Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Should Constable have saluted (suspended) Commissioner?

The sight of a Constable saluting the Commissioner of Police is quite a common one but one at the Broadhurst Magistrate Court last Thursday morning has prompted questions about its propriety. Should the Constable posted at that Court have saluted Keabetswe Makgophe who has been suspended from his position as Commissioner of Police?

Compared to Makgophe’s job status, the salute is a trivial issue. Ordinarily, police officers are suspended from duty pending investigations. During the period of suspension, one gets a full salary. Where investigations turn up information that suggests culpability in some wrongdoing, the culprit is interdicted and their salary halved. Interdiction, which happens after three months, triggers legal process to try an officer for their wrongdoing.

Makgophe’s case is unusual in two respects. Firstly, he is on suspension and has not been interdicted. That is odd because at a point where they appear before a court of law, police officers would have been interdicted. There could be argument that the interdiction is supposed to happen after three months but the more critical factor (of appearing before court) is already in play. In that regard, Makgophe’s job status is not clear even to people who understand how the BPS system works.

Secondly, Makgophe’s case is unique in that from the days of the Bechuanaland Border Patrol to date, no Commissioner of Police has ever found himself in soup as hot as one that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has dipped Makgophe in. Makgophe was promoted to his current post by President Ian Khama, now a fugitive from the law, having fled to South Africa in November last year. The case against Makgophe is that he licensed a weapon of war to Khama outside parametres of the law.

As regards the salute, two Botswana Police Service sources, who between them have over 50 years of service, say that there is really nothing wrong with what happened at the Broadhurst Magistrate Court. While he has been suspended, Makgophe is still the Commissioner of Police, still senior in rank to all police officers and there is a culture in the Service of how juniors should interact with their seniors. It also turns out that the rules for saluting people are more relaxed than most civilians believe. One source says that while pastors are not on the list of people who must be saluted, a police officer can use his/her discretion to render a salute to a pastor, or anyone of high standing in society who is not on that list.

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