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20 years after Bosch’s hanging, change is slow to come in Botswana

March 17th, 2021
topic:Death Penalty
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Botswana, South Africa
tags:Botswana, death penalty, human rights, social media, South Africa

The 2001 hanging of the first white person to be executed in Botswana, Mariëtte Bosch, a South African national convicted of killing her love rival and taking her husband, brought global attention to the continued existence of the death penalty (DP) in the peaceful and fairly prosperous southern African nation. Human rights groups started campaigning vigorously for Botswana to join other African countries that have abolished capital punishment.

But 20 years later, little appears to have changed at all. If anything, the death penalty seems to be more popular with the majority of citizens - if the joy expressed by Batswana on social media when two convicted murderers were hanged in early February is anything to go by. 

The latest hangings bring the total to six in the 15 months during which the new president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has been in office. 

FairPlanet got in touch with Onalenna Chabaya, an
anti-death penalty activist and volunteer at Ditshwanelo - The Botswana Centre For Human Rights - an advocacy organisation that has been at the forefront of the fight to end the death penalty, to find out more about the NGO’s efforts to end capital punishment. 

FairPlanet: Looking at reactions to your organisation’s statement regarding the latest hangings, almost all of them are boos and insults targeting your efforts to get convicted murderers spared from death. This shows what an uphill task you face in trying to change attitudes. Is this opposition not discouraging to you?

Onalenna Chabaya: It can be discouraging at times, more especially when there are very few voices that support us. However, the positive thing is that Batswana disagree peacefully, which makes us ready to pitch up for more anti capital punishment lobbying when the opportunity arises.

Apart from hardened attitudes that seem to be informed by row emotion, not scientific research, what other challenges does your organisation face in the fight to end the death penalty?

The other challenge we face is resources to conduct grassroots education around the barbaric nature of the death penalty.

How much progress would you say you have made since you started lobbying for an end to the use of the death penalty in Botswana. Any landmarks along the way?

Some top officials, including a former Judge and now Member of Parliament, have gone public opposing the DP. This shows that with more voices in Parliament and a constitutional review process on the cards, we might have the issue considered.

It is 20 years since the outcry over Mariëtte Bosch’s hanging. That outcry - though felt by some to smell of racism - served to bring global attention to the death penalty in Botswana. But attitudes seem to remain largely unchanged; why do you think this is the case?

Mariëtte Bosch’s hanging and the publicity it gave to our calls to stop the DP only worked to reinforce Botswana’s position, because their main fear about lifting the DP is that South Africans and other foreigners might flood Botswana and start killing citizens - unafraid of the now abolished DP.

Have you tried to present empirical (and scientific) evidence to local stakeholders that the vengeful death penalty has never resulted in a reduction in homicides anywhere? And if so, what has been the response?

Our statements usually point towards the fact that homicide cases have been on the rise despite the existence of the DP. The response, however, has been a dismissive lack of consideration of the facts on the ground, as emotions take over logic in these emotional issues.

Hangings in Botswana are usually welcomed with gleeful admiration across the racial divide in neighbouring South Africa, a country with high murder rates, with many openly calling for the death penalty to be reinstated. What do you think such cheers do to your own efforts to bring Botswana into the abolitionist league?

Cheers from neighbouring South Africa increase the resolve of the death penalty mob justice crew of Botswana. This greatly hampers our efforts as we seem to have little African support save for the EU and UN. The AU (African Union) is not vocal on the issue either.

Would you know how many death row inmates there currently are in Botswana? Have conditions for death-row inmates, which were previously reported to be inhuman, improved? 

There are currently two inmates on death row, and witnessing from the past two executions, where neither [the] family nor lawyers of the condemned heard about hangings from media sources, we are compelled to believe that death row inmates’ conditions might not have improved due to the lack of transparency.

What effects do hurried executions, some of which take pale only a few months after conviction and sentencing, have on your efforts, as well as on the mental health of the inmates and their families?

Hurried executions are likely to be the common thing because so-called passion killings are on the rise. This in turn will mean that we will have very little time in calling for either mercy or use the execution as a rallying point to call for the abolition of the practice.

Is there anything else that you would like to highlight on the issue?

It is however important that we, as abolitionists, consider adopting a gradualist approach to make retentionists consider keeping the DP but having a second option of life imprisonment without possible parole where the convict pays blood money to the victim’s family. It could remain the prerogative of the family to have the convict hanged or made to work in prison. 

An abrupt end to the DP in Botswana is currently not possible from the answers we just provided. Only gradualism and grassroots education on the phenomenon could see the tide, hopefully, turning in our favour.

 

Correction (3.19.2021): an earlier version of this article had mistakenly presented the interviewee as Alice Mogwe. The interview had been conducted with Onalenna Chabaya.

Image: World Economic Forum

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Botswana South Africa
The latest hangings bring the total to six in the 15 months during which the new president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has been in office.
© Monirul BHuiyan / Contributor
Hangings in Botswana are usually welcomed with gleeful admiration across the racial divide in neighbouring South Africa, a country with high murder rates, with many openly calling for the death penalty to be reinstated.
© Michele Spatari/ Contributor