Victims get justice and criminals go to jail ÔÇô on paper. Cattle farmers, like Tumelo Magole of Tonota, wishes life were that simple.
As it is, it is the criminals who get the last laugh. “The justice system is stacked in favour of stock thieves: Their cases are tried in magistrate courts were sometimes magistrates fumble through the trial. In cases where they are lucky to appear before a magistrate who is conversant with Botswana cattle farming, there is usually the defence lawyer who uses tricky legal jargon to confuse uneducated farmers.”
Magole was relating to the Sunday Standard, the legal gamut that victims of stock theft have to run to get justice.
Magole’s plight and that of thousands of small farmers will pit Botswana’s strong cattle interest against the country’s growing human rights movement should Tonota South Member of Parliament Pono Moatlodi table his motion in the current sitting of parliament.
Moatlhodi told Sunday Standard this week that he had wanted to table the motion in the last sitting of Parliament, but was persuaded by Vice President Ian Khama to defer it until he had conducted enough research, because the motion has serious human rights implications.
Moatlodi says he has done his research and is ready to table the motion. Should the motion go through, cattle rustlers would be stripped of their Constitutional right to legal representation as all stock theft cases would be heard in Customary Courts where lawyers are not allowed.
Moathodi denounced government for “watching from the sidelines while cattle farmers are repeatedly robbed of their livelihood.”
He vowed to fight to the bitter end until stock theft cases are tried exclusively by the customary courts.
“Issues of cattle are cultural issues and they must be left to chiefs who are the custodians of culture” he said.
North East District farmer, Samuel Mabechu said it was a shame that government allowed thieves to harass the poor and get away with it.
He added that most farmers are simple people who are comfortable with resolving stock theft cases in traditional court where presiding officers are conversant with the issues.Kgosi Pogiso Sekoko of Tonota concurred that trying stock
theft cases at magistrate courts is blatant disregard for the authority of chiefs. “From time immemorial stock issues were tried and judged by chiefs because they understand them better than anyone. Why do they want to change that?” he asked. Kgosi Sekoko said that magistrates do not know about cattle and their customs like colour, branding and earmarks. “Some of these people are not even Batswana and stock cultures vary from nation to nation” he said. Kgosi Seboko revealed that he had personally taken the effort to attend some cases at magistrates’ courts and he was not impressed at all. He gave an example of calves that after being separated from their mothers just a few weeks after birth would always be able to identify their mothers even after months of separation. ”This is proof of identity in Setswana culture, but a magistrate or an attorney can dispute that and say the calves went to the mothers because they were hungry and not because they identified with them.” he said. Kgosi Sekoko said that there is rampant stock theft in Tonota and they suspect that butchery owners are part of a syndicate of cattle rustlers. This was confirmed by station commander of Tonota Police Station Assistant Superintendent Loeto Ramahokwa who said that the cattle identification bolus does not help as rustlers usually kill cattle and sell them to butcheries in Tonota. But the sentiments of Moatlhodi and his Chiefs were countered by the President of the Customary Court of Appeal North, Kgosi Tumelo Seboko who said that the accused have a constitutional right to decide where they want their cases to be tried. He said that magistrates’ courts are very competent to try stock theft cases. “If magistrates’ courts have a problem they can always call consult with dikgosi from customary courts to seek clarification” he said. He revealed that even at the customary court of appeal they always refer to High Court judgements to make decisions on some cases. Kgosi Seboko said that though it is important to uphold powers of chiefs it is even more important to uphold human rights. ” Our system of customary courts should not be stagnant but rather change with the times and we can only learn from exchanging ideas with other courts” he concluded.