SUMMONS NOT SERVED
Ian Khama fails to show up in Botswana court to face firearm charges
Former Botswana president Ian Khama denied that he was ‘a fugitive of justice’, but didn’t want to divulge how he has been able to stay in South Africa for more than five months.
Former Botswana president Ian Khama failed to show up at a court in Botswana on Thursday because, he said, he was never served with a summons. Khama, who has been in South Africa since November, was charged with the unlawful possession of firearms and was set to appear with three co-accused.
“I saw it on social media,” Khama told Daily Maverick. “My lawyers went there to indicate that I haven’t been served with a summons and that is why I wasn’t there.”
The court accepted the explanation by his lawyers and postponed the case to June 6 to allow for a summons to be served. If Khama does not appear in court then this could force Botswana’s prosecuting authority to apply for him to be extradited from South Africa. However, Khama doesn’t believe the case against him is strong enough for such an application to succeed.
“You have to prove in court you have a case to answer,” he says, “and if someone is in a country for some reason or the other, fearing for their life or persecution, the country where they are in has to satisfy itself that it is a genuine case.”
Khama said he received a report from a “credible” private security company which confirmed the information he’d been getting from people he trusts in Botswana, “that there was an attempt by [Botswana President Mokgweetsi] Masisi to eliminate me before the 2024 elections”. This, he claimed, was the reason he was charged and why he will be expected to return home – something he said he would not do.
He denied that he was “a fugitive of justice”, but didn’t want to divulge how he has been able to stay in South Africa for more than five months.
Khama has been in South Africa since November 8, which was also the deadline he was given to return his firearms, which the Botswana intelligence services alleged at the time had been stolen. He claims that, even though as head of state in 2016, the time that the current charges date back to, he didn’t need to have a licence to possess firearms, he nevertheless applied for licences for the two handguns and the assault rifle he is now being charged with possessing illegally. These licences have been renewed annually. Khama says he was presented with the assault rifle by a company that manufactured these for Botswana’s anti-poaching unit.
Khama’s former allies, who also appear on the charge sheet, did go to court on Thursday.
They are former spy chief Isaac Kgosi, whose home was raided for firearms and ammunition in 2019; police chief Keabetswe Makgophe, who was arrested last month after being suspended in 2019, for allegedly issuing firearms licences to Khama; and Victor Paledi, the former director-general of Botswana’s Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime.
Sharon Mathala, a journalist with Botswana’s The Voice newspaper, tweeted from court on Thursday that more charges were added to the 38 the four were already facing.
Meanwhile, on official government business, ministers from Botswana had a warm reception in Pretoria on Thursday where they met their counterparts from South Africa for the first bi-national commission between the two countries since 2017.
There was no sign of the tension that is said to have been created among some government leaders by Khama’s presence in South Africa.
International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor – who lived in Botswana in exile during the apartheid years – even had a few words in Setswana with her Botswana counterpart, Lemogang Kwape, after they delivered their opening statements to the meeting, which started more than an hour late.
The meeting, which was supposed to have been out by lunchtime, only finished in the late afternoon.
Kwape called for a moment of silence for those who had succumbed to Covid-19 as well as to the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Our countries continue to enjoy excellent bilateral relations,” he said, “predicated on a firm historical background, common culture and close family ties.”
He expressed his wish that economic recovery programmes following the Covid-19 pandemic should form the basis of the bi-national commission meeting. He also called for a “regional approach” for foreign direct investments.
Pandor, who referred to Kwape as “dear brother”, said South Africa and Botswana had a lot in common.
“In addition to our shared history and geographic proximity, we share the same aspirations for growing our economies to create employment and eradicate poverty and inequality,” she said. “We also share similar views on the security and economic development of our region and the continent.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to host Botswana President Masisi as part of the bi-national commission’s meeting. Masisi on Thursday evening announced a restructuring of his Cabinet in an address to the nation which happened roughly at the midpoint between the October 2019 and 2024 general elections.
Masisi, who was deputy president under Khama, took over the presidency after Khama stepped down at the end of his term in 2018.
Masisi’s Botswana Democratic Party lost 10 out of 13 recent by-elections in what some commentators say is an indication that his popularity might be waning amidst the economic hardships caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Khama joined the opposition in 2019 and is now actively trying to orchestrate the defeat of the governing Botswana Democratic Party in the next election. DM