One very important detail of how former president Ian Khama fled into South Africa has emerged. Khama fled on November 8 (a Monday) last year through the Martin’s Drift border gate, a few hours before a deadline to hand over some pistols in his possession was due to lapse. That detail is that a day before, a two-man reconnaissance team had checked into a nearby lodge with a mission to assess whether it was safe for the former president to use this border gate.
Khama had spent the weekend in Serowe, his home village, and travelled back on Monday morning. A few days earlier, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) had ordered him to surrender the pistols and after a fruitless back and forth, which mostly took the form of a spat between him and DISS in the media, the latter issued a 12 noon deadline for November 8. “Deadline” was explicit implication that a confrontation was highly possible. This confrontation could have been physical (deadly even) because part of Khama’s protection team is made up of private, ex-commando bodyguards.
There was understanding, even among Khama’s official bodyguards, that when he left Serowe, he was returning to Gaborone – which has been his principal home for more than half a century. However, after joining the A1 Highway at Palapye and driving for a few kilometres in Gaborone’s direction, Khama’s two-car convoy suddenly made a sharp turn left at the Martin’s Drift and sped towards the border. This would suggest that the recon team, sent the previous day to check the coast, had given the all-clear.
With the deadline nearing, time was of the essence. As a holder of a diplomatic passport, Khama doesn’t queue up in an immigration line but just zips through to the head of the queue and gets red-carpet treatment all the way. He shed his bodyguards, clearing immigration and proceeded towards the South African border gate.
In both Botswana and South Africa, the principal residents of the border community in the Martin’s Drift area are white farmers that Khama has been friendly with for decades. For racial and commercial reasons, this is a close-knit community. After completing clearing immigration at the South Africa gate, Khama got into a waiting car. At a point where the 12 noon deadline had elapsed, he was driven to a nearby farm and would later be helicoptered deeper into the interior. He has been in South Africa since with no indication of when he might return.