Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘And where is the meat?’ ÔÇô Judge

In its laid-back basicness, the question required little more than a simple geographic detail to close the one yawning information gap.

“And where is the meat?”

“My Lord, they are not in a position to advise where the meat is.” 

Ar first blush, this exchange will cause one to think that the questioner was longing longingly for the soft and salty joy of a side of beef and remonstrating with a waitress at a there-is-no-hurry-in-Botswana restaurant about an incomplete or delayed food order. The reality though is that the setting was Courtroom 5 at the Gaborone High Court, “My Lord” is Justice Dr. Zein Kebonang, “they” are two stocktheft suspects sitting forlornly in the dock, the meat is of the cattle they allegedly stole and the speaker is the defence lawyer. For now at least, the whereabouts of that meat will remain one of the unsolved June 2016 mysteries.

Having failed to get bail at the Kanye magistrate court, the suspects came before Kebonang outside normal court hours. Their quest is fruitless because according to the prosecutor, the investigating officer is still gathering evidence. To the defence lawyer’s concern that the process is taking much too long for the comfort of his clients, the judge says that investigations ÔÇô which were occasioned by the suspects’ wrongdoing ÔÇô have to be as thorough as they need to be. Appropriately swaddled for the oncoming winter evening cold in matching dark slate grey jackets, the suspects sit expressionless, hands folded across chest and emotionally budget for another rough night in a perpetually fully booked, frills-free state hotel.

In a pastoralist society where appetite for meat is clinically high, a culinary sub-culture attended by robust language has been the natural outcome. On days that they feel particularly carnivorous, Batswana express – in metaphorical Setswana, what literally translates as “my mouth cavity is shouting.” When the cavity has done so, some have quietened it down in a manner expressly forbidden by the Stocktheft Act. In a country where cattle outnumber people, stocktheft should perhaps not have become a problem but the reality has been the opposite. As a book shows, cattle rustling in Botswana is nothing new and as a matter of fact, was elevated to art status in a district neighbouring Gaborone.

In its current constitution, the Stocktheft Act took shape under Sir Ketumile Masire’s presidency. While this development was welcomed by farmers, not all of them look to courts of law for retributive justice. Many, many years ago there was a case of a cattle rustler who, in the process of driving a herd he had stolen, was literally stopped in his tracks by a giant snake that slithered out of nowhere and wrapped itself around him from head to toe in a flash. An artistic reinterpretation of this incident via a Botswana Daily News cartoon showed the snake, poised to strike and its eyes level with those of the thief. The text in the speech balloon quoted the reptile asking about the man about destination of the cattle with: “Di ya kae?” 

Africans have always used black magic to protect their domestic animals against thieves. There are stories of cocks crowing in bellies of chicken thieves and of a never-ending supply of chicken feathers sprouting on their faces.

It is interesting to contemplate what would happen if the latter form of magic was used in the realm of politics where elected officials routinely defect in contravention of a gentleman’s contract with voters who endured high October temperatures to put him them in office. If say, an opposition MP crosses the floor, when he leaves a high-end Masa Square restaurant after a meeting with his financiers, he would find his newly-acquired, latest-model Range Rover bursting with ballot boxes. When he feels the need to quieten down his mouth cavity with Chobe Bream, a chunk that he tears off would turn into ballot-box wood just as he sinks his teeth into it. When he tries to sign a CEDA agreement, the contract document would suddenly become a stack of ballot papers crossed out in his favour. For what it’s worth, he would be entitled to ask the waiter: “And where is the meat?”

If nothing else, this magic may help speed up presidential assent to a motion seeking to outlaw floor-crossing that parliament adopted in the last century.


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