How Mugabe’s political mess infected Botswana

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Former Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe’s ascendance and fall from the presidency were respectively spectacular and disgraceful. He presided over a once breadbasket of Africa which soon turned into a basket case under his watch, as time passed by. For more than a decade, Mugabe hoisted his own petard with dire repercussions to his countrymen and neighbouring countries. Mmegi crime reporter, LEBOGANG MOSIKARE recounts real life accounts of how Mugabe turned his people into thieves and other abominable professions in Botswana

The script is the same: Police or prison vans arrive at the Francistown Magistrate’s Courts or High Court everyday in the morning. Inmates or convicted criminals alight from the vans handcuffed or lay bound with fetters of iron. A few minutes later, the inmates or convicts appear before different magistrates for various court processes for arraignment, mitigation and sentencing, amongst others.

The charge sheet is read to inmates who are arraigned for the first time. An Ndebele or Shona interpreter would then translate to those who do not properly understand Botswana’s official languages: Setswana and English. After the accused are asked what language they will prefer to use in court, anyone in the public gallery will then discern that some of the accused who were arraigned are Zimbabweans through their language choice.

In some cases, the Zimbabweans will far much outnumber locals who were also arraigned in court, which may make visitors to Botswana to momentarily forget that they were in a Botswana court, and not in Zimbabwe as one prosecutor once said in jest.

The Zimbabweans who also commit some offences acting in concert with Batswana, are charged with all types of offences like crossing the border illegally and serious crimes like murder. In some instances, the flogging of Zimbabweans who had committed misdemeanour offences caused a diplomatic row between Harare and Gaborone. However, the diplomatic flames were extinguished after Harare was advised that flogging in Botswana is recognised under customary law and related other statutes.

Last year in March, eNCA reported that Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of Agriculture, Paddy Zhanda revealed that 502 Zimbabweans were serving time in Botswana prisons as opposed to only four Batswana who at the time were serving time in Zimbabwe jails.

Zhanda revealed that when addressing residents of Plumtree in Zimbabwe during a meeting he convened to tell them about Botswana’s shoot-to-kill policy of stray cattle that may cross the border from Zimbabwe to Botswana.

At the same meeting, Zhanda pleaded with his countrymen to refrain from committing crimes in Botswana. Although the veracity of pleas convicts tender when they are about to be sentenced is difficult to ascertain, some Zimbabwean convicts always blamed the political and economic situation in their country for their predicament when mitigating.

In fact, in some cases as will be shown below, they squarely placed their problems on the doorsteps of Mugabe-who resigned on Tuesday following intense pressure from various quarters in his country for him to resign or be impeached.

Last year, Willas Munyaradzi Maphorisa, 31, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for the murder of Vivian Monedi Moyo in 2007, pleaded with Justice Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe to be lenient with him when passing sentence as harsh political and economic hardships in Zimbabwe forced him to come to Botswana to earn a living, but he ended up on the wrong side of the law by committing the offence. Maphorisa said were it not for Mugabe-who many say destroyed all the pillars of the Zimbabwe democracy-he could have never crossed the border illegally to Botswana but he would be in his native country trying to eke a living.

In another case, three men from Zimbabwe who last year were convicted of ill-treating smuggled children from Zimbabwe to Botswana en route to South Africa pleaded with the then principal Magistrate, Dumisane Basupi to be lenient when passing sentence.

The trio, Sudden Sibanda, Mhlangabedzwa Nhliziyo and Mthokodzisi Ndlovu were each fined P10,000 for all the 15 counts. They each explicitly stated that Mugabe was the prime architect of their legal troubles, adding that they were engaged in the illicit job of trafficking people to South Africa because of little or no employment prospects in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabweans who come to Botswana have been fingered as perpetrators of various social ills afflicting Batswana.

The Dikgosi at various fora have blamed their neighbours from Zimbabwe for impoverishing locals.

The problem is more pronounced at villages that are near or share the border with Zimbabwe, the traditional leaders always lament.

They cry out that Zimbabweans are responsible for stealing cattle of their subjects and are even contributing to the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Botswana in the process.

The extent to which Mugabe’s failed economic policies have affected Botswana are numerous and multifaceted as can be alluded to during the meeting that was addressed by Zhanda.

He added: “The Botswana government and that country’s police repeatedly complain to Zimbabwe about the large numbers of Zimbabwean citizens crossing into their country illegally to commit crimes.” Zhanda was addressing a meeting to update his countrymen about Botswana’s shoot-to-kill policy of cattle from Zimbabwe that may stray into Botswana.

During FMD outbreaks in Botswana, the country losses millions of pula to control the disease and compensate farmers whose livestock are infected.

Former president, Festus Mogae has in the past expressed worry about a lot of money that was used to deport illegal immigrants from Botswana to Zimbabwe.

Mogae said Botswana uses millions of pula to deport and feed the Zimbabweans while they are being kept at various detention centres awaiting deportation.

In 2015, a senior official from the immigration department, Solomon Sedumedi said that about 28,653 illegal immigrants were repatriated to Zimbabwe at the cost of P452,732.30.

It is safe to conclude that President Ian Khama, like his predecessor is also worried about the impact the current political and economic situation in Zimbabwe is having on the country’s fiscus, hence his recent impassioned open letter to Mugabe, asking him to resign in the best interests of the Zimbabwean populace.

Since Mugabe resigned, analysts are of the opinion that it will take time for president-designate Emmerson Mnangagwa to fix the mess that was created by Mugabe over many years. And this means Batswana will have to live with the prospect of being dispossessed of property by some unruly elements from Zimbabwe for some time before the economic and political climate in that country improves.

Already, there are signs that the Zimbabwean economy will receive a major boost from European countries and donors who had imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his cronies accused of human rights violations and of milking the economy.

After Mugabe resigned, British Prime Minister Theresa May was quoted by the international press as saying: “As Zimbabwe’s oldest friend, we will do all we can do to support this, working with our international and regional partners to help the country achieve the bright future it so deserves”. 

Had Mugabe listened to former United States of America (USA) president Barack Obama’s petals of wisdom before he fell on his own sword that, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”, he could not have suffered his disgraceful exit-which some attribute to his wife, Grace Mugabe, who has a penchant of living luxuriously.

Mnangagwa, who is also implicated in the Gukurahundi massacres-should let restorative justice to be his guide as opposed to retributive justice, otherwise the myriad of problems besieging Zimbabwe will not go away.

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