Another million-pula wrongful detention lawsuit is on the way and features former spokesperson of the Botswana Patriotic Front, Justice Motlhabani who was detained for two weeks during the 2020 national lockdown. He was charged alongside Oratile Dikgokong and Letsogile Barupi for “publishing statements with intention to deceive persons about the COVID-19 infection” on a Facebook page called “Botswana Trending News’’, as well as for the “use of offensive electronic communication.”
Two years later, the state has not been able to assemble a solid enough case and last week, dropped all charges against the suspects. Following this development, Motlhabani says that he will be meeting his lawyers for the purpose of issuing instructions for launching a lawsuit against the state.
“The state needs to be held accountable for what happened. I went through embarrassment, pain, trauma, my life was disrupted and I was exposed to Covid-19 when all I had wanted was stay home during the nation lockdown to avoid such exposure,” says Motlhabani, adding that while he has not yet decided on the amount he would sue for, “it will certainly be for millions of pula.”
He reveals that his legal bills alone came to around P100 000. Now employed in the Serowe South Constituency Office as an Administration and Research Officer, Motlhabani says that he also incurred extra costs in the form of travel and accommodations costs. He came to Gaborone for court hearings “almost every month”, stayed at hospitality establishments and had to buy meals.
Motlhabani views the withdrawal of the charges by the state as exoneration that became apparent in the very early days of the matter. He says that the state insisted on going ahead with the matter because “it was going after everyone” associated with former president Ian Khama, who founded the BPF in 2019.
Motlhabani was arrested in Palapye and later transferred to Gaborone where he was held at the Gaborone West and Urban police stations on different days before being taken to Lobatse Prison as remand prisoner. It was while at the latter that he witnessed the most horrifying sight that he had ever seen. Another remand prisoner who had just come in walked over to the toilet, dropped his trousers and sat on the toilet for what Motlhabani initially thought was bad, old-fashioned number-twooing.
The prisoner made a staccato of multi-octave excretory grunts that was accompanied by bouts of face-scrunching. He then bounded to his feet, reached behind his back with a hand to the orifice where the sun never shines. As newbie remand prisoners (like Motlhabani) watched in horror, the prisoner pulled out the blackest, hardest, most symmetrical stool in the form of a small Nokia cellphone that Batswana call Sedilame. Minutes later, the prisoner had wiped the phone clean, switched it on and was communicating with the outside criminal world.
Not long ago, Lobatse MP and former finance minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, was arrested and detained for three days. After his release, Matsheka is suing the state for P11 million for wrongful arrest and detention.
Motlhabani’s case attracted the attention of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as well as the American Bar Association, which sent an observer to the Gaborone High Court to monitor proceedings.