Botswana and South Africa are on the verge of diplomatic fallout.
This comes in the wake of reports that President Ian Khama will not give the South African government assurances that a Botswana citizen wanted for murder and currently holed up in South Africa will not be hanged if found guilty by Botswana courts.
South Africa does not have capital punishment while Botswana does.
At the centre of the diplomatic stand-off is Emmanuel Tsebe, a Motswana citizen, who allegedly murdered his girlfriend in Mahalapye before skipping the country to South Africa.
Before handing him back, South African authorities want an executive assurance that he will not be executed if found guilty.
Sources in the government enclave say Khama would not give his assurance when requested by a South African magistrate during an extradition hearing launched by the Botswana government. Reacting to this, a Pretoria-based Interpol officer, Clement Mabaso, who is handling Tsebe’s case, confirmed that they had received what he termed ‘sad news’ against cross-border crime fighting.
According to Mabaso, in the past, they helped to get suspects extradited from South Africa to Botswana to stand trial for various crimes they committed in Botswana on condition that an undertaking had been made by the presidency that the suspects would not be hanged if found guilty.
Mabaso said if this new development is true, then it simply means that the previous arrangement will come to an end as they cannot help to extradite a person if there has not been the required undertakings. According to him, this also means that they will have to release Tsebe as they only arrested him on the understanding that he would eventually be extradited to Botswana after South Africa had been given the necessary executive assurances.
“We currently have Tsebe in custody but we will eventually release him if there is no undertaking from your side as he has not committed any crime here. We cannot keep him in jail indefinitely as that might attract a law suit or an out cry about us keeping a foreigner in jail when he has not committed an offence here,” he said.
Recently, Benson Keganne, a Motswana, and two South African citizens were extradited from South Africa to Botswana to stand trial for the murder of a Phitshane woman, Gloria Mahowe. They were extradited after the Botswana government had made an undertaking that they would not be hanged if found guilty of the murder.
Keganne was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, whilst the other two only got lengthy prison sentences.
Under international law Botswana cannot go back on its assurances to South Africa.
Dick Bayford, a leading Attorney in Gaborone, said if it is true that Botswana is not willing to continue with the extradition agreement then going forward there will be not much of winning cross-border crime.
Bayford said it is likely that South Africa will become a haven of fugitives who are wanted in Botswana
“That is the dilemma. Without constitutional changes outlawing the death penalty in Botswana or introducing it in South Africa, the lack of cooperation between the two states will see the two countries become havens of fugitives.”
He said if there is no cooperation between the two countries even common thieves or witnesses who are accomplices will not be extradited from South Africa to Botswana.
All attempts to get comments from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions were futile and a questionnaire we had sent to them concerning the matter was not responded to it.