BDP councillor suing former National Museum Director for defamation

04 Sep 2017

A Botswana Democratic Party councillor in the Central District Council will tomorrow go toe to toe with a former Director of the National Museum and Art Gallery over contents of a letter that the latter wrote to the Council Secretary.

The all-caps title of the “strictly confidential” letter does more than sum the matter up: “I, Tjako Mpulubusi, humbly requests your invoking executive powers vested upon you to verify whether Councillor [Banthasetse] Merementsi’s conduct conforms and complies with the code of conduct and ethics expected of a BDP councillor when he indulges in the recidivistic surreptitious collusions with a rogue NDB syndicate characterized [by] misinforming authorities, faking acquisitions of attached properties disregarding terms and conditions stipulated in the High Court writ and repeatedly making false statements to public officers while he is under oath (Oct 2004-2017)”

The first paragraph of the letter uses language as robust: “I find myself submerged in a very unpleasant situation in search of avenues to find justice and inform those with powers about a scandalous scam at NDB where one of the very senior councillors has been swimming in an ocean of tot as stated above with the sole purpose to acquire properties unlawfully with the assistance of NDB.”

The mention of the National Development Bank is in the context of a 2001 loan that Mpulubusi got from the bank to develop a farm (called Sedze Ramantswe) in Kodibeleng, a small village 15 kilometres west of Shoshong. With atheP272 000 loan, Mpulubusi started a dairy project and started supplying milk to Bushmen pupils attending primary school in the villages of Otse and Mokgenene. Prior to that, Merementsi had been supplying the milk. When the dairy was foreclosed, Mpulubusi had repaid only P54 000 of the NDB loan and in his letter he attributed this misfortune to “misinformation and lies” perpetrated by a deputy sheriff he only refers to as Waheng.

“There is a conspiracy theory that Deputy Sheriff Waheng and Merementsi had colluded to eliminate the Ramantswe Dairy Farm,” the letter says.

It further alleges that councillor and deputy sheriff connived to “stage the auctioning of my dairy herd”, with the former as the sole bidder, for the sum of P140 000: “This transaction never appeared anywhere in the documents of NDB. Until March 2017, NDB cannot account for any of the items [falsely] auctioned by Waheng to Merementsi.”

Merementsi came to see the “strictly confidential” letter and feeling it defames his character and is prejudicial to his standing in society is suing Mpulubusi for P300 000.

In his defence, Mpulubusi is saying that the letter, which was copied to the District Commissioner, was confidential and marked as such and was never meant for the councillor’s eyes.

“How the plaintiff got hold of the letter is a mystery as same was not meant for his attention. During the meeting with the Council Secretary, he vehemently denied issuing/discussing the letter with the plaintiff hence I reported the matter to the security agents for violation of office secrets,” says Mpulubusi in his plea and never once specifying the security agents he is referring to.

There is another dimension of the story. Merementsi has a case against the Ngwato Land Board that is pending before the Palapye Land Tribunal. The matter relates to a piece of land that the tribunal says Mpulubusi has substantial interest in and should thus be joined as a party to the proceedings. As part of his plea to the Gaborone High Court, which is handling the defamation case, Mpulubusi is arguing that the letter he wrote doesn’t constitute defamation because its contents are related to a matter pending before the Palapye Land Tribunal.

Mpulubusi further argues that Merementsi is jumping the gun with his defamation case because the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Botswana Police Service are still investigating the scam he implicates Merementsi and Waheng in.

At least on the basis of third parties gaining access to information that was not meant for their eyes and not being happy about such information, the same court has dealt with a somewhat similar case. Former High Court judge, Mpaphi Phumaphi sued The Voice, its publisher and editor, Emang Bokhutlo as well as Mmegi board member, Methaetsile Leepile, for P850 000 over contents of a document that the latter had authored. Throughout the case, Leepile maintained that he had never intended the paper to be published and had merely shared it with a professional colleague at Mmegi. Handing down judgement, Justice Singh Walia, said that there was no evidence that Leepile had intended for contents of the document to be published and absolved all four parties of liability.

Mpulubusi and Merementsi also have a political past together, having faced off in two battles for elective office that were both won by the latter. The first time, in 2009, was when Mpulubusi represented the Botswana National Front in a general election. The second time was in 2014 when, having decamped to the BDP, Mpulubusi ran against Merementsi in the primary election.