Mmegi Staff Writer, MPHO MOKWAPE, spent the last three years following the case of Patrick ‘Raselepe’ Gabaakanye, a notorious rapist and murderer executed at Gaborone Central Prison on Wednesday. Here, she reports on her encounters with a man marked for death
The day was Thursday, July 3, 2014. The venue was the Gaborone High Court in the Central Business District.
The day marked my first encounter with Patrick Gabaakanye, the notorious criminal known as ‘Raselepe’.
At the time, most journalists had descended on the court, after news broke out that a certain serial criminal was facing a possible death sentence for the murder of a 74-year-old visually impaired man at Ga-Mosusu lands in 2010. During the same attack, Gabaakanye hacked the man’s wife with an axe and left her critically injured.
A career of violent attacks in the Kweneng district, including rapes, assaults, the murder of a security guard during a robbery and imprisonment, had again claimed another life.
Arriving to a fully-packed court. many who had never seen Gabaakanye before, waited with baited breath to see the man who was to be sent to the gallows.
As the door that leads to the dock opened, the whole court shifted towards it, eyes trained on the armed guards emerged escorting a small figure into the court room.
Little did we know that the face we were looking at would soon become famous or infamous (whichever way you look at it), by being splashed across newspapers and websites after the man had booked himself a date with death.
Gabaakanye was unremarkable in appearance, and he hardly seemed to fit the ‘hardcore criminal’ bill.
Dressed in what would then become his trademark clothing – a white jacket with a touch of green - I saw a very old man whose weather-beaten features indicated that the hands of time had not been kind on him.
At 54 years of age at the time, the notorious criminal cut a lonely figure behind the dock, looking drained and his face so worn out that one could not help but sympathise with him.
He never uttered a single word to the guards who accompanied him in the fully-packed courtroom and was equally silent to the family of the victims, who kept mumbling amongst themselves.
The atmosphere turned tense as Justice Singh Walia took his seat and began reading the much-awaited judgement, a bunch of papers within which would determine whether Gabaakanye lived or died.
Going through his judgement, Walia painted a picture of the man who had terrorised the nation for at least a decade, if not decades.
His criminal record began sending chills down the spine of everyone in the room and occasionally, the audience would collectively murmur their shock as Gabaakanye’s crimes were recounted.
The late Gabaakanye had a chequered violent criminal history, with a string of convictions dating as far back as 1983, when he was 24 years of age. Villagers recount how he used to terrorise the communities around areas such as Metsimotlhabe, Gabane and surrounding lands in the Kweneng area. It was said his favourite weapon in his attacks was an axe, which earned him the moniker, Raselepe.
Walia read out 12 previous offences and noted that they were all serious crimes carrying serious penalties. The offences included theft, rape, attempted rape and murder for which Gabaakanye served time behind bars.
In 1993, Gabaakanye was sentenced to death for the shotgun murder of a security guard during a robbery. However, the penalty was commuted to a 15-year sentence, which he served and then spent a period in and out of prisons for various other crimes.
This previous death sentence
There was to be no escape this time around.
“I will not take notice of the other offences that you denied knowledge of and focus on the ones that you admitted to, which are theft, rape, murder and attempted rape. These are previous offences. You don’t deserve mercy since you have been a nuisance to the public.”
He then gave his final judgement, handing down the sentence of death to Gabaakanye.Gabaakanye did not react, but stood motionless, staring straight forward, seemingly soaking in the fact that a date with death had been arranged and this time, there would be no turning back.
In judicial circles, it is reported that Walia is not particularly in favour of the death penalty, due to his Muslim beliefs. The entire time he read out the judgement, Walia glued his eyes on the papers in front of him, never looked up. As soon as he finished the judgement, he quickly stood up and left the court. Outside the court, I met with the family of the victims including the old woman Gabaakanye had left for dead.
Looking at the deep scar on her head and the pain of the people around, reality struck that the man responsible for all this indeed deserved the rope. On that fateful evening in Ga-Mosusu, the old, visually impaired man had emerged from his toilet upon hearing his wife chatting to a stranger who claimed to be in need of direction. Instead, Gabaakanye’s killer instinct had kicked in.
He produced his trusty axe from his trademark jacket and struck the man dead where he stood, before turning his murderous attentions on the wife. Lives destroyed, Gabaakanye made off with an Omega radio, cellphone and kitchen utensils.
At the time of his execution this week, Gabaakanye was awaiting a series of appeals for clemency he had written to President Ian Khama. A leave to appeal at the Court of Appeal, was in vain as it failed on July 30, 2015, with a bench of three judges having confirmed both the conviction and the sentence.
Still with one option left, Gabaakanye’s lawyer, Martin Dingake launched an attempt to seek clemency from the President, which led to a series of court appearances for Gabaakanye. In each of those appearances, Gabaakanye looked like a man resigned to his fate. A man who had made his peace with his fate and was simply going through the motions.
During all his appearances in court in his trademark jacket, I never, not once saw Gabaakanye utter a word. Even when his lawyer conferred with him, he would just nod most of the time. We never heard the voice that had spread a blanket of terror across Kweneng. The voice that pretended to ask for instructions, while an axe lay snuggled in a jacket. Gabaakanye would sit in court with a gaze fixed forward, lips grim and hands pressed together.
On a chilly Wednesday morning, most likely at 6am, he made one final walk to meet his Maker. Perhaps, that’s where he would find lost voice with which to answer to a plethora of his crimes on earth.