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Gang war as musicians’ feud makes country ‘murder capital’


A bitter feud between rival stars of an accordion-based genre of music has sparked a deadly gang war which has turned a tiny country into the sixth most murderous on the planet.

Lesotho is now the murder capital of Africa due to ongoing battles between rival Famo artists.

Famo, a traditional form of rap with an accordion backing, is the national music of Lesotho.

In 2004 a Famo star allegedly shot and killed another, causing a deadly chain reaction where artists hunted others for insulting them in their songs, according to the BBC.

The disputes have grown increasingly complex over the past 18 years, with hundreds of artists, producers, family members and fans now victims of the gang dispute.



Deadly gang war as accordion musicians' feud turns tiny country into 'murder capital'
Famo music is a traditional form of rap backed by an accordion

Sebonomoea Ramainoane, one of Famo’s original promoters, told said: “They come to a house looking for you – and you are not there.

“And they kill the wife, they kill the children, eliminate everybody in the family.

“Villages and villages are orphanages, because of Famo music.”

The so-called Famo Wars have transformed the idyllic country of just 2.1million people into a gangland war zone, with many people forced to leave their homes to escape the violence.



The popular genre is the national music of Lesotho
The popular genre is the national music of Lesotho

Speaking to theReporter last year, Mafeteng government official Hanyane Ramantša explained: “One family whose name I can’t disclose has recently moved from Matelile to stay in Thabana-Morena because its three sons were killed in connection with the Famo gangs.

“When one of the three sons was first killed, the woman decided to pack some of the families’ belongings and left to stay at one of his son’s house in Thabana Morena.

“In December 2019 the family’s two other sons were also killed in connection to the gangs. Before their burial, their father also followed the wife and went on to join the only remaining son and the wife in Thabana-Morena.”



Famo concerts are now rare occurrences in Lesotho due to how dangerous they have become
Famo concerts are now rare occurrences in Lesotho due to how dangerous they have become

Battle lines have been drawn between warring Famo factions who wear traditional blankets coloured in particular ways. Two of the main groups are Terene, who wear yellow, and Seakhi, marked by blue and black.

Famo musician Bereng Majoro, who goes by the stage name Lekase, belongs to the latter.

Now living in South Africa, he explained that he always carried a gun and would often go into hiding when a fellow artist was threatened.



The tiny country of Lesotho has a population of just 2.1million people
The tiny country of Lesotho has a population of just 2.1million people

Refusing to confirm whether he had actually taken part in gang killings, he told the BBC: “I fought back, because when I see someone buried, knowing that he was killed by other groups, I was angry. So I have to take revenge.”

Nearly two decades on from the initial dispute, the Famo Wars now affect several parts of society outside of music.

Rival gangs are said to fight for control of lucrative illegal gold mines in South Africa.

Last year mine worker Sello Ntaote was shot and killed, allegedly by a Famo gang after he moved from a mine controlled by them to another controlled by their rivals.



Lesotho had the sixth-highest homicide rate in the world last year
Lesotho had the sixth-highest homicide rate in the world last year

There have also been suggestions that Famo gangs have infiltrated police and politics in Lesotho.

Last November Deputy Home Affairs minister Maimane Maphathe told the BBC that 75 guns had been sold by police to Famo gangs after they disappeared from a police station in Mafeteng.

Ntei Tsehlana, former leader of the Terene gang, was actually a driver for the Home Affairs Ministry up until his death earlier this month.

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