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Sunday Times STLive By BONGANI MDAKANE, 2011-01-09

R5000 for your loved one's life

The owner of the North West tavern in which 10 people were crushed to death in a New Year's Day stampede this week paid R5000 to each of the victims' families.

The Sunday Times can also reveal that James Thekiso Lepholletse and his family intend closing the popular venue, the Basotho Inn in Ipelegeng township near Schweizer-Reneke, as the owner fears locals will take the law into their own hands and burn the place to the ground.

Lepholletse appeared in court on Friday on charges of culpable homicide and was released on bail of R40000.

Earlier he had forked out nearly R50000 to the families of the dead as a peace offering, with at least one declining the offer.

Details remain sketchy of what led to the stampede, which occurred at about 2am on January 1, when hundreds of revellers packed into the tavern to usher in the new year.

In court it emerged that Lepholletse is facing additional charges of discharging a firearm in a public place, which could explain what triggered people to rush from the venue.

Lepholletse's brother, Mokete, said the tavern would be closed as it had caused "anguish" in the area.

"We have plans to stop operating the tavern after the incident (but) we are waiting for Thekiso so we can communicate as a family on how to go forward," he said.

Days after the incident, and as mass funeral arrangements were being made this week, the Lepholletse family visited the families of those who died to pass on their condolences - and cash in compensation.

But one family, whose son, Bantaotse Mogokare, 28, was one of the victims, refused the offer.

Mogokare's father, Zakaria, told the Sunday Times: "We are not in a position to take the money because we are dealing with our loss."

Sam Montshiwagae, whose brother Oscar, 21, was one of the victims, expressed outrage over the cash payments.

"The family ... came and stated that they were sorry about what had happened. They gave us R5000 and a card that has a message of condolences. They brought their money as if we are in business.

"My family accepted the money - but that will not bring my brother back," he said.

As emotions ran high in Ipelegeng, Mokete said his brother was "trying to come to terms with what had happened".

"Thekiso and the Lepholletse family are part of this community and we are involved in so many community projects where we are empowering people in different ways. Their loss is our loss too," he said.

But Lepholletse did not seem so sad on Friday, leaving court with a wide smile minutes after being released on bail - and despite a warning from prosecutor Riekie Krause that his life could be in danger from an angry community.

Lepholletse's lawyer, Callie Strydom, told the court that his client was a father of three and employed at least 70 people at his other businesses, including a security company.

After the judgment, a furious Phutego Moyakhe, the uncle of the dead Lebogang Moyakhe, said: "Our justice system is not working properly. It doesn't make sense that the accused gets bail before the kids could even be buried.

"I wonder if it is because of money that he has been given special treatment. He did a bad thing and we won't welcome him back, as we are still bitter. We are very disappointed."

As the local municipality was going ahead with plans to bury seven of the victims at a mass funeral today, some of the families of those who died in the stampede described the tavern as a "mortuary".

Maria Setelo, the grand-mother of Lebogang Mano, 19, who would have gone to matric this year, said: "I still do not understand how my grandchild died in that mortuary. He had no bruises that showed he was trampled to death. His eyes were red, and we hear many stories that there was somebody who sprayed a gas and we also hear that the owner shot (a firearm) three times."

Those who died are Bongani Moloantwa, Mpho Mokwena, Oscar Montshiwagae, Lebogang Moyakhe, Tshlamo Steven Ditlhokwe, Lebogang Mano, Khosi Israel Mothupi, Kelebogile Maruping, Florence Makhobosi and Bantaotse Mogokare.