Saturday, June 15, 2024

Comrades don’t remember judge being at ‘forefront’ of BNF war in ‘98

Lobatse High Court judge, Justice Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe, does indeed have a Botswana National Front (BNF) past and has so admitted. However, was he, as Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane has alleged, at the “forefront” of the ill-fated 1998 BNF elective congress that degenerated into a missile-throwing skirmish? The most important word in that description is “forefront” – which the new chief custodian of the English language (King Charles III) would understand to mean “the most noticeable or important position.”

At the Palapye congress, the BNF had cleaved itself into two factions, one led by the president, Dr. Kenneth Koma, and the other by his deputy, Michael Dingake. The latter’s controlled the Central Committee, which had suspended five veterans aligned to Koma: Mareledi Giddie, Mogalakwe Mogalakwe, Billy Makuku, Patrick Kgoadi and Klaas Motshidisi. Only Mogalakwe and Kgoadi are still alive on that list.

As an indication of the level of rivalry between the warring factions, each bivouacked at separate locations in the village. All along, tradition had been to camp at the same location, normally a government primary school. When the congress convened, Koma’s faction wanted the suspension issue resolved but Dingake’s balked. No headway was made on the first day and on the second, all hell broke loose. It has been alleged that a certain prominent party member, then an MP, had issued a “Fire!” command, set off an operation that had been planned the previous night. An uncomradely skirmish ensued as combatants exchanged IBMs – inter-factional ballistic missiles. When it was all over, there was destruction everywhere one looked.

Some 24 years later, Rannowane and Ketlogetswe are engaged in a skirmish of a different kind, one involving exchange not of missiles but missives via the Office of the President. Ketlogetswe has reported Rannowane to President Mokgweetsi Masisi for allegedly attempting to get him to make a ruling that favoured the state in a matter that came before him. The matter involved Lobatse MP, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, who had applied for bail after he was arrested in connection with a ritual murder. From what the latter alleges, Rannowane (alongside Minister of State President, Kabo Morwaeng) wanted him to reject Matsheka’s bail application. 

In his own letter to Masisi, Rannowane says that Ketlogetswe “was at the forefront of the stone throwing saga at Palapye and damage to government property that preceded the splitting of BNF that gave birth to [the Botswana Congress Party]. Yet he was appointed a magistrate and subsequently a High Court Judge.”

However, comrades who attended the Palapye congress don’t recall Ketlogetswe being at the forefront of the skirmish. While there are wildly varying accounts of how the missile-throwing started, no one has ever been credibly adjudged to have been at its forefront.   Ketlogetswe himself denies that he ever threw any stones at the Palapye congress: “I was in the BNF Central Committee as president of BNF Youth League but it is utterly incorrect that I threw any stone, let alone damaged any property, including that of government. I place it on record that, at the time, I was a self-respecting practising attorney of our courts and obliged, ethically, to be law-abiding.” Supposing Ketlogetswe had indeed thrown stones, being at the “forefront” of the stone-throwing would have represented a higher level of culpability.

Whoever the Greek God of judicious choice of words is, s/he was certainly not guiding the Chief Justice’s hands when he typed the paragraph about Kepaletswe’s BNF past. Another problematic word he used is “yet”, in the context in which it highlights stark contradiction or irony: “Yet he was appointed a Magistrate and subsequently a High Court Judge.” A political past in the opposition doesn’t disqualify lawyers from becoming judges: Justice Tshepho Motswagole was a BNF councillor in the Gaborone City Council. While he uses a different set of words, Ketlogetswe makes this same point in his rebuttal letter to Masisi.


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