Prisons staff fight over hangman allowance

  • Senior officers, juniors clash over newly introduced execution allowance
  • Allowance covers all involved in the execution process of condemned prisoners
  • Allowance only received by Senior officers to Commissioner, juniors excluded
  • Junior officers threaten to refuse to carry bodies to the grave, dig graves, and bury


Senior officers at the Department of Prisons Services have angered warders by excluding them in the special duty allowance which among other benefits refers to an execution allowance or allowance given to all those who participate in the execution process of a condemned prisoner.

The white paper excludes junior officers from the allowance which is only available to officers ranking from the ranks of Senior Superintendent to Commissioner. The allowance is a hefty 15 percent of the salary and it is fixed despite an execution taking place irregularly and infrequently. Senior prisons officers however argue that the allowance is fixed just as in the case with other duties like bomb squads and other related scenarios. According to officers within the Department of Prisons, prison officials are left with the burden of execution that has emotional repercussions for which they ought to be compensated for, given the gruesome nature of the act they are obliged to conduct on fellow human beings.

Prisons Service Spokesperson Wamorena Ramolefhe, said he was not in a position to answer some of the questions raised by this publication in a questionnaire but rushed to say junior officers do not participate in the execution process, a statement refuted by junior officers. Ramolefhe’s seniors, Permanent Secretary to Ministry of Defence, Justice Matshidiso Bokole and her Minister Shaw Kgathi were unwilling or unable to provide any assistance as they directed this publication to the Prisons Commissioner to field the questions.

Junior officers are complaining that they have been excluded from the allowance when they are actually the ones who do the bulk of the dirty work, left to them by senior officers. They argue that their work begins the day a prisoners is sentenced and from the time when he is awaiting execution where they perform guard and watch activities. “It is us who arrest (sic) the prisoners to senior officers before executions. After the lever has been bought down we take the body to for burial and it is us again who do the digging of the grave and dispose the body under the watch of seniors. Do you think there is a senior officer who can dig a grave when his juniors are there?,” narrated a junior officer who reveals that they also cover condemned prisoners heads with black hoods when leading them to the execution chamber.

According to the junior officers, they are more deserving of the execution allowance than anybody else, further adding that it is these type of allowances which should have been used to prop them up. “If this is not reviewed we will request that we stay away from the process because we cannot partake in such a harrowing process for free while others are getting compensated for it,” added junior warders made the revelations to The Gazette reporter.

Botswana has so far executed over 50 condemned prisoners and observers argue that the introduction of the execution allowance under the special duty allowance suggest that Botswana is not willing to abolish capital punishment as per international calls for it to do so. The Penal Code specifies that a person who is sentenced to death will be hung by the neck until dead, while for military executions, the Botswana Defence Force Act allows the President to determine any manner of execution. The former heads of state, Festus Mogae and Ian Khama continue to speak in support of it and current president Mokgweetsi Masisi has not made public comments on it.

In 2018, the Public Accounts Committee heard that the vacancy for the hangman no longer existed as it had been phased out due to no one applying for the job. This resulted in prison officers being the ones to carry out the sordid act of executing convicts. The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Segakweng Tsiane told the committee that there was no reason to continue with the vacancy as no one showed interest.

Tshiane was responding to a question posed by the committee member, Polson Majaga who wanted the PS to unravel the mystery that is the hangman, his or her duties and the secrecy behind the issue. Majaga further asked for parliament to be briefed on why the post is never advertised to attract aspiring hangmen across the country. That same day committee member and Selebi-Phikwe West legislator, Dithapelo Keorapetse had grilled the ministry over the expertise and proficiency of the officers who carry the executions.

Keorapetse questioned whether those involved were aware that prison officials are left with the burden of the execution, which has emotional repercussions on them? The Deputy Commissioner for Prisons, Keneilwe Bogosing said there was counselling provided to the officers prior and after execution. Bogosing and Tsiane however both requested not to divulge more information in relation to what transpires prior and after execution, which was accepted by the committee chair at the time.