- Botswana Gazette sting operation catches police red handed
- Officer confesses after being busted by undercover journos
- Officers receive bribes through mobile money
- Women pay officers with sex
- Immigration officials sell food to immigrants in detention
Revelations by illegal immigrants who have fallen victim to the elicitation of bribes and human rights abuse by corrupt police officers, caused The Botswana Gazette to engage several foreign nationals around the city in a week long undercover operation. The results bore testimony to reports of human rights abuses and corruption allegations levelled at the Botswana Police Service by foreign nationals.
Last Tuesday following a tipoff that Botswana Police Officers were manning a roadblock for illegal immigrants, the The Botswana Gazette arranged a decoy “illegal immigrant” to board a combi en route to one of the roadblocks. The combi was stopped by police officers at a taxi stop just before the Old Naledi flyover near Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) offices. All passengers in the combi were asked to produce their identity cards or their passports. The decoy “illegal immigrant”, on claiming not to have any documentation was immediately arrested and taken aside for further questioning.
The two police officers involved promptly demanded the decoy pay for his freedom. They demanded 1000 pula cash on the spot but he told them he only had 200 pula on him. While negotiating a reduction in the cost of his liberty, a police van arrived on the scene and though other persons who did not have documentation were rounded up and loaded into the van, the decoy was not.
The officer who came with the van asked whether the decoy illegal immigrant was among the arrested, to which his colleague responded ‘‘No, he is not part of those ones’’.
The decoy, at this time reached for his pocket, only to be sternly informed by his arresting officer, ‘‘No no no, don’t reach for your pockets here because it will raise eyebrows. Just go to that bench and I will collect the money from there.’’
After taking the 200-pula cash, the officer insisted on getting more money. At this point the decoy offered to use the Orange-Money service to send the remaining balance. The police officer, from Old Naledi police station, agreed and provided his cell phone number as 72896680. This publication has evidence that 400 pula was successfully paid out at 8:23am, to cell number 72896680 registered under the officer’s name, Rabojalwa, through Orange-Money service on Tuesday January 23.
In a second operation this past Sunday, two police officers, a lady special constable and a male commissioned officer driving a police van from Broadhurst police station, arrested another decoy in Phakalane and demanded 200 pula from her to avoid deportation. The lady was able to give the police officers 100 pula on the spot but they insisted she must find a way to source the other 100 pula. They allowed her to make various phone calls to source the additional 100 pula.
As recipients for the decoy’s phone call, The Botswana Gazette arranged to send her 100 pula through e-wallet service and without hesitation the officers accompanied the lady to the ATM at Acacia mall in Phakalane where she withdrew the 100 pula and gave it to the two police officers. She was immediately allowed to walk away.
The Botswana Gazette has interviewed several Zimbabwean illegal immigrants in and around Gaborone who told of how it has become a way of life for them as police demand bribes to release them and not face deportation, or worse, indefinite detention at the hands of police and immigration officials.
‘‘We are used to their common phrase of o tshwere sengwenyana?’’(Do you have a little something?). The phrase is the opening gambit used to solicit bribes from illegal immigrants.
In a horrifying revelation, a Zimbabwean lady in Metsimotlhabe told of how she was forced to have sex with police officers (the plural is not used in error) as payment for her illegal stay in the country because she did not have money to bribe the officers. She claims she is not alone.
Illegal immigrants informed The Botswana Gazette of how police officers manipulate them once they get to the police stations after being arrested. ‘‘When you get to the police station you are searched before you are thrown into the holding cells and this is when police officers are able to see who among us has money,’’ one illegal immigrant said in an interview. He said when officers find that you have cash in your possession, they call you aside and negotiate for a bribe. ‘‘Once you agree to pay, they release you after 30 minutes and claim to others that someone has brought your passport or work permit.’’
Another Zimbabwean illegal immigrant said Immigration officials have also found a business opportunity in their deportation as they sell an array of refreshments such as drinks, loaves and biscuits before the truck that transports them from Gaborone to Centre of Illegal Immigrants in Francistown embarks on the 435-kilometre journey. ‘‘They just tell us they won’t be making any stops along the way and we have no option but to buy food from them,’’ he revealed.
The incidence of police abuse and corruption has escalated to such an extent that some illegal immigrants claim that they prefer to be deported and find their way back to Botswana because it appears police officers have somehow unanimously pegged the bribe price at 1000 pula. ‘‘I can’t pay 1000 pula when I can easily spend 300 pula when I make a U-turn after being dumped at Plumtree border and come back to Gaborone,’’ one of our informants stated.
This publication in a follow up to the undercover operation contacted the Old Naledi officer, Rabojalwa, on Monday afternoon. The officer initially denied having demanded and receiving a bribe but when presented with proof, he confessed to having received the bribe together with a certain Bagopi. Sounding remorseful, Rabojalwa offered to refund the 600 pula on Tuesday (today) at 11am.
Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent Near Bagali requested questions be addressed to his office in writing when the Botswana Gazette approached him for comment. The questionnaire was sent but had not been responded to at the time of going for print on Monday evening. This publication sought to establish the extent of Botswana Police awareness of officers who demand and take bribes from illegal immigrants, and if there have been cases of officers found guilty of the offence.
Botswana spends millions on public funds deporting illegal immigrants every year. In 2008, speaking in Johannesburg then Vice President Mompati Merafhe advised SADC that it was costing government in excess of 1.2 million pula (about US$150 000 at the time) per month to house and repatriate more than 1 000 Zimbabwean refugees.
As a publication, we take great pride in investigative work like the sting operation in which we expose the corrupt extortion of Zimbabwean nationals by our police officers which seems pervasive. However, the tragedy of the whole thing is that while the officers in question maybe basic criminals, xenophobic or power drunk, another dynamic is that their action may be a symptom of the desperate economic condition they find themselves in, due to the generally low wages and poor professional conditions they work under in a world where depressed economies have also driven people to all kinds of desperation. Labour unions have repeatedly pleaded with government to increase wages of public servants who include teachers, the police and soldiers but to no avail; these pleas fall on deaf ears even when it is apparent that corruption by ‘big fish’ diverts money that could be used to improve the quality of the lives of workers and Batswana in general. So, its not surprising, for instance, to see poor results in schools, police taking bribes or soldiers humiliating vulnerable people like Zimbabweans with forced group sex; it is a product of something deeper. Is The Botswana Gazette making an excuse for unethical, criminal conduct by public officers? Certainly not, but as the editor, I am also awake to the reality that a story like this will lead to the officers in question losing their jobs in a blink as the Botswana Police scurries to save face- but the problem will still remain and other officers will still be tempted into unethical and criminal behaviour. There is nothing to enjoy, even for a journalist, when a low-ranking officer loses a job because of a bad judgement. We also encourage members of the public to continue exposing this type of corruption and criminality, especially ordinary, powerless people who face this type of humiliation every day.