Tuesday, September 29, 2020

MP joins classist outrage over Kgosi’s public arrest

People who never raised any objection about poor suspects being paraded on Btv are now up in arms over the public arrest of a Phakalane multi-millionaire who was himself in the habit of humiliating suspects. Among the aggrieved is a Member of Parliament who represents an urban constituency with a large population of low-income earners.

In a long-running operation that began late last year, the Botswana Police Service is trying to root out stocktheft by not only arresting culprits but also publicly shaming them. This controversial practice is used by law enforcement throughout the world and has been pronounced as lawful by courts in the United States. Lately nowadays, a Btv news bulletin is incomplete unless the BPS officers parade stocktheft suspects with the meat from the cows they allegedly stole. That has been going on for months now.

Last Tuesday evening, the former Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, was arrested at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport as he arrived back from an international trip that is supposed to have taken him to India and Israel. He was accompanied by his wife and children. A now chart-topping video footage shows a team of plainclothes officers approaching him walking through automatic sliding doors, pushing a travel bag-laden trolley. One officer pulls out a document from what looks like a dairy, shows it to Kgosi who stops to read it. Then an argument breaks out. Kgosi complains about the officers intending to “embarrass” him and accuses them of mobilising a press contingent to cover his arrest.

Then the arrest happens in slow motion. At first Kgosi appears to resist the arrest, saying there is no need to handcuff him because his conduct doesn’t necessitated that. Given who this man was between 2008 and 2018, the arresting officer himself doesn’t seem to believe that he is actually putting handcuffs on a man who until April this year, had as much power as the president. When he finally musters up the courage to cuff Kgosi, the latter complains about his hands being too large for the handcuffs. It turns out one size fits all. Once Kgosi is in handcuffs, Brigadier Peter Magosi, the man who succeeded him as DISS boss, also succeeds him as trolley pusher.

In Chapter 2 of this bizarre dream, the handcuffs are off and Kgosi is being led out of the airport terminal. Along the way, a deeply pained female voice can be heard wailing off-camera. A large SUV is parked outside and before getting in, Kgosi hugs a young woman (said to be his daughter), then makes to sit in the front. Magosi tells him to take a back seat but Kgosi insists on sitting in the front because of a back problem. To no avail. Magosi responds that the car will drive for only “a short distance” to its destination, gesturing the shortness of the distance by almost touching (and vibrating) his right thumb to the index finger at eye level. Enraged, Kgosi makes a non-treasonous threat against the government (“I am telling you, I will topple the government”) and lobs a personal lavatorial insult at Magosi who, while calm all the time, appears to shove Kgosi into the back seat. The last shot is of a convoy of three gleaming SUVs speeding off towards town.

After seeing the video, the Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane, complained to a local online publication (The Ghetto Metro) about Kgosi’s public arrest as well as about tipping off the media about the impending arrest. Many more people expressed similar sentiment, with some making the point that the arrest should not have been made in front of Kgosi’s family members. The curious thing though is that the public arrest and shaming of stocktheft suspects has never provoked this level of outrage. These arrests are given wide publicity through the press and no MP has expressed outrage. The one reaction to these arrests has been commentary in the form of jokes about the type of car (Honda Fit) that is mostly used to transport the meat from the stolen cattle.

As DISS boss, Kgosi (unlike his successor) did little to endear himself to members of the public and never thought twice about humiliating those he encountered in the line of duty. As outrage over his arrest builds up, some have pointed out that under his leadership of DISS, suspects were routinely publicly humiliated. One name on that list is that of the now deceased Moses Lekaukau, who at the time of crossing paths with Kgosi, was head of the Government Implementation Coordination Office, which was a department under the Office of the President. As quoted in The Ghetto Metro, Moswaane feels that Kgosi’s status as “a senior citizen” should have insulated him from the humiliation that he suffered on Tuesday evening. As a senior civil servant, a businessman of note and being an elderly person, Lekaukau should have been similarly insulated but that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, the entire GICO staff was humiliated. Lekaukau was fired on the spot, bundled out of his office and shown the door under the escort of DISS agents, who were almost always armed. Upon his arrest, Kgosi complained that he was being treated like a “criminal” which, incidentally, is exactly how his DISS treated Lekaukau.

What is being said by the gleeful and the sympathetic comes down to perception, which cannot be relied upon. What can be relied upon is the law and attorney Tshiamo Rantao’s interpretation of it is that the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act doesn’t outlaw public arrests. 

“Having regard to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, I cannot find anything to suggest that a suspect should not be arrested in public or when they are in the company of their family members, especially children,” the lawyer says.

The last part responded to a part of the question in which Sunday Standard had asked whether the presence of family, especially children, can be a factor in carrying out arrest of a suspect.

“I would imagine that this manner of arresting persons is commonplace. I feel very sorry for his family, but I am merely answering your question in respect of the propriety, in law, of Mr Kgosi’s arrest. However, if there be any irregularity in respect thereof, Mr. Kgosi has able attorneys who will, I am sure, investigate the issue and raise it at an appropriate forum,” Rantao says.

Of those able attorneys is Unoda Mack (better known for having successfully prosecuted Marietta Bosch when he worked for the government) who was at the airport when Kgosi was arrested. 

The public shaming of suspects is a global practice and in the US, arrested suspects (perpetrators) are made to walk through a public place. The “perp-walk” as it commonly termed, creates an opportunity for the media to take photographs and video of the event. The difference between the US and Botswana is that here at home, only the poor are perp-walked. Kgosi made history last Tuesday by becoming the first wealthy person to be perp-walked. For the sake of equity, many more wealthy people will hopefully be given similar treatment in the future.

Those who have sought to align the perp walk with virtue claim that it yields tactical benefit to law enforcement in that it sends a message that no one is above the law, deters criminal behaviour, encourages witnesses to come forward and restores public confidence in law enforcement. On the other hand, there are those who have condemned the perp walk as gimmickry that turns justice into mere spectacle. Writing in The New York Times, John Tierney said the following: “It honours the police, sells papers, boosts television ratings and entertains the publicÔÇöall at the expense of a person who is supposed to have the presumption of innocence.”

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.