Saturday, September 19, 2020

Reaching a point of no return

It matters a lot to the country that the three people pardoned this week by President Ian Khama for the murder of John Kalafatis were all military officers.

The Office of the President is thus being mischievious in its attempt to feign surprise at the fact that the pardon has aroused disparaging remarks against the government and, indeed, the president himself from some members of the public.

As is so often the case, the media has been made a scapegoat.

“The motivation of this is clearly to discredit the government and the President,” says a statement from the Office of the President.

In other words, we should accept the pardon and move on, like it has been the case with so many before it.

“It is regretable that all too often the media in their agenda to discredit President Khama conviniently fails to seek the facts and inevitably end up embarrassing themselves by misinforming the public.” This is the utopia that government spin doctors have in mind for us.

Lawyers tell us in pardoning the convicts, no law has been broken. True to form, the Presidency says the same. We agree. In fact, we should take their word for it.

But this is not a legal matter, nobody ever said it was. Rather, it is a symptom of public degeneracy where law is used as a cover to settle issues that are so inherently outside the realms of law.

We have seen it before. And we are seeing it now.

As a politician, a president cannot close his eyes to public perceptions ÔÇô and behave like he is a High Court Judge.

As a politician he should be overly awake to public perceptions created by circumstances surrounding Kalafatis’ killing, which became a public event right to end of the case.
It was because of Kalafatis’ killing that the phrase “extra-judicial killing” cut itself a popular parlance in Botswana’s lexicon.

You know there is a problem the moment a government tries to reduce a whole national debate to legal technicalities. Even the administration’s most loyal acolytes privatrely concede that the pardoning of John Kalafatis’ killers, hardly a year after they were sentenced to eleven years in jail has little to do with law or justice. I cannot imagine a more glaring example of arrogance.
Government will most certainly win their dry law debate, but hubris may yet turn out to be their downfall.

Botswana Government certainly has more to answer to than just pointing us to Section 53 of the country’s Constitution as one BDP Mascot did the other day over a radio call-in programme. To the non-legal minds, by resorting to law to win this particular debate, Government is unwiitingly presenting itself as a hard-hearted bumbler that is spiteful and insensitive.

Besides agreeing with them that no law has indeed been broken, there is not any other room for agreement. In fact, no civilised conversation is posible. Many Batswana are privately feeling vulnerable, and for a reason.

Reducing to legalities the backlash of the latest developments in the Kalafatis saga amounts to no more than amateurish airbrushing. It is the manifestation of a sick, executive-minded government that is obsessed with its legal power while remaining totally oblivious to the sensitivities of its citizens.

That can only increase the public distrust among politics, politicians and the state.
What government does not seem to grasp is that by adopting a legalistic debate to explain the pardoning they actually are alianating a whole body of public opinion surrounding Kalafatis’ killing.

While the courts have explicitly made it clear that Kalafatis killing was unlawful, it has not been as explicit just why the man was killed.

In other words the real motive behind Kalafatis killing has actually never been fully explained.
It was the South African liberation icon, Steve Biko, who once said the manner of one’s dying can have a politicing effect.

He could have been presciently talking about his own death. But the same words also aptly apply to the death of John Kalafatis.

More than once I have in the past underscored just how the death of John Kalafatis has altogether changed Botswana’s public discourse. There is no running away from it, Kalafatis ghost will be with us for some time. And even though attempts have been made to blemish him, it looks likely that some in authority will carry with them the burden of circumstances surrounding his death into another world. The man may very well have been a mongrel, as some callers bluntly alleged over the radio, but why was that not brought before the court?

The Kalafatis family has suffered disproportionately. But for now that does not matter, at least not to our legalistic president.

“The unjustified sensationalism created by these reports would not be there had those concerned taken the liberty to explain to those they aim to misinform that the three convicts have been granted a conditional pardon as opposed to a free one,” says the presidency, which recklessely and conviniently finds out no reason to say what those conditions are.

Even though someone may say one or two deaths cannot change Botswana’s standing in the eyes of the world, I think this one has.


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.