello and his co-accused have still not surrendered to the SAPS, prompting Mr Kabi to reiterate his appeal to them at the Sunday rally in Kolonyama at which they were all present.

"I have called out to these men, my fellow men, to go and report themselves as a warrant of arrest has been issued against them," Mr Kabi said. Sello and his associates cut expressionless figures as Mr Kabi reiterated his call.

Despite exhorting them to surrender, the ABC leader is nevertheless standing by his men. He has hinted he believes in their innocence.

Instead, he has alleged a plot to kill Sello and his men in Lesotho to deprive the ABC of crucial political support. He sensationally claimed to have received "intelligence" of a conspiracy by the Majoro government to assassinate Sello and his followers using the security agencies.

The conspiracy, he said, was primarily meant to disrupt efforts by Sello and his faction to campaign for the ABC. Mr Kabi has previously credited Sello with recruiting what he claimed were more than 40 000 new supporters to the ABC in recent months. He however did not say exactly who in the ABC-led coalition was behind the alleged plot to "assassinate" Sello.

"I've received intelligence of a plan within this government- the very government that is led by the ABC, to have Ntate Lehlanya and his group killed so that their supporters won't vote for the ABC in large numbers," a visibly irate Mr Kabi charged at the rally without elaborating.

He urged Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, to arrest Sello and his gang if they had any tangible evidence against them for any alleged crimes.

"Ntate Compol and the army commander, I respect you very much. If there is anything tangible against these men, please take them in. I urge you to involve other security agencies in that as well.

"There is no need for you to and taint your relations with us as we will be in government after the elections. With or without the Terene, we are still going to get votes," Mr Kabi said.

Contacted for comment over the alleged plot to assassinate Sello and his fellow gangsters, LDF public relations officer, Captain Sakeng Lekola, simply retorted; "There is no way we are going to respond to utterances made by politicians".

Commissioner Molibeli could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone rang unanswered.

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