The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phandu Skelemani, last week hinted at Botswana’s frustration with South Africa’s refusal to extradite murder accused persons to face trial here.
The thorny issue has for a long time threatened to sour relations between the two, with South Africa refusing to extradite murder accused persons, citing fears that they might be hanged if found guilty, especially as Botswana is a staunch proponent of capital punishment.
South Africa abolished the death penalty after their first democratic elections in 1990.
Skelemani hinted at Botswana’s frustration with South Africa at a media briefing meant to negate accusations leveled against Botswana by Zimbabwe, when he said that Botswana has cordial relations with all the SADC countries, “save for small problems with our neighbours from the south with whom we differ on extradition of persons accused of murder, and on the death penalty”.
In the most recent development, yet another Motswana, Jerry Tlhale, is said to have skipped the country to South Africa after murdering his girlfriend in Jamataka Village in the central district. Tlhale is currently in custody in South Africa, and awaiting an extradition hearing. But there are fears that South African authorities will once again refuse to extradite him to face murder charges in Botswana, unless the latter provides guarantees that he will not be executed if found guilty.
Information reaching The Sunday Standard indicates that Botswana consulted South Africa after Tlhale skipped the country, and he is now to face an extradition trial. But it is also widely believed that the extradition trial will, like others before, bear no fruit as the two countries continue to square off on their opposing views on capital punishment.
In November this year, the two countries were engaged in yet another diplomatic tiff over the extradition of one Emmanuel Tsebe, who allegedly fled the country after killing his girlfriend in Mahalapye in 2007. To date, no progress has been made on the case, primarily because Botswana refuses to guarantee that Tsebe will not be executed if he is extradited to face trial here.
The Secretary for Defense and Security in the Office of President, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, recently confirmed that the two governments are in negotiations over the issue.
Tsebe was arrested in South Africa on Botswana’s request, after which Botswana applied for his extradition to Botswana to stand trial. While a court in South Africa’s Limpopo Province ruled in favour of Botswana, the talks collapsed after Botswana failed to accede to South Africa’s demands that high ranking Botswana government officials should travel to South Africa to give assurances that Tsebe would not be hanged if found guilty.
Botswana government officials failed to go to South Africa to give the assurances, and the South African Minister of Justice eventually ordered that Tsebe should be released. Makgonatshotlhe, together with the Public Relations Officer in the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Abigail Hlabano, later confirmed that Tsebe had been released from custody.
President Ian Khama later joined the fray, steadfastly refusing to give guarantees that Tsebe would not be executed. Government enclave insiders said at the time that Khama refused to give his assurance when requested by a South African magistrate during an extradition hearing launched by the Botswana government.
A Pretoria-based Interpol officer, Clement Mabaso, who is handling Tsebe’s case, would later label the refusal as a sad development, saying that South Africa will not extradite murder suspects if Botswana refuses to give guarantees that they will not be executed.
“We currently have Tsebe in custody, but we cannot keep him in jail indefinitely as he has not committed an offence here,” he said.
Another case in point is that of Benson Keganne, a Motswana, who, together with two South African citizens, were extradited to Botswana to stand trial for the murder of a Phitshane woman, Gloria Mahowe. South Africa released the trio after Botswana gave her word that they would not be executed.
Despite the undertaking, Keganne was found guilty and sentenced to death, while the two South Africans got lengthy prison sentences on the grounds that they were young when they committed the offence.
Keganne’s capital sentence incensed South Africa and worsened the already tense relations between the two. Under international law Botswana cannot go back on its assurances to South Africa.
Commenting on the issue, Gaborone attorney Dick Bayford said that Botswana’s continued refusal to honour the extradition agreement with South Africa will only exacerbate cross border crime, and South Africa will become a haven for fugitives who are wanted in Botswana.
In the past South African singer, Tokollo Tshabalala, eventually came to Botswana on his own volition to stand trial for causing the death of Marea Monyatsi by dangerous driving.
Tshabalala only came after Botswana gave assurance that he would not be hanged if found guilty, further explaining that under the laws of Botswana, causing death by dangerous driving only carries a fine and jail term.