One of the prime suspects – Sarel Lehlanya Sello is believed to be a leader of “Terene” – a Lesotho gang rooted in “famo” music, a local form of hip-hop that has been linked to a wave of violence.
Police at the scene of a shooting in Soweto on July 10, 2022.
JOHANNESBURG — When 16 people were gunned down in a South African tavern, few believed the investigation would lead to the kingdom of Lesotho, where a war between rival music gangs has left dozens dead.
South African police this week launched a manhunt for five suspects following the July 10 shooting, which saw high-caliber armed assailants descend on a bar in Soweto and open fire on customers apparently in the chance.
More than 100 cartridges were found at the scene of a crime that shocked the nation.
Police have identified one of the main suspects as Sarel Lehlanya Sello, a Lesotho man described as a “well-known” figure in law enforcement in the Johannesburg area.
Sello is believed to be one of the leaders of “Terene”, a Lesotho gang rooted in “famo” music, a local form of hip-hop that has been linked to a wave of violence.
In footage released by authorities, Sello can be seen sporting a cap emblazoned with the word “Terene”, which means “train” in the Sotho language, a reference to the large migrations of workers to South African mines in the 1970s.
A traditional yellow and black shepherd’s blanket – the colors of the gang – is wrapped around his shoulders.
More than 15% of Lesotho’s 2.2 million mountain people live in South Africa.
The country is landlocked in its big neighbor and depends on it economically.
Detectives are tight-lipped about what could have triggered the shooting and have urged those with information to come forward.
Meanwhile, the suspects, wanted for 16 counts of murder and seven of attempted murder, are on the run “in a neighboring country”, according to the authorities.
In Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, it is difficult to speak out about a gang war which, according to several local sources, has killed around 100 people over the past 15 years.
The “famo” music scene has gone almost underground, with shows now taking place under a heavy police presence.
“It got out of control,” famous singer Morena Leraba told AFP of deadly rivalries, comparing the violence to the gang wars that marked the history of American rap in the 1990s.
The famo originated from the songs that black workers in Lesotho sang on the long journey to the diamond and gold mines of South Africa about a century ago.
“Today we would call it rap,” said Rataibane Ramainoane, the founder of local radio station MoAfrika FM.
The first famous artists sang of the tiring journey to South Africa, the lonely evenings in the “shebeens” – clandestine bars during apartheid – and the harshness of everyday life.
Musical instruments are gradually introduced, the accordion imposing itself as the emblem of a genre now considered “the soul of the country”.
“Famo is part of everyday life. You hear it everywhere on the streets, in taxi stands,” Leraba said.
As the popularity of the music grew, white South African producers began to release records and by the end of apartheid some artists were enjoying success selling thousands of copies.
Over time, the lyrics became more confrontational, as the singers threw punches at each other.
What started as a war of words turned into street violence.
“Some were jealous of those who sold better than them and literally started to eliminate them,” Ramainoane said.
Radio stations accused of favoring one group or another with more airtime began to receive threats.
“It’s a miracle from God that I’m still alive,” Ramainoane said.
After a series of killings last year, Lesotho’s police minister tried to ban the wearing of traditional blankets associated with gangs, some of which are suspected of being involved in illegal gold mining in South Africa. South.
However, despite a bad reputation, some gangs maintain warm relations with the political world.
Nkaku Kabi, the leader of Lesotho’s main All Basotho Convention party, recently praised Terene members for recruiting large supporters ahead of next month’s general elections.
Speaking from Europe where he is on tour, singer Leraba said he now spends little time at home, wanting to distance himself from a cycle of “endless revenge”.
“The little brothers would join…the movement and sing and kill,” he said.