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Masisi petitioned over prison graves

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  • Ex-prisoners’ body wants access to burial sites
  • Calls on President Masisi to let families attend burials
  • Suggests people are haunted by failure to perform cultural burial rites

TEFO PHEAGE

As the battle for the bodies of condemned prisoners buried in prison cemeteries escalates, the Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders (BIRRO) this week accused President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his government of trampling upon the cultural rights of the Batswana.

The dispute emanates from the country’s policy of barring the families of executed prisoners access to their burial sites for purposes of closure and performance of Setswana burial rituals. The government has also refused requests to at least inform the families of the day of the execution of one of their own while still on death row.

“We hereby reiterate our stance that families of people who are hung (sic) in accordance with the sentences imposed by our honourable courts be allowed to visit their graves and mourn them in accordance with their culture and customs,” BIRRO wrote in a letter to the Office of the President (OP) this week. “It is trite that under the current policy, these graves are off limits to even the families of those buried there. It is our solemn and sincere request that this policy be revised to make allowance for visitations and exercise of burial rituals and customs of such people.”

The Chairperson of BIRRO, Mothei Sejakgomo, has confirmed the letter and said in an interview that his organisation awaited a response. “Our nation is built on cultural diversity and respect and therefore it should concern the President if it is the state which is hell bent on disregarding national cultures,” Sejakgomo added. “We all know that we do not bury the diseased the same way and do not perform the same rituals. We also know what it could mean to turn a blind eye on one’s tribe or religious norms.”

He said there was no way in which extending such a courtesy to people who needed to mourn the death of their loved ones could compromise the state. The organisation was acting, he explained, on the prompting of families of executed prisoners who often approached it for assistance to facilitate visits to the gravesides of their loved ones.

Counsellor Ntombi Setshwaelo has previously told this publication that it is in the best interests of mourning families to at least be present at burials for purposes of closure. She has noted that grieving can take years and cannot be helped by secret executions and denial of information to families.
The OP could not be reached at the time of going to press.

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