Solutions for the Amphitheatre

23 May 2016 19:33 - 24 May 2016 17:33 #68535 by Philip
More thoughts and ideas on the attack south of the Amphitheatre with some solutions

My thoughts and ideas are based on educated hunches, and from isolated snippets of information I have been given during the (now extensive) time I have spent in Lesotho. From these snippets I have built up a bigger picture.

I have no proof.

But because no-one can say with any certainty that these hunches are not (at least partially) correct, what I am suggesting is that to minimise the chance of another unfortunate incident, it is essential that hikers increase their awareness and understanding of how things work in the mountainous areas of Lesotho (and SA) before going there.

My prime motivation to share my thoughts is to increase awareness among the hiking community in the interests of safety, and to help preserve the reputation of our magnificent Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains.

First possible (less likely) scenario

The attackers were local Basotho shepherds – a contributing factor being previous unfriendly interactions with SA hikers.

Second possible (more likely) scenario

The attackers were criminals / bandits of uncertain origin (they could be Basotho or SA). The three unfortunate hikers unknowingly camped on a route used by a criminal / bandit element that operate in the mountainous areas of SA / Lesotho.

Awareness

It is certain that the remote Maluti Mountains and Drakensberg provide cover for criminals and their activities. Criminals are more active during a full or waning moon.

Criminals (as opposed to the vast majority of normal law abiding peaceful and friendly Basotho people) require areas where they can be anonymous to trade their ill-gotton gains – such as the larger urban areas close to the SA / Lesotho border – examples are the Phuthaditjhaba and Mokhotlong areas.

When looking at a map of those areas, routes used by criminals (bandits) would likely funnel in towards Phuthaditjhaba from the Maluti Mountains, and also over the Drakensberg in the Giants Castle area. Both these areas are known ‘hotspots’ for previous attacks. Extending these imaginary lines on the map lead to the major SA markets of Gauteng and KZN.

To understand my second scenario requires us to abandon a few preconceptions and stereotypes about Lesotho that are frequently heard bandied about by people who often (in my experience) know very little about how things work there.

For example it is not generally appreciated that;

• Basotho people (particularly shepherds) are ALSO victims of a criminals (‘bandits’ or ‘tsotsis’ – call them what you like) and probably fear them as much as hikers do!
• Dagga smugglers themselves are attacked and robbed of their bags from time to time by bandits!

Most of us as hikers are aware of the clandestine dagga trade.

Some Basotho people living in the Maluti Mountains in easy reach of SA markets (over the Drakensberg), grow and sell dagga to SA consumers out of economic necessity – it is not generally perceived as a serious crime by the average Basotho.

No matter what you or I may think about this, it is a fact of life and will not change anytime soon!

Because dagga growing and smuggling is not perceived as a serious ‘crime’ in Lesotho many of us as hikers have seen and even interacted with smugglers (particularly in Lesotho). Personally, I do not consider dagga smugglers (who are only the carriers – or ‘mules’) a major threat to my security while hiking. So far I have only had friendly interactions with them, and even been allowed to take group photographs on occasion in Lesotho!

But stock theft and diamond smuggling are the two other major criminal activities which attract a more hardened type of individual. I have heard from reliable sources about a sophisticated clandestine meat trade operating in Lesotho and SA using the mountains as cover. (There is also a clandestine trade in other items such as saddles and other horse tack for example!)

It is also not generally appreciated that;

• Basotho farmers ALSO suffer from the activities of stock thieves (bandits) – South African farmers are not the only targets.
• Stock thieves (bandits) are hated by the average Basotho as much as (if not more than) they are hated in SA! This is because domestic animals represent the traditional wealth, savings and investments of many Basotho people.
• Some of the stock thieves (bandits) are from SA – I have been reliably informed that there have been cases where shepherds have been robbed of their animals by stock thieves (bandits) from SA and forced to herd them to SA under gunpoint – stolen stock goes in both directions, not only from SA into Lesotho!
• I have also heard that stock stolen in SA (and inside Lesotho) travels ON THE HOOF back into SA in the Phuthaditjhaba area!

Looking at where the attack took place, I consider the more likely scenario is that this latest incident was perpetrated by a criminal ‘bandit’ element – they could be Basotho or South Africans.

It is very unlikely that the perpetrators will ever be apprehended. We will probably never learn the identity of these latest attackers. So we are left with only one option – to increase our awareness and understanding in order to protect ourselves.


Solutions

• INCREASE YOUR AWARENESS AND UNDERSTANDING of the country you are visiting!
• In Lesotho (as in SA!) unfortunately, it is impossible to tell the difference between a bandit and a normal law abiding Mosotho. This does not mean that you must suspect everyone you meet in Lesotho of criminal intent! You would not do this in SA, and SA has a much bigger crime problem!
• The isolated mountainous areas of Eastern Lesotho, KZN and the Eastern Cape provide cover for criminals who have little or no regard for the international or provincial borders.
• Draw lines on the map using the information I have provided and avoid camping on routes that have any possibility of being used by bandits.
• As I have previously suggested on VE, if concerned about your security, be friendly to Basotho shepherds, and use the friendly local shepherds (and their dogs) to help protect your camp. (You can normally identify a shepherd during the day as they will have stock and a shepherd’s house (Motibo) nearby).
• Avoid hiking in the Maluti Mountains in the ‘hotspot’ areas during times of full or waning moon.
• Avoid overnight camping anywhere near the top of the Amphitheatre.
• Use local registered guides and / or porters who know ‘the way things work’ in those areas.
• Be very cautious about carrying guns (or other lethal weapons – there are restrictions on knives for example) across the border without a permit. If you end up injuring (or worse) anyone up there you could make matters worse, and very unpleasant for yourself.

In conclusion, as a hiker take the initiative – learn, increase your common sense awareness and become ‘streetwise’ about the areas you are hiking in to enable you to make sensible decisions about safety.

Watch your back, or pay someone to watch it for you!

Please feel free to read my ‘Notes on Basotho Culture’ and ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ posted on that VE thread. If there are any points in those notes you don’t agree with, in the interests of all of us, please let me / us know!

I would welcome further constructive comments that can help us all (as hikers moving through these areas) to increase our awareness and be safe.

PS Two books (if you can find them) that have helped me considerably to increase understanding and awareness of Lesotho and what life is like in the Maluti's for the shepherds are;

'Lesotho' (Southbound Travel Guide) by David Fleminger (comprehensive sections on History / Culture)
'Shepherd Boy of the Maluti' by Thabo Makoa (Morija Museum and Archives) ISBN 99911-632-3-9
Last edit: 24 May 2016 17:33 by Philip.
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23 May 2016 21:55 - 23 May 2016 21:59 #68536 by Serious tribe
The discussion has opened up the likelihood of the perpetrators being bandits as opposed to off-duty shepherds perhaps from Lesotho, or even from SA.

The chiefs within that area/corridor in which these 'bandits' are operating must know of their activity, as i am sure that not much happens in these areas without a few pairs of eyes noticing it.

I think that a delegation to the chiefs within that area, by people who know the culture and language, or a local Basotho, would be a good idea to bring them up to date with the situation, and asking their opinion on who they think might be the culprits. They might by now have some information that has trickled down on this episode that could be valuable.

If it is bandit activity, can the police be trusted, or are they are involved in some syndicate. I would say that they have to be involved as the arm of the law, but that the local chiefs could be contacted separately without police interaction to see what they think.

About tracking these guys. There are small devices used for the tracking of stolen bicycles, could this be a way of tracking hiking gear that has been stolen, and finding the perpetrates?
Last edit: 23 May 2016 21:59 by Serious tribe.
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23 May 2016 23:00 #68537 by tiska
No one apart from the criminals responsible for the recent attack knows whether they were locals, passers by, or criminals on a special mission from SA. We can only speculate at this point.

If I were to speculate then I would be inclined to think it is a local criminal element.
My reasons are as follows:
1 the nature of the attack ie throwing rocks at tents at night is identical to the tactic deployed by other local criminal elements over the last 4 decades.
2 the attack was remote. A fringe urban element would surely operate closer to roads, towns or settlements including the road up to the Sentinel car park.
3 dogs. Do criminal elements really come in from 30 km away in SA with their own dogs?
4 it's been a difficult rainy season in Lesotho with crops having failed amidst one of the strongest El Ninos on record.
5 winter is approaching. Kit is useful in winter. It makes a real difference in the highlands. Kit is what was stolen.
All this suggests it's a wayward local element.
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24 May 2016 09:00 #68539 by Coeta

tiska wrote: No one apart from the criminals responsible for the recent attack knows whether they were locals, passers by, or criminals on a special mission from SA. We can only speculate at this point.

If I were to speculate then I would be inclined to think it is a local criminal element.
My reasons are as follows:
1 the nature of the attack ie throwing rocks at tents at night is identical to the tactic deployed by other local criminal elements over the last 4 decades.
2 the attack was remote. A fringe urban element would surely operate closer to roads, towns or settlements including the road up to the Sentinel car park.
3 dogs. Do criminal elements really come in from 30 km away in SA with their own dogs?
4 it's been a difficult rainy season in Lesotho with crops having failed amidst one of the strongest El Ninos on record.
5 winter is approaching. Kit is useful in winter. It makes a real difference in the highlands. Kit is what was stolen.
All this suggests it's a wayward local element.


^^ spot on in my opinion

The only way to really combat this is 3 things (already mentioned by many):
1. Situational, environmental and locational awareness i.e. bigger groups, an escourt, timing, hitch spot selection, could also include an offensive device of sorts.
2. Inclusion of locals in the problem, chiefs, herdsmen maybe even Lesotho police. This should include some alerting process (bush telephone?) or system where relevant parties well into Lesotho are notified of an incident asap.
3. Using technology whenever possible and\or available, like a hidden cell that could be tracked using its GPS, or a "spot" in a bag, hidden in some weird pocket.

Most if not all, attacks on the berg are attacks of opportunity. You as hiker present that opportunity. It should be your focus to lessen that opportunity as far as possible.
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27 May 2016 21:11 - 27 May 2016 21:13 #68577 by Philip
For those of you who have been following my posts on this thread, I would like you to know that I am now in possession of rock hard information concerning the circumstances surrounding this attack, but because of its sensitivity, until this information enters the public domain by some other channel, my lips will remain sealed.

This information is crucial to help understand what happened. I hope and trust that in the interests of fairness, that this information will eventually come out.

Based on what I now know, regrettably, I consider that the first scenario I suggested: “The attackers were local Basotho shepherds – a contributing factor being previous unfriendly interactions with SA hikers” is the most likely one.
Last edit: 27 May 2016 21:13 by Philip.
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28 May 2016 19:44 - 31 May 2016 08:31 #68580 by Coeta

Philip wrote: I am now in possession of rock hard information concerning the circumstances surrounding this attack, but because of its sensitivity, until this information enters the public domain by some other channel, my lips will remain sealed.


Are you a respondent in the possible court case?
Is this info part of evidence in the ongoing investigation and deemed sub judice?

If you are not part of the ongoing investigation, is in possession of information, but do not want to publicise it, it is absolutely your choice. What boggles the mind is that you state that you hope that this info will come out "in the interest of fairness".

One could make the following inference from that statement:
Our three victims was not as innocent. There is more to the backstory, possibly events earlier in the day they did not include as part of their public statements.
Last edit: 31 May 2016 08:31 by Coeta. Reason: clarification
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28 May 2016 22:02 - 28 May 2016 22:08 #68582 by Philip
The words ‘rock hard’ were too strong.

If I have caused any offence to anyone I humbly apologise. I was attempting to explain to anyone following my posts that based on the information I have heard from a reliable source, I think that the first scenario I mentioned is more likely.

I will be more careful with my choice of words in future.
Last edit: 28 May 2016 22:08 by Philip.

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29 May 2016 00:29 #68583 by Coeta
No offense! Just very intrigued.
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30 May 2016 23:39 #68599 by vividjones
As one if the victims of the atrack I have to say that the comments and speculations above have left me feeling very emotional.

Firstly to know someone has information, any information at all is very important. The fact that we have not been given any information is upsetting though.
Secondly the notion the we were not innocent is ridiculous and I strongly reject any theories suggesting otherwise.
I cannot understand how an attack this violent (where we almost died) may have been as a result of any behaviour on our part!

We have been contacted by the Lesotho Department of Tourism and they have assured us that the matter is being taken further. At this point we have not had any further feedback.

Please remember that real people sustained real wounds and psychological trauma as you openly theorise. I urge you to take a moment to think about your choice of words. This forum has always maintained a very high level of respect and support.
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31 May 2016 04:13 #68600 by Philip
No fingers are being pointed at anyone in particular.

I fully understand that the experience must have been extremely traumatic, and I wish you all a speedy recovery.

Once again I humbly apologise from my side for causing any offense or unnecessary speculation.

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