Free At Last (Botswana)


Francinah Baaitse Mmana, The Voice

Date Published

See link for photos. 

For the last nine years, two Maun cousins have been living with a charge of illegal possession of elephant tusks weighing heavily over them. The stress of close to a decade was lifted this week, however, as sporting light-hearted smiles beneath their Covid-19 masks, the duo left Maun High Court free men.

42-year-old Onkagetse Mbulawa and Oitsile Balapi, 33, successfully challenged the case against them, arguing that the excessive delay in the matter would affect their chances of getting a fair trial.

Along with a group of other men, the pair were arrested in 2012 after they were allegedly caught with elephant tusks.

Both Mbulawa and Balapi were granted bail and although their co-accused were subsequently tried – resulting in a mixture of convictions and discharges – neither were ever summoned to court.

Fast-forward to 2021 and, until this week, that remained the case.

Telling court they were effectively ‘living in bondage’, with the accusations hanging over every aspect of their lives, Mbulawa revealed his reputation was now in tatters, as was his marriage.

“There was a deliberate and unreasonable delay on this matter and because of that I have suffered immeasurable prejudice. My marriage has been ruined because of this case and my wife is about to file for divorce,” he testified.

During his arrest, the cops impounded Mbulawa’s car, a Honda CRV. It has been in police custody ever since.

“I don’t even understand why they are keeping the car because it was never listed as an affidavit,” he highlighted.

Outlining his application for case dismissal, Mbulawa maintained, “There was no communication from the police on why the matter was not tried on time but we fully cooperated with them because we are law abiding citizens. We were denied justice in an unreasonable manner.”

Voicing similar grievances, Balapi explained his status was stained by the looming allegations and he found it hard to get a job as potential employers did not trust them.

“The case basically took away our freedom to gainful employment. I am a security officer and the case has really messed up my career, no security company can employ someone who is facing a serious criminal charge like the one we are facing at the moment – hence I request for stay of prosecution in the matter,” pleaded Balapi.

The state prosecution agreed the duo were within their constitutional right to request for the dismissal of the matter as the prolonged delay could potentially lead to an unfair trial.

Thus Justice Godfrey Nthomiwa subsequently ordered a permanent stay of the matter. The Judge further noted that since Mbulawa’s car was not part of the application, the same order would hopefully inform whoever has the vehicle ‘to act accordingly’ since the case has fallen away.

For Mbulawa and Balapi, car or no car, after nine years of looking back, the two relatives can finally look forward!