If he was a brother from our good neighbours, Zimbabwe, he would be called Happiness. The name for ever smiling peaceful children; a blessing, a reason for all that is good and joyful. But Thabo Masilo cannot be said to have lived to the good his name denotes. Not to the nation at least.
With violent crime now a permanent feature in our lives, it is no wonder that Masilo’s murder trial has always evoked strong emotions. When the then Botho College student was found hiding in a ceiling of a house in Phase 4 in Gaborone, and a young Kgale Hill college student, who had just written her final year exams, lying in a pool of blood, the anger was beyond measure.
The gruesome murder, after the rape of young Tshepang, once again brought to the fore the vulnerability of women and children. It showed that one needs not leave home to fall prey to rapists and murderers. Then, former Gaborone West legislator, Botsalo Ntuane, led a public outrage mass movement for Masilo to be hanged by the neck, even before he could appear in court to answer to his deeds.
Masilo’s court appearances has always attracted crowds, mostly in support of the family of the deceased, wanting to see justice done. During that period Masilo stood accused in another case for sexual assault and theft. His conviction in the first case, must have given many the assurance that once convicted for Tshepang’s murder, Masilo will meet the Maker. It seemed a foregone conclusion that despite the strong representation by one of the country’s best legal minds, Kgosi Ngakaagae, the court will condemn him to death. It was not to be. Convicted, yes, Masilo was. But he is not headed for the gallows. Last Thursday Masilo left the court house back to holding cells to await a possible jail term, as Justice Abednico Tafa found that he was not candidate for capital sentence as his was not a pre-meditated murder. He did not enter the young girl’s family home that fateful afternoon with the intention to kill. The court pronouncement has outraged majority of Batswana, reading from the different media platforms.
The shock is more pronounced as the sentence comes at the back of the gruesome discovery in Gaborone of a murdered family of three, including a three-year-old child. Masilo escaping the noose has once again brought to focus the challenges the courts face in murder conviction. Many see any other sentence as letting murder convicts ‘walk’.
Once again, the nation’s mood has turned not only to anger, but also fear. The fear of criminals. It now looks like the courts are failing the victims of crime. In anger and fear, the issue of whether capital punishment has a place in modern Botswana is lost. The debate of whether death penalty is a deterrent to
With the general election around the corner, political parties, may just choose not to take part, let alone lead in the discussions around capital punishment. Speaking out in justification of Justice Tafa’s decision can dent any party’s election prospects. Just as with the recent judgement decriminalising homosexuality, pronouncement on the matter, in support especially, can be politically suicidal. For no matter how much we can argue that Botswana is a secular state, we are a predominately Christian nation, who hold strong views on these issues. Instead of hiding our heads in the sand, it may be time for all of us to rally around these controversial issues. It is at this juncture, during the electioneering, that the voters may just have to push capital punishment debate top of the agenda. This is the time those aspiring for political office need to come forth to give a clear stand. In the on-going radio debates around the country, our anchors have to take on candidates and their political parties on these critical issues. Since the manifestos of all the political parties speak of fighting gender-based violence, for an example, we need to know their position on capital punishment. The Masilo judgement should be a test for all.
The judiciary is independent, and ours has in majority of cases proven to be guided by nothing but the law. Bearing in mind that this is not the first case the court had to make an unpopular decision, we may have to take this opportunity to tackle the elephant in the room, capital punishment.
Judges being human, and dictated to by the law, are faced with making decisions that at times based on personal believes. A liberal judge, a human rights activist would not just send a murder convict to the gallows as would a colleague who is an advocate of the capital punishment. Add to that the fact that even after a death sentence, the President of the day, even one in acting capacity, makes the last call. The decision once again lies in the hands of one person, whose personal convictions would without doubt be of greater influence.
Maybe the answer lies in Parliament, to repeal the death penalty. And the chance to engage on the matter is now, in the period of electioneering.
Let’s engage on HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com; Facebook page, Pamela Dube or WhatsApp no 77132086