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Chief in court for trafficking

SECHABA MOKHETHI

Chief Letsie Shoaepane of Ha Shoaepane in Matsieng is facing trafficking charges relating to allegedly transferring a 20-year-old woman from Thaba-Tseka district, harbouring her in his house and subjecting her to forced labour and repeated rape in September 2016.

In this protracted trial, Letsie first appeared before magistrate court on December 12, 2016 and is currently on bail waiting for his next court appearance in October this year; he is facing two charges.

He is charged for contravening section 5(1) of Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act No 1 of 2011 and contravening section 3 (2) read with section 32 of Sexual Offences Act No.3 of 2003.

This case is presided over by Chief Magistrate ’Matankiso Nthunya.

Section 5 (1) of the anti-trafficking act act states that “A person who traffics another person commits an offence of trafficking and is liable, on conviction, to a fine of M1 000 000 or imprisonment for a period of 25 years”.

Lesotho’s customary law entrusts chiefs with enforcing the rule of law, a responsibility which Letsie is alleged to have dishonoured by contravening the said laws.

According to court papers seen by MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, “…the said accused did unlawfully traffic ’Maselina Sello, by recruiting, transporting, transferring and harbouring her for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour or involuntary servitude”.

Letsie is alleged to have lured Sello by promising her a lucrative domestic job in South Africa but instead turned her into his own house maid without payment and committed unlawful sexual acts with her against her will.

“…the said accused did unlawfully commit sexual acts with ‘Maselina Sello by inserting his penis into her vagina without her consent,” reads the court papers.

He applied for bail praying that “I have just buried my father a month ago and I have used all the money I had for his funeral. When the police first approached me, it was during the loss as I was trying to bury him. They gave me time to do so and right now I am broke.

“I am the one who is now headman of my village after my father’s demise and I will do everything the court wants me to do. I cannot run away as I have responsibilities to my people and I promise I will comply with all the orders that this court will give me.”

“You are admitted to bail on the following grounds, M500 bail deposit payable to the court clerk. (You) Must provide independent surety from a citizen of Lesotho who can satisfy the court clerk that he has property valuing M30, 000. You must not tamper with police investigations nor interfere with crown witnesses,” Nthunya said.

He failed to pay bail deposit and surety and was remanded in custody where he was locked up for 11 days until December 23, 2016 when he further pleaded with the court to remove the surety condition of his bail, saying he had just lost his father and was in a seriously bad state financially but the court only reduced it to M10 000.

His mother ‘Maletsie Shoaepane put her cattle as surety, providing her livestock registration booklet to the clerk of the court, and her son was released on bail.

Giving an account of how the incident unfolded, Senior Inspector Beleme Moerane – the officer commanding the Police Child and Gender Protection Unit – told the Centre that the victim was doing domestic work in Maseru where she was paid M400; that was when she learned through her friend that she could earn better as a domestic worker in South Africa.

The Centre learned that Sello’s friend took her to Letsie who claimed to be searching for someone to work for his relatives in South Africa.

The duo left Maseru to the chief’s home at Ha Shoaepane where they would be picked by the said relatives to South Africa. However, Sello was instead told she would work for the chief himself and it later appeared Sello’s friend was the chief’s ‘girlfriend’.

According to a 2016 police report, the accused had informed the victim that there was never a job offer from Gauteng and that she was going to work for him without remuneration. It further said Letsie assaulted Sello when he saw her talking to his neighbours.

“They both slept on the same bed with him but the Chief allegedly forced Sello into sexual activities in the presence of his ‘girlfriend’. She was even forced to do village or farm work for the chief without payment for about three months and the Chief had even threatened to impregnate Sello.”

The ‘girlfriend’ has turned state witness in this case and was also made to believe she would be employed by the chief’s relatives.

In their investigations, the police found out that Sello was not the only victim as they were told by the villagers that the accused would change female strangers girls from time to time.

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