Saturday, January 23, 2021

People’s Court will be held in ‘first quarter’ of 2021 – Mohwasa

After two failed attempts to convene a quasi-judicial session to reveal evidence of what the opposition alleges was electoral fraud, those behind this endeavor are planning a third attempt at what has been billed as the “People’s Court.”

“We anticipate that the Court will be held in the first quarter of this year,” says Moeti Mohwasa on Friday evening.

The Court is a tripartite alliance of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (which is made up of the Botswana National Front, the Botswana Congress Party and the Botswana People’s Party) as well as the Botswana Patriotic Front and the Alliance for Progressives. Mohwasa, who is the spokesperson of the Umbrella for Democratic Change and BNF’s Secretary General, is the Court’s publicity manager. The Court is being implemented through a nine-member working committee that is chaired by AP’s Major General Pius Mokgware. Mohwasa (UDC) is the Publicity Manager while Justice Motlhabani (BPF) is the Logistics Coordinator. Additionally, each one of the three parties has two more representatives in the committee.

An informal but purposeful coinage, “People’s Court” is a counterpoise to the official court system – the High Court in this particular case – which threw out petitions by UDC candidates who lost in the 2019 general election. While using standard court processes of Roman-Dutch law, the People’s Court is essentially a public relations offensive that will ask the nation (the people) to be the judges of what the opposition maintains was government-orchestrated electoral fraud. The accusation alone besmirches the reputation of a country long regarded as “Africa’s shining example of democracy.”

While the general time period of holding the Court has been determined, Mohwasa stated that the same has not happened with regard to setting a specific date. The first attempt to convene the Court failed because one of the lead participants (a senior lawyer long associated with opposition politics) had to attend to an urgent family matter. The second attempt also failed because one of the main witnesses was diagnosed with COVID-19. It would be reasonable to suppose that with the national and regional (Greater Gaborone) lockdowns, the pandemic has interfered with the planning for the Court.

When it does convene, the Court will do so more than a year after the October 23, 2019 general elections which the ruling Botswana Democratic Party unexpectedly won with a landslide. The interpretation of the opposition collective behind the Court about that development is that the BDP rigged the election. Legal challenge at the High Court failed, mostly on a technicality, but the opposition is still determined to have another day in another court – one in which the people hand down judgement.

Mohwasa concedes the point that the delay compromises the sense of urgency that is implied by the nature of the crime (election rigging) that the opposition alleges. However, he explains that the delay was caused by circumstances beyond their control and stresses the imperative of not rushing the Court.

“Everything has to be done right: the evidence has to be properly presented and everybody has to be present,” Mohwasa says.

At least one star witness has recanted a sworn statement that he made to a South African forensic investigator and commissioner of oaths – which might create legal complications for him – but those behind the Court have been quietly beefing up their case. Mohwasa reveals that more witnesses have been mobilized to give evidence at the quasi-judicial hearings that will be livestreamed via Facebook from a plush Gaborone hotel at the new CBD.  

Sunday Standard learns from good sources within the tripartite alliance behind the Court that there will be evidence presented on behalf of a special group of witnesses who can’t themselves appear in person because that would jeopardise their job security. These are civil servants who work for the Independent Electoral Commission as well as security officers, some members of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) and others of the Botswana Police Service. DIS officers, some of whom are said to be disgruntled, reportedly have comprehensive photographic evidence of the rigging.

On the downside, whatever information will be provided on behalf of IEC and DIS officers will not meet evidentiary standards that a Roman-Dutch law court requires. The sources will not be named and not having made sworn affidavits, what they say will be mere allegations. Last year, Mohwasa told Sunday Standard that the accused (namely the BDP and IEC) will essentially be tried in absentia and haven’t been invited to participate.

The other downside is that at least one star witness publicly bailed out a day before the Court sat. A month after the October 23, 2019 general election, Dikabelo Selaledi deposed to an affidavit before Paul O’Sullivan, a British-South African fraud examiner who lives in Johannesburg. In the nine-page affidavit, Selaledi accuses the BDP of having rigged the election, something he claims to have first-hand knowledge of because he connived with the party. Not only did he name names of individual voters, churches and football teams, he also provided what he asserts is documentary evidence of the rigging. The latter is in the form of photocopies of registration cards whose owners, some being university students, are alleged to have also participated in the electoral fraud.

However, on the day that a three-day event to expose the vote fraud was to be held, Selaledi appeared on Duma FM to recant his allegation. The story he told is that the UDC recruited him into a scheme to discredit the elections by making wild allegations of fraud. After being approached by party leaders, he was put on a plane to Johannesburg, he claimed, where he met UDC’s sponsors who gave him R50 000 as “pocket money.” He was keen to stress that this money had nothing to do with the affidavit he would later craft. For that he was promised P500 000 and a parliamentary seat in the event the UDC petition succeeding. When the petition failed, Selaledi says that he was promised P250 000 as something of a token of appreciation for his connivance. The money never came and the people who recruited him ceased all communication with him until not too long ago when they wanted him to feature at the People’s Court as a witness.

An opposition figure alleges that it is clear that Selaledi changed his story following a meeting with BDP leaders. He particularly names a cabinet minister who is also a member of the party’s Central Committee as having been the contact person. During the Duma FM interview, the presenter suggested to Selaledi that given what he has revealed about himself, it is reasonable to assume that he changed his story after his palm was greased for the second time. True or not, Selaledi’s allegations will raise questions about the credibility of the Court.

Initially dismissed by some as a mere sore-loser campaign, the People’s Court piqued renewed interest among the public when the AP joined in. All along the party had stayed out of this politico-judicial endeavor. As a matter of fact, its president, Ndaba Gaolathe, who had run as both a presidential and parliamentary candidate, graciously conceded when the final election results were announced. In addition to Mokgware and in apparent effort to put faces of credibility behind the Court, the AP has delegated Margaret Nasha, a former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, cabinet minister and National Assembly Speaker to represent it. Last year, Nasha appeared at a press conference to announce the convening of the Court. This is evidence that the AP has made an about-turn on the election-rigging matter.

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