'Butterfly' case will not affect Botswana/SA relations-Commentators

Welheminah Maswabi PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Welheminah Maswabi PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO

FRANCISTOWN: The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has said that while the acquittal and discharge of Welheminah Maswabi, a spy agent codenamed ‘Butterfly’ could likely harm relationships between Botswana and South Africa (SA), it hopes that the latter government would not engage in any form of retribution.

“We hope that the South Africa government will not be brought to the level of Botswana. The SA government should look at the broader interest of the region and not the personal interest of President Mokgweetsi Masisi,” said UDC spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa.

The opposition has always maintained that the Butterfly case was politically motivated.

“We have become a mockery state, but the SA democracy is very mature. That is why we are optimistic that their (SA) government will not engage in any form of retribution. The outcome of the Butterfly case will likely discourage investors from coming to Botswana,” added Mohwasa.

The much-publicised Butterfly case took another twist last week when High Court Judge Zein Kebonang acquitted her of all charges of terrorism and money laundering she had been facing since 2019. In the money laundering case, Maswabi was accused of having played a role in the looting of P100 billion from the State coffers.

South African business tycoon, Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe and former president Ian Khama were implicated in the money laundering case as well. During the case, Botswana also accused SA of not helping the country’s cause to get key information on the money laundering case.

Botswana would later engage AfriForum to assist get information relating to the money laundering case. AfriForum also said some key SA institutions were not keen to assist with information relating to the case.

The engagement of AfriForum and the implication of Motsepe in the case drew a furious response from very influential organisations in SA. As a result of the outcome of the case there are already signs of a looming diplomatic row between Botswana and SA.

For instance, the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO), a leading civic organisation, this week announced that it will embark on a march to the Botswana Embassy on Friday (today) to register its dissatisfaction with the government of Botswana in relation to how the latter conducted the Butterfly case.

Furthermore, the organisation accuse Botswana of undermining the integrity of SA in collaboration with a South African right-wing organisation, AfriForum, through fabricated and false’ allegations in relation to the Butterfly case.

“Had for instance, the Botswana government and AfriForum been sincere in their actions against the South African government, they would have known that prominent South Africans and the African Union led a continental initiative precisely aimed at combating the illicit flow of money from African economies, including Botswana. That they did not consider such credible platforms indeed says a lot about their fabricated agenda,” read the statement from SANCO.

SANCO also said the government of Botswana could have explored avenues (within the frameworks of the SADC, the African Union, and the United Nations) available as a diplomatic recourse after failing in its request to get information relating to the Butterfly case from the South African government.

“That the Botswana government chose to jump into bed with right wing forces as opposed to many progressive legal formations in South Africa, both black and white, says a lot about the actual political intent by certain high ranking Botswana government officials entrusted with the criminal justice system who were behind undermining South Africa’s international reputation inadvertently characterising the country as a centre of money laundering and illicit money flows.”

Some commentators are of the view that SANCO’s position is a consensus of many SA influential organisations and it might ultimately open room for tensions between the two countries.

Bakang Ntshingane, a political and socioeconomic commentator specialising in international affairs, does admit that the outcome of the Butterfly case will to some extent dent the relations between Botswana and SA. He, however, said that the tension would not be severe as widely thought.

“I don’t think the outcomes of the Butterfly case will affect Botswana-SA relations substantively, especially in the long term. However, it’s fair to say that the relations have been tested, especially by the involvement of AfriForum, the implications on the Motsepe family which by default, also indirectly involves President Ramaphosa,” Ntshingane said in his analysis.

“Indeed, at the institutional level, the brick walls that the Botswana legal institutions have hit on the SA side must have irked a few people. But, since this issue has been handled at the ministerial level through the Ministries of International Cooperation, appropriate diplomatic channels must have been used to avoid any direct conflict,” he added.

Ntshingane states that the continued cordial relations between SA President Cyril Ramaphosa and Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, bilaterally and regionally, highlights that the factors surrounding the Butterfly case might not trigger a fully-blown diplomatic war between the two countries.

“I do not think this perceived ‘tension’ could have reached the presidencies of both countries. Both Ramaphosa and Masisi have kept this issue at arms length to safeguard the principle of separation of powers in both their governments. They have also operated and communicated through institutions, diplomats, and envoys -- which signals a commitment by both countries to protect the relationship at all costs,” he said.

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