News From South Africa by Michael Sears

By Michael Sears

For variety, this month I thought I would invite South African author Michael Stanley to interview a senior detective in the Botswana Police about the issues there and about how the police go about solving crimes.  Assistant Superintendent David Bengu is a detective in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) based in the capital, Gaborone.  The CID is situated in a modern building which looks out onKgale Hill – a lone exception to the pancake flatness of the area.  Surrounded by the sprawling city, Kgale Hill is still home to a variety of small buck and troops of baboons.

Detective Bengu is a busy man, but felt that he could spare an hour over lunch to chat to Michael – provided, of course, that it was at a good restaurant and that Michael was paying. 

Over to Michael Stanley:

Detective Bengu, thank you very much for making the time for this.  I always want to find out more about Botswana, meet the police, and so on.  I set my crime novels here.

Interesting. Please call me Kubu. Everyone does.

That means hippopotamus in Setswana.  Even I know that much.  Don’t you mind that nickname?  It’s not very flattering.

(Laughs.)  Well, I’m a big man and a bit overweight, you might say.  When I was a boy, I was very lucky and got a scholarship to Maru a Pula school in Gaborone.  It’s one of the best schools in southern Africa, you know, and I learned about all sorts of new things there.  Even opera, which I love.  But, anyway, I met a white boy there who was everything I was not.  Athletic, popular, good-looking.  When I said my name was David, he laughed at me, and said, ‘You’re not a David.  You’re a kubu.’  At first I was very hurt, and all the other boys laughed, but he added that I was big, but also focused and shouldn’t be messed with.  It gave me status.  From that day I was Kubu, and we became good friends.

This is a very interesting restaurant – The Caravella.  A true Portuguese restaurant in the middle of Botswana?

Yes, one of my favorites. Wonderful peri-peri chicken.  And if you like fish, try the seafood kebab.  And the prawns… excellent.  Anyway let’s get on with the interview.  I’m hungry.

Well, what’s it like being a detective in Botswana?

Michael, you have to understand that Botswana is a very big country.  The size of France.  Less than two million people though.  We have about twenty main police centers, but they all have a lot of area to cover and lots of places for criminals to hide.  And the countryside is very diverse.  We’ve got the huge Kalahari desert with very low population – mainly Bushmen.  There’s the lush northern area along the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, with all that spectacular wildlife.  But, at Kazangula, Botswana has a joint border with three other countries – Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia.  Think of the smuggling possibilities that raises.  Then there are the cities like Gaborone and Francistown, nothing like Johannesburg, but they have their share of crime.

There have been some issues with the Bushman peoples here, charges of discrimination.  How do the police cope with that?

It’s such a difficult issue.  Some of the Bushmen want to live a nomadic life in the Kalahari like their ancestors, but most want the comforts of modern life, education for their children, health care, and so on.  The government is bound by the constitution to supply those things, but they can’t do it if people are in a different place every day.  One needed a consensus from the people involved – particularly the Bushmen – as to how to move forward, and that didn’t happen.  It ended up in the High Court, and Judge Unity Dow gave a judgment in the Bushmen’s favor.  But it will take time for the Bushmen to find their role in modern Botswana.

In South Africa there is a lot of concern about muti murders: people –especially children – being murdered so that witch doctors can use body parts for black magic.  Is that also a big issue for the police in Botswana?

You must understand that most witch doctors do good.  They have a variety of herbal remedies, usually supplied with good advice.  A few witch doctors might add animal parts – like the heart of a lion for strength.  But a very few – reputed to be the most powerful – use human body parts.  Children are abducted.  It’s terrible.  And the culprits are very hard to find because the victims aren’t related in any way to their abductors.  Worse, everyone is too scared of the witch doctors to give information.  Even some policemen are nervous.  Not me, of course.

There is the infamous case of a young girl, Segametsi Mogomotsi, which occurred in Mochudi in 1994.  She and her friend were selling oranges and became separated.  Segametsi disappeared and her mutilated body was found weeks later.  Segametsi’s murder caused the community to come out in violent protests because they believed the police were protecting the witch doctors’ powerful clients.  One person was shot and killed by a policeman.  The government eventually felt it necessary to conduct an independent enquiry, so it called in Scotland Yard from the United Kingdom.  But its report was never released.

Have you ever met Precious Ramotswe?  You’re sort of in the same line of work.

(Laughs.)  No, not really.  She’s that lady private investigator?  She solves people’s problems, but I’m after murderers.  She’s very resourceful, but our cases don’t overlap much.  Maybe I’ll bump into her one day.

Come on, let’s order.

And that was all I could get out of Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu.

*****

Michael Stanley is the pen name of authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip.  Their mysteries feature Detective Kubu of the Botswana CID. His new adventure, DEADLY HARVEST, which has as its backstory the evil use of human body parts for black magic, will be released on April 30th.  Their previous novel, DEATH OF THE MANTIS, featured the plight of the Bushman peoples in modern Botswana. It won a Barry Award.  A collection of short stories, DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES, was released as an ebook last month.

So, apologies if you didn’t know, but neither Michael Stanley nor Kubu actually exist. (But then it is April 1st!) On the other hand, The Caravella, Maru a Pula school, and Kgale Hill are real.  And so, regrettably, is the awful still-unsolved case of Segametsi Mogomotsi.

To learn more about Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, please visit their website.

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