Botswana: Former president Khama slams successor Masisi, says he will sue for defamation

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 21:33

Botswana President Ian Khama looks on during the Botswana-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) in Pretoria
Botswana President Ian Khama looks on during the Botswana-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) in Pretoria, South Africa, November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Sparks are flying in Gaborone. Botswana's former president Ian Khama says he will sue his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi, and is calling on him to resign, accusing him of orchestrating a dirty-tricks campaign to discredit him ahead of the 2019 poll, which dragged in Bridgette Motsepe, sister-in-law to South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“The idea was to get us into prison [and] embarrass us,” Khama said in an interview with The Africa Report on Tuesday. “It became apparent very soon that [the claim] wasn’t true, at least the majority of people did not believe it.”

“Butterfly” free

Botswana High Court judge Zein Kebonang on 23 August ruled that the charges of financing terrorism and corruption in the case against former intelligence agent Welheminah Maswabi, codenamed Butterfly, were “fabricated and are outright false”.

The case started in 2019 but never got properly underway.

Khama and South African businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe were mentioned in the case as allegedly having helped Maswabi launder $10bn – half of Botswana’s GDP – that was said to be milked by intelligence agencies to South African bank accounts. Khama and Motsepe weren’t charged.

The trio were alleged to have connived to overthrow Masisi ahead of the governing Botswana National Party’s elective conference in April 2019.

Khama handed over power to Masisi, who was vice-president, on 1 April 2018, after he reached the limit of his two presidential terms. Khama defected to the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front ahead of the country’s elections after a fall-out with Masisi, with some of the rivalry playing out in the intelligence services.

Khama said Masisi was “blinded by his vindictiveness”, and Tuesday’s judgement proved this. But Masisi said now that this case has ended, he and those implicated with him will hit back. “All of us are going to be pursuing a defamation suit against these people. We are not just going against the functionaries. We want to expose who was behind this,” he said.

Khama said Masisi would be implicated in the case, but he did not want to give specifics. “We don’t want to give them forewarning.”

Animosity from day one

Khama said the animosity with Masisi started soon after the transition of power. “The first day, at his inauguration, when he came late, [the alarm bells started ringing for me] because all the time I’ve been telling people, during my time, the importance of time-keeping,” he said.

“Time-keeping is respect. You don’t keep people waiting. It’s very disrespectful. You can’t say now that, because I’m President, everyone else is a lesser person. And this is the problem with this guy. He thinks the nation should be his servants, but he [should be] there to serve them. He’s on a joyride. He’s just intoxicated on power.”

Khama has repeatedly claimed the clean image Botswana’s institutions had in the eyes of the world under his leadership started eroding when Masisi took over power.

Another court victory

Earlier this month, Khama won another court victory against Masisi’s government over its refusal to allow him access to government-owned transport and funds for the foreign trips he should be entitled to as a former head of state.

The court ordered the government to reimburse Khama for these travels, including the 2019 trip he took to India to meet the Dalai Lama – one that the Botswana government said went against its recognition of the ‘one China’ policy.

“These benefits are not conditional. I should be able to go where I want to go and see who I want to see,” Khama said. “This is just another instance where they violated the rule of law, which is what they’ve been doing ever since they came into office.”

He said Botswana had become a “banana republic”, but he still had faith in the judiciary.

“It’s the only arm of government which has any semblance of democracy that is left,” said Khama.

The executive has “just abandoned any responsibility towards good government and democracy,” he added.

“Parliament has a majority of their [Masisi’s] people, and they got into parliament under very suspicious circumstances,” he said, pointing to an investigation by a South African private investigator that alleged the elections had been rigged.

Clearing their names

Khama and Motsepe last year embarked on a campaign to clear their names and enlisted international law firm Omnia, headed by British barrister Cherie Blair, to investigate the money-laundering allegations. The South African banks where the money was said to have been kept, also wrote statements to confirm that the bank accounts mentioned in court papers did not exist.

The court on Tuesday said that Masisi should consider sacking the director of public prosecutions, Stephen Tiroyakgosi, who brought the case against Maswabi. It also ordered that there should be action against his deputy, Priscilla Israel as well as the investigator of the directorate on corruption and economic crime, Jako Hubona, who compiled the affidavit to support the charges.

“It was a lie orchestrated from the outset by highly ranked public officers who are accountable only to themselves. It was a brazen criminal act from those entrusted with public power that should never have been allowed to happen,” judge Kebonang said.

Masisi said the judgement showed that “these people masquerading as a government” abused their offices.

“They are trying to implicate people as criminals but they themselves engage in a criminal act by fabricating an affidavit in order to [score] their points,” he said. “In this country, it is unheard of.”

On Tuesday, there were calls for Masisi to resign, following the judgement. “I strongly echoed that call,” Khama said.

Masisi was in Zambia to attend President Hakainde Hichilema’s inauguration, and he has not yet issued a statement.

Bridgette Motsepe is also the sister-in-law of South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the spat with Masisi impacted diplomatic relations after she was barred from entering Botswana. She appealed for assistance from South Africa’s international relations department.

Botswana has also since accused South Africa of not assisting in a request for legal assistance with regards to the money-laundering allegations, and its prosecuting authority contracted white minority lobby group Afriforum’s advocate Gerrie Nel to go after its neighbour in this regard.

It is unclear whether there still is friction, as South Africa recently supported Botswana’s candidate for the Southern African Development Community executive secretary position. Masisi’s permanent secretary Elias Mpedi Magosi was elected to the regional position this month.

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