Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Burning of my bakkie brings old memories back

Until December 7th, I had a red Isuzu twin cab bearing registration plate numbers “B 851 AIA. That registration number had a special meaning that was not understood by anyone except the owner. Each of the digits represented the owner’s birthday which falls on the eighth month of the year 1951. As such, that vehicle was nicknamed “birthday boy “. 

My friends in the UDC, like Thari Moya had made it known to me how much they hated its colour because each time we were together, it reminded them of the BDP because that party uses red as its main colour. Those in the BDP admired it so much that every time I arrived at their functions, I was warmly welcomed and a chair was availed to me without delay. They treated me as one of them. The ordinary rank and file of the party liked leaning against it at their rallies. Others would even jump in and sit without asking for my permission. 

One day, I gave some of them a lift at the end of their rally. One of them started shouting the party slogan while on board. When advised by another activist not to do that on the grounds that the owner was a journalist and not a party activist, the individual replied, “why did your journalist choose a red colour if he is not one of us?” “Birthday boy” is no more. In the early hours of Monday December 7th, an unknown arsonist (s) walked into the “birthday boy’s” parking area under the cover of darkness and set him ablaze. It was exactly one o’clock in the morning when an explosion from outside woke up the owner from his sleep. It was an excruciating moment.

But not as excruciating as the February 2000 narrow escape from a plane crash in Abidjan, Cote Divoire where I had gone to represent Botswana at an international conference dealing with among other things, corruption. I was aboard the Kenyan Airways aircraft from Nairobi to Abidjan via Lagos. It could not land in Lagos because visibility was not clear. After spending 20 or so minutes cycling over the skies of Lagos, the crew decided it was wiser to drop the Abidjan bound passengers instead of waiting on air indefinitely. After dropping us there, it made a quick return journey to Lagos. While I was still completing immigration formalities, word came to the effect that, that Kenyan aircraft had crashed on sea killing 97 passengers on board.

A few survivors were rescued from the sea by fishermen. For me it was two weeks of hell in Abidjan asking myself questions like, how did it happen that it crashed so soon after disembarking? If there was a way of coming back to Botswana by road, I would have opted for such a route instead of by air. From Abidjan Air Afriki aircraft landed in Congo for refueling  before proceeding on the journey to Johannesburg. While in Johannesburg, I considered the option of catching public transport from Park Station to Gaborone to stop flying anymore. I found that option inappropriate because the government would probably wash its hands in the event something terrible happened to me while on the road. 

I had exchanged business cards with some of the deceased. I was so traumatized that I declined flight trips until the following year. Regarding the burning of the “birthday boy”, neighbours arrived at the scene of crime minutes later and fought very hard to distinguish the blaze. The first to arrive was a man called Tira Masupu who started by dialing my cellular phone number to check if I was home and alive. He was followed by my other good MmaTshepo Segobye and Jane Mopywa. From there many people arrived. That made it easier to prevent the fire from causing damage to other properties. If it were not them, I would be writing a different story. By the time the fire brigade arrived, the job had been done.

Theirs was to put finishing touches before putting the nail on the coffin.  I thank all those who participated. They demonstrated the spirit of neighbourliness.  This is what Batswana call “matlo go fswa mabapi.”The police suspect foul play and me too. They have made no arrest and there are no leads but they have intensified their investigations. One can only pray that they make breakthrough. They collected samples from the ashes. The results of their analysis may help them know what was used in the commissioning of the crime but may not lead them to the identity of the culprit (s). This now calls on everybody with information that can lead to the arrest and prosecution to pass it to them or to me. Such information is normally and naturally treated by the police as confidential.

These criminals must be removed from their nests without delay. Whoever is responsible for this crime is on the run. But who knows, sooner or later, they may be behind bars. Many people in Mochudi have pointed fingers at a certain section of the society. They may be wrong or right. However, I understand why they are pointing fingers at that direction. There is justification for doing that.  While I subscribe to their suspicions, I have said to those that have talked to me that experience teaches me that the focus should not be on one direction. I was in Mochudi in 1976. That year, Kgosi Linchwe II’s car was set ablaze at Motimalenyora Bar in Mochudi.

I was the last person to leave the car following its arrival from a football game in Lobatse. That put me on the spotlight because I had to write a statement to the investigators in which I swore that all the car’s doors were locked when I left the vehicle. I was lucky I did not testify during the trial because my statement was accepted by both counsels. Everybody including the police suspected agents of the South African Police because the Kgosi was a strong opponent of that country’s apartheid system. He had spoken openly against that regime during his many visits to that country. He had also embraced refugees coming to his village fleeing from political persecution from their country. That diverted attention from Mochudi. 

It was only when a traditional doctor emerged like a bolt from the blue several months later that it was found that the Boers were not directly or indirectly involved  in the destruction of the car. The culprit turned out to be a Mokgatla man with whom the Kgosi had had a quarrel. Evidence led in the subsequent trial showed that the culprit had sent two men to destroy the Kgosi’s car. The mistake they made was their failure to honour the agreement they had reached with the traditional doctor. He then decided to open the lid. Within days, three suspects were in police custody for the destruction of the Kgosi’s car. Even in the present case, it is possible that the culprit may be someone associated with regiments. Similarly, it may be someone with no connection with the somehow notorious regiment group.

I am one person who is addicted to keeping records of significant events. I am currently revisiting my diaries page by page to find out if there may be one such entry relevant to the on-going investigations.  However, one thing should be made clear. It would be unfortunate if perpetrators could turn out to have been motivated by their dislike of some or all the opinion articles I have been filing in the newspaper. Throughout the world, various forms of intimidation are applied to try to gag journalists from exposing wrong-doing by people in positions of authority. Botswana is not an exception. Outsa Mokone, editor of the Sunday Standard has at some stage been subjected to such treatment. When I started writing my opinion articles, I knew that at some stage I would pay the price.

I have no intention of retiring my pen yet. The support I have been receiving from well-wishers and sympathizers since the incident took place has been overwhelming. This gives me courage. In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, we hear that “cowards die many times before their deaths”.

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