At the height of the electoral season, when ritual murder is suspected in almost every missing-person case, a Tswapong village grapevine has falsely labelled an innocent man a ritual murderer courtesy of a fibbing primary school student who stayed out late.
Several days ago, Reuben Kgodumo, a Lecheng native who works in Gaborone, received a telephone call from his farm worker alerting him about a kidnapping case that had been reported to the local police. The case involved a Lecheng boy who had just completed Standard Seven and is awaiting his Primary School Leaving Examinations results. The boy’s story was that some strange men travelling in a van had pounced on and kidnapped him in the bush. Thereafter, they drove him to Kgodumo’s farm, tied him to a tree, then left without doing him any harm. He spent the whole night so restrained but was somehow able to free himself early in the morning and flee home to his parents, who contacted the police. Oddly, the police never contacted Kgodumo as would be expected in a kidnapping case.
A mother whose child was kidnapped and spent all night tied to a tree would understandably be livid at the person whose property the child was found in. However, when the boy’s mother contacted Kgodumo it was to apologise on behalf of her son. The boy had visited friends, she explained, stayed out late and decided to sleep over without her permission. At dusk the following day, he hightailed it home. He had concocted what his mind told him was a water-tight story about why he didn’t come home last night in order to avoid punishment.
Much later, when Kgodumo, who was never treated as a suspect, called the police to enquire about new developments in this unusual case, he learnt that there had actually never been any investigation because the police could tell that the boy was lying. At the most basic level, kidnapping and ritual murder are time-sensitive crimes. No kidnapping and ritual murder incidents ever end up with the victims being tied to a tree the whole night while the would-be murderers go away.
Case closed? Not quite. The police never opened one because they could tell that the boy was lying. However, the case that social media and the village grapevine opened is not about to be closed. Kgodumo has since learnt that during assembly following this incident, students at the local primary school were warned about some men who had kidnapped a child being on the prowl. There is absolutely no detail about the kidnappers’ and the vehicle they were using because neither exist. However, there are precise geographical details about the farm where the boy was allegedly tied up all night because it actually exists. There are also precise biographical detail about the farm’s owner because he actually exists and is known to Lecheng residents. Resultantly, it is these details that are being used to peddle the false kidnapping and ritual murder allegations.
Kgodumo is a member of “Monate wa Lecheng”, a 2300-strong Facebook group made up of Lecheng residents. The name (which means “the excitement of Lecheng”) is adopted from the name of a popular village bar. Less the facts and knowledge of the latest developments, this Facebook page has taken up the story of the “kidnapped” boy. Conscious of the libel trap, a sophisticated netizenry is using coded language to play and flesh up the rumour and some commenters are asking that the identity of the “perpetrator” be revealed.
Likewise, the village grapevine is fuelling a rumour that accuses Kgodumo of something he has never done. Lecheng is a small village where residents pretty much know each other and not too long ago, Kgodumo made some improvements to his home. With his decades-long knowledge of how Botswana society processes information related to ritual murders, he is certain that some people will be connecting the improvements to non-existent ritual murders that he is supposed to have committed in pursuit of riches. It so happened that last week, Kgodumo’s sister-in-law was in a Lecheng-Palapye bus when this issue came up. Unaware of her presence, names were named and only then did the sister-in-law intervene by revealing her relationship with the alleged culprit and setting the record straight.
The Lecheng boy’s case is not unlike that of an Old Naledi boy who, in 2014, claimed to have seen a monstrously huge snake drag a child into a stormwater drain. Gaborone City Council emergency services scrambled into action, disassembling manholes in the area but finding nothing after a long, frantic search. Only later would the boy confess to have made up the story.