Tuesday, October 19, 2021

PAC puts Police brutality under spotlight

Botswana Police Commissioner Keabetswe Makgophe last week Friday found himself against the ropes as he was unable to account for the use of sjamboks (stiff whips) on members of the public by his officers during protests.

The Parliament Account Committee (PAC) also grilled him on Police’s alleged brutality and torture.

Makgophe faced hours or gruelling questions mostly from PAC member and Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse over “senseless and unjustified use of force which degrade citizens’ status.”

“You mentioned earlier on that you are not aware of police’s use of force. Don’t you recall protests by unemployed youth movement, Botho University students and University of Botswana students,” Keorapetse asked. He also reminded Makgophe that petitions by members of the public are protected by Section 12 of the Constitution.

“What are your thoughts on your methods of quelling protests?” Keorapetse further asked.

Makgophe went to his department’s defense by stating that the Botswana Police Service is a tolerant institution. “The same Constitution also talks about your right to other people,” he said.

Keorapetse reminded Makgophe that around 2011, the Botswana Police Service procured water cannon (vehicles) that shoot a high-velocity stream of water which were meant to be used in quelling protests.

“The vehicles splash water, can you confirm you still have these vehicles?” he asked. Makgophe confirmed the existence of the vehicles but added that “no we don’t use them.”

The two men then clocked horns on why the Botswana Police Service procured sjamboks and what they are used for.

“Why did you procure sjamboks,” asked Keorapetse. The commissioner said they were meant to disperse protesters. Keorapetse was not convinced.

“How do you disperse someone with a sjambok; you are doing what with it.”

Replying, Makgophe said “that is a tricky question.  I didn’t think the honourable member would ask such a question.”

Keorapetse asked Makgophe is he does not think they have “to adopt better ways to control protests.”  

The Selibe Phikwe West legislator questioned Makgophe about alleged complaints by trade unions, opposition parties and civil society that the Police are in the habit of denying them permits to hold demonstrations.

Makgophe said “the police are thin on the ground.”  But Keorapetse informed him that “the police that you said are thin on the ground and policing criminals cannot escort those who want to hold demonstrations, would be there when agitated youth start to protest without permits.”

Makgophe said “in all fairness we have been generous in issuing permits to youth and political parties. You can check with them. We have issued as many permits as possible.”

On another topical issue, Makgophe said between 2015 and 2016, his department has dismissed 54 officers from work for various reasons.

“There could be different interpretations –  it is either you are hard on your officers or you are heading a lawless unit because looking at the statistics one can saying you are dismissing one officer per a week.”

Makgophe said he had reached an agreement with his senior officers that they would not tolerate misconduct such as missing of exhibits and bribery. “Predominantly we have a disciplined force,” he said.

Keorapetse also pressed Makgophe to confirm or deny that his department had set a target to punish motorists for “imaginary traffic offences.”

“As a result some of your officers who are under pressure punish motorists for imaginary offenses,” said Keorapetse to which Makgophe denied as untrue allegations. The Police boss revealed that they rake in more than P1.5 million per a week from traffic fines.

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