The Botswana Gazette has unearthed cases in which Batswana men were brutally assaulted by members of the armed forces (the police and soldiers), one while on his way to hospital for a regular medical check-up, the other while on his way to buy groceries. The violent incidents have left one victim wheelchair abound as President Masisi calls for action against brutality, Keabetswe Newel and Lawrence Seretse report.

The Botswana Gazette has unearthed two cases in which two Batswana men were brutally assaulted by members of Botswana’s armed forces (the police and soldiers), one while on his way to hospital for a regular medical check-up, the other while on his way to buy groceries.

In 2016, Castro Mmele, then 36 years old, worked as a Front Load Operator at BCL Mine in Selebi-Phikwe . Life was good because he had a reliable income and was in a good state of health. However, his fate would later change before the first quarter of that year ended. In April 2016, he slipped while at work and a front loading machine crashed his legs.

The legs were rendered dysfunctional and Mmele could no longer walk or do anything for himself. He became wheelchair-bound. To be fair to his employer, BCL played its part in assisting with medical care. Although his condition had improved over time, he relied on crutches to get about. He became a regular at Selibe-Phikwe Government Hospital for undergoing check-ups and collecting medicines. Such an occasion fell again on Tuesday last week and Mmele duly left his house in his Nissan Dyna bakkie to go and get his medication at Selibe-Phikwe Government Hospital.

But in an interview days later, he related how along the way he stopped to get his mobile phone from a neighbour. His two children, aged 13 years and 11 years, were riding in the back. Suddenly the police, accompanied by soldiers, called out to him saying his car was parked in the road. “I told them I was just getting my phone and was on my way to get my medication at the hospital,” he said. “They asked to see my permit and I told them that I did not have one but had reported my case to the District Commissioner that I needed regular medical attention and therefore needed a permit.”

However, as he drove off, the police chased after him, prompting his children to scream and wail in terror. “That was when I decided not to go to the hospital but to head back home because I knew they could assault both me and my children,” Mmele said. When he got home, he went into the toilet but suddenly heard the police and soldiers inside his house apparently searching for him. Finding him in the toilet, they dragged him out naked. “My wife was also in the house in a state of undress,” said Mmele.

“More than seven police and military vehicles were suddenly parked at my house and I was beaten and kicked by more 15 police officers and soldiers. My entire body, including my legs, was bleeding and swelling up. I was all the while telling them that I was not a well person. At any rate, some of the police officers knew about my condition but even they assaulted me nevertheless.” The brutalising only stopped when his assailants realised that he was seriously injured and took him to hospital, his original destination. However, the police were not interested when Mmele subsequently tried to report the matter. His conditioned has improved a little, at least sufficiently for him to be back in the wheelchair.

When The Botswana Gazette called the Commander of Selibe-Phikwe Police Station, Superintendent Meshack Pulenyane, he said he was aware of the matter before bit of a rigmarole began. Pulenyane said the case was being handled by Botshabelo Police Station on the other side of town where Superintendent Elias Malope, the Station Commander, indeed confirmed that there was such a case there.

He said Mmele had opened a case of assault and abuse that was being investigated. But lo and behold, the police, Superintendent Malope said, had also opened a case of resisting arrest against Mmele! The Botswana Gazette asked how a disabled man could resist arrest so strongly as to warrant violence by a ‘mob’ of police and military officers. “That’s why the case is under investigation,” came the answer from Malope. “We want to establish what really happened.”

Approached by this publication, the spokesman of Botswana Police Service, Senior Superintendent Dipheko Motube, said he was not aware of the case.       Mmele’s case is similar to that of James Selelo* (not his real name), a 21-year old unemployed man in Matsiloje Village in the North East District. Selelo’s house lies 500 metres from The Other Place, which is a small shopping complex. According to him, at around noontide on 11 April, he walked to the complex to buy mealie meal, bread flour and a few other groceries. But just as he was about to enter the shop, two soldiers and a police officer called out to him from the roadside and asked to see his permit. “I told them that our Kgosi (chief) had said we did not need permits to go and buy food,” Selelo told The Gazette.
“They said they used a different law and that I should be punished.” Whereupon a soldier who had no name tag on ordered him to do bare-knuckled push-ups on the gravel surface. “I did 50 push-ups,” Selelo went on. “The soldier then ordered me to do squares. I did but he started kicking me, saying I was doing them the wrong way. The others joined in the was beating and I was seriously injured.”

Selelo said the owner of the store and the shop attendant witnessed the assault and even called his family to come and see what was going on. “I went to the hospital and had a medical report done that I used to report the case at the police station,” he said. “The Commander told me that they would call me after discussing the matter internally.

But they never called me and I do not know if my case will be attended to or not.”       At Matsiloje Police Station, the Commander Superintendent Charles Mbengwa’s mobile phone went unanswered. An officer on the landline said Mbengwa had travelled to Francistown on official business. A BPS headquarters in Gaborone, Senior Superintendent Motube said he was not aware of any such case. However, against the background of these incidents and similar ones elsewhere across Botswana, the Office of the President issued a statement in which it condemned police brutality, noting that assaulting civilians is against the law. When the highest office in the land issued this statement last week, some of the cases had been captured on videos that were going viral on social media