Salbany Speaks to the Gazette

LS- What is your current status with Botswana?
Salbany- I do not actually know. I hope to find out on Tuesday when I go back to the Botswana High Commission in Pretoria. They were unable to help today but I was informed at the Border that I was no longer allowed entry into Botswana. Upon enquiring on whether I have been put on a Visa requirement or whether I had been declared a prohibited immigrant I was informed that the information was confidential. They said I would be informed at the High Commission and documents would be given to me.
LS- They?
Salbany- When my passport was swiped through the scanner at the border the lady processing my passport seemed taken aback. She paused to read the computer screen, after which the immigration official asked me to step aside and wait. She took my passport and went inside a room. After waiting a few minutes, I was called to go behind the counter and wait as there was a “problem with my passport”. Two other ladies emerged from a room and one started asking me questions. I asked who they were, but they declined to answer.
LS- What questions did they ask?
Salbany- They asked what I was doing in Botswana and further wanted to establish whether I wasn’t aware that I was a prohibited from entering the country. I told them I had been in Botswana to apply for work permits and to visit my children, family and friends. I informed them that I was unaware that I was prohibited from entering Botswana as I had entered a mere 4 days before and there had been no issue, nor had I been advised that I was prohibited.
LS- How did they respond to your answer?
Salbany- They said that according to the computer, my status had changed and that I ought to have been informed that I could no longer enter Botswana. I asked when had my status changed and why? I asked to be given an official document reflecting this. They refused to answer any of my questions and insisted that I go to the embassy and get information from there. I asked for their names and what department they were in, whether it was immigration or another government department. They declined to answer both.
LS- How was their conduct towards you?
Salbany- They were cordial. I have no complaint in how they conducted themselves on a personal level. From an administrative side however the failure and the unwillingness to give me information was extremely frustrating, from my perspective of course. One of the ladies clearly knew me and appeared embarrassed. “Sorry, rre Salbany” she whispered to me as I was leaving.
LS- Why were you in Botswana?
Salbany- Like I said, I had come to see my children, first and foremost, family and friends. I had also been hopeful that since the lapse of the period prohibiting applications for permits, after a previous rejection, I was now able to apply again under the new and promising administration. I was hopeful that my application would be favourably considered.
LS- Why were you hopeful?
Salbany- In 2015 when my permits were rejected we were advised that the DIS had refused to give me clearance. This was under the previous administration. When I was in Botswana in January for the BOMAWU seminar, where I was presenting, the Honourable Minister Tshenolo Mabeo had warmly welcomed me. During a personal discussion he said I should wait until April this year to reapply.
At a separate seminar hosted by BOFEPUSU, where I was also presenting, several members of the BDP central committee were present, they too greeted me warmly, I had been at school (University) with many of them and they too advised me to wait till April of this year. So I was hopeful that at the very least I had informal support within the political hierarchy and that the administrative side of my application would be considered without fear or favour, just on merit, which is all I wanted.
LS- You mention 2015, what happened then?
Salbany- My permits in 2015 were up for renewal. I had applied and had not received feedback. We engaged a consultant to assist and it was then we were informed that my files, for both my citizenship application and my work permits could not be located. After having obtained extensions on my days, we were informed that I had to leave the same day as I was not given security clearance. Though we (Attorney Dick Bayford and I) sought clarity on why I was being told to leave on such short notice, none was given. We and others thought I had been PI’d. As with the current situation information was not availed.  I had to leave Botswana and have been trying to come back ever since.
LS- You had applied for citizenship?
Salbany- Lawrence, Botswana has been my home, or was, for the better part of 25 years. I applied for citizenship in 2005. My sponsors were the Honourable Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi, Athalia Molokomme and the late Judge Marumo.
LS- Did you pursue your citizenship application?
Salbany- Yes, though to be fair, in hindsight, I ought to have pursued it with greater tenacity. I had been doing Prof. Kenneth Good’s case at the time I applied and had received threats from anonymous phone calls to stop representing him or face deportation myself. Duma Boko, Bayford and I (we were all involved in the case) reported those threats to the police, but they were unable to ascertain who made them. But given the sensitivity of Good’s case we thought it best to let the process follow its natural course and wait to be contacted. This never happened. I was subsequently informed that my file was not at immigration.
LS- You have been in Botswana a long time, what are you fondest memories?
Salbany- Well of course those would be of my children and friends but one incident with Rre Mogae and Rre Nganunu is special. I was friends with Chedza Mogae at UB and one day we had agreed to meet at her house, which was the Vice President’s residence. I walked from UB to the house after class and knocked on the door. Those were simpler times, back in the mid 90s. Mme Mma Mogae opened and informed me that Chedza wasn’t home but as she was making lunch I could keep her company in the kitchen. After a few minutes the Vice President, then Rre Mogae walked in. I could tell he was surprised to see this stranger in the kitchen but his wife introduced us. For me this was a huge honour. Well, several years later at the opening of the Legal year, I had now graduated and I was a practicing attorney, the Chief Justice, Rre Nganunu was walking with the President (Rre Mogae), he stopped where I was and proceeded to introduce us, in the process making a very nice remark about me, but Rre Mogae interrupted him and said “I know this young man from my kitchen”. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was shocked that he remembered me after all that time.
I also have very fond memories of Rre Koma (KK). When I started practice, I was with Dick Bayford who was my pupil master. Rre Koma used to come to the office frequently and instruct us on various matters, he was losing his sight at the time so he would always reach up and touch my face with his hands to confirm who I was. He always addressed me as “my boy”. Rre Koma was not merely a national icon but a Pan African one too. Talking to him, discussing Botswana, its people and history as if I was family really left a lasting impression. I have many such fond memories, and I was fortunate enough to have met both Rre Masire and Rre Mogae.
Attending UB in the 90’s also introduced me to many that are in the upper echelons of industry and politics today. We were a small community of students then, and those friendships have lasted.
LS- And on a professional level?
Salbany- wow, that is a hard one. Honestly there are so many cases that I handled, each had its own importance to the client and varying degree of legal impact. Certainly, the first case I ever did with Bayford at the Court of Appeal. It was a murder case where the accused had been sentenced to death. The Registrar assigned it to us on appeal. The initial case at the High Court had lasted only a few hours.  We found a technical point on the improper use of a translator and the Court of Appeal agreed with us, and I believe it is the leading case on the use of interpreters and language in court. However as the case was successful on a technical point they ordered a retrial which we did for almost 2 years. The two gentlemen were ultimately acquitted. That case left a lasting impression.
There were many others, Ahmed, established discovery in criminal trails and changed the way criminal prosecutions were handled in Botswana. The retrospective application of a constitutional interpretation also had considerable significance. But I think the cases that really impacted on society as a whole were those that had political overtures. Cases involving the BNF, BDP, and later UDC, those naturally had implications, nationally. Representing the media fraternity in various litigation also had significance as it impacted on the freedom of expression and thought, ideals that I firmly believe in.
Prof. Good’s case was particularly hard on many levels. The impact on him and his family was massive, but for me, the sanction on an academic, a professional, expressing their views on a particular position went against what I believed to be the ethos of a democratic dispensation, even if the Court of Appeal found it legally permissible.
The Daisy Loo case left a lasting impression too, because it lasted almost 9 years. But there are many cases, late Louis Nchindo’s appeal, being part of Minister of Finance Kenneth Matambo’s legal team and former Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Madeluka Seretse’s when I was still practicing at Collins and Newman. Those were all significant matters with political implications. Non however compared to the 2014 case on the Secret Ballot in parliament case or “lehandza” as it is popularly known. That case had significant national importance and political consequences.
Then of course there was the Gazette case, the one which got me arrested, unfortunately we were never able to see that through to the end given that I had to leave a few months down the line. Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone’s Sedition case was another that affected the media, but really Lawrence the cases are just too many to recall in a Skype interview like this.
LS- What of your personal circumstance in Botswana?
Salbany- My life was in Botswana, I left SA as a child when my parents went into exile. We moved to Zimbabwe at independence, as did many ANC cadres (my parents) and I lived there for almost 10 years. I moved to Johannesburg for 3 years in 1990 and then came to Botswana in 1993 and remained. I fell in love with it and made many friends, most of whom I consider family. I have two sets of parents who have “adopted me” as their own, so my home villages are Mafia (Mahalape) and Molepolole.
I worked for 4 law firms over my career, few actually considering one was my own in partnership and continues to run. But the law I loved doing could only really be done in one of them, and that was with Bayford & Associates. Bayford’s firm was frequently engaged to do work that involved human rights. We worked well together and shared much in terms of legal philosophy. Our approaches may have differed, but our arguments always resonated well with each other.
LS- Thank you Salbany, is there anything you would like to say?
Salbany- You are welcome Rre Seretse, what is there to say? Sorry if I offended anyone and it has caused this circumstance to come to pass? Of course I am. I frequently express views that may not resonate well but those are my views based on my understanding of the law. And the law is subject to multiple interpretations. Lawyers fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the perspective, tend to push the limits to further human rights, those beliefs often clash with political considerations, that is the very nature of human rights based litigation. It is who I am and what I was trained to be, by the University of Botswana no less, an institution I am proud to have been a student of and for which I am eternally grateful for the opportunity it gave me. I am eternally grateful for the life Botswana gave me.