It was the best of times.
Botswana entered 2009 with a new president and renewed hope. President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s maiden speech about the 4-D’s (discipline, democracy, development and dignity) promised visionary leadership. Even some of the most vocal critics of government were ready to line up behind him.
And it was the worst of times.
By the third month in to the New Year the country was already counting casualties of security officers’ brutality. The roll call is grim: In March this year, Defence Justice and Security Minister, Ramadeluka Seretse, told parliament that eight suspects had already been killed by security agents.
A month later, a 32 year old Gaborone young man was killed in a hail of security officers’ bullets, one hand holding a glass of whisky and the other hand resting against the head rest of a two door sedan.
Within days, his wide open eyes were gazing out at every newspaper reader: John Kalafatis’ face was all around, filling bar and combi conversations and haunting Botswana’s dreams, the indelible icon of the year.
The Kalafatis murder was still on the prime pages of major local newspapers when Bakgatla Regent, Kgosi Kgolo Kgafela11, launched a crusade to mobilize Botswana’s civil society against extra judicial killings by the state.
Kgafela wrote letters to a number of Non Governmental Organizations saying he had been prompted “by a very troubling state of affairs that has presently gripped our nation and is threatening fundamental values of our society which are enshrined in the Constitution of Botswana.”
The issue soon spilled over into politics. Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activist and retired political advisor to President Festus Mogae, Sidney Pilane, joined the fray.
In an opinion piece to the Sunday Standard, Pilane wrote that: “People outside of Botswana may not be aware that there is a growing fear in my adopted country. On the day President Ian Khama took office he gained my allegiance. His speech about the 4-D’s (discipline, democracy, development and dignity) showed his vision for Botswana and I was ready to get behind him. But since that day, step by step, Batswana have watched his concerted efforts to dismantle a democracy his patriotic predecessors (including his own father, our first president, President Seretse Khama) had worked so hard to build. And as the democracy we took for granted slowly slips away, he is replacing it with orders on high and fear around every corner. His cabinet has become little more than lackeys and yes-men. He rules by decree without thought to the consequences. The recently passed media law will control the press he so despises. But none of this can hold a candle to the recent events in this country.
Two weeks ago, an alleged petty thief, John Kalafatis, was pulled over by people who were either members of our new spy department, Directorate of Intelligence Security (DIS), the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) or the police; to date everyone is pointing the finger at someone else..
After Kalafatis was killed, the government’s reaction has been astonishing. They held a press conference excluding all private press. At that ‘press conference’ the journalists were spoken to as if they were children who had misbehaved, instead of professionals with an obligation to report what happens in the country.
President Ian Khama does many wonderful things, but unfortunately these do not outweigh the damage he is doing to our country. Where I stood 100% behind him, I am now keeping my registration card in a safe place and plan to vote for the opposition in October. I will not stand by and let Botswana go the way of her northern neighbor. It’s the duty of Batswana to see that that never happens.
Pilane and members of the Barata-Phathi factions decided to defend the country against what they claimed was the damage the president was doing. This has gone a long way in defining the politics of Botswana in the past 12 months.
Although most Batswana are confident that security agents are not out to get them personally, some are fearful nevertheless. Reports of extra judicial killings and secret operations of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) have thrown up a cloud of confusion through which it is impossible to discern the future.
These days, very few Batswana can discuss politics in bars without looking over their shoulders for strange men in dark glasses. Even fewer discuss private matters over the phone without worrying that the DIS is eavesdropping.
Earlier this month, as the curtains draw on 2009, BDP Member of Parliament for Gaborone West South, Botsalo Ntuane asked: “Is Anybody Safe?” It was the question that defined the year. Fear, anxiety and insecurity runs through Botswana like the writing in a stick of rock, from the social to the economic, the personal to the political.
Ntuane told parliament that, “the increasing incidents of extra judicial killings have raised more questions than answers, and we call upon the highest office in the land to intervene and allay the public’s fears. Security agents have been linked to many of the extra-judicial killings, and government has so far failed to provide answers,” he said.
He added that the most gruesome and talked about incident is the killing of the late John Kalafatis whose body was riddled with bullets amid allegations that he died at the hands of government security agents. To date, he said, the highest office in the land remains mum over the issue and no explanations are forthcoming as to why he was killed and who committed this hideous murder.
Ntuane said that Batswana are becoming increasingly fearful of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security, which has in turn become alienated.
“This is an institution which, by all intents and purposes, was designed to protect them. It is sad that Batswana now view the DIS as a killing organ rather than a guarantor of their protection,” he said.
Vice President Mompati Merafhe was also not spared, as Ntuane raked him over hot coals for a comment that he allegedly made to the effect that one or two shootings is not bad.
“I hope the vice president will clear the air and explain what he meant when he said that. I also hope his honor the Vice President was misquoted,” he said.
Ntuane also called on government to calm and reassure the people over concerns that government is spying on them. He told the house that people were now afraid to speak freely because they believe that their phones are bugged.