THERE was drama in the High Court on Friday when five murder-accused soldiers refused to plead to charges of murdering three civilians in Mafeteng in 2012.
They refused to plead before Botswana Judge, Onkemetse Tshosa, saying they had no confidence in his court.
The five soldiers are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Khauhelo Makoae, Lance Corporal Sebilo Sebilo, Privates Tšepo Tlakeli and Thebe Tšepe.
They are accused of murdering Thabang Mosole, Monyane Matsie and Pakiso Ntala Letatabe at Ha Motanyane, Mafeteng in 2012.
Captain Nyakane and his co-accused refused to plead when the charges were read out to them by the Assistant Registrar of the High Court, Advocate Stafford Sharite.
Captain Nyakane was the first to refuse to plead, saying he would not do so because he had “no confidence in the court”.
“I have no confidence in the court. I even told my lawyer, Advocate Lintle Tuke, to tell this to the court on my behalf. But the court denied him the opportunity to say this and that makes me lose confidence in this court even more. I will not plead until this court has afforded my lawyer a hearing,” Captain Nyakane said in a very calm and composed voice.
His defiance set the tone for his co-accused who also refused to plead to the charges when they were read out to each of them.
The soldiers’ determined resistance prompted the prosecutor, Adv Mosoeunyane Masiphole, to tell Justice Tshosa that the soldiers and their lawyers were out to frustrate the court and prevent the trial from proceeding.
“This is the kind of attitude that the defence has displayed since I started prosecuting this case in October last year. They always try at all costs to prevent this trial from proceeding.
“We cannot come to court only to have the matter postponed over and over again. They should not give the court the impression that they do not want justice to be done,” Adv Masiphole said.
Faced with the dogged resistance of the soldiers, Justice Tshosa said he would proceed on the assumption that they had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“In respect of the counts of murder, the court will enter that you are pleading not guilty to the charges. The matter will proceed on 9 to 11 September 2020,” Justice Tshosa ordered.
The soldiers appeared to have been determined to frustrate the court from the onset.
When they made their appearance in court in the morning, their lawyers immediately told Justice Tshosa that their clients were “too weak and unfit” to stand trial because they were not being given enough food in remand prison.
“The accused persons have not been eating properly for a year now. It has been alleged that the government has no money and the inmates’ meals have been greatly compromised. The situation is so bad that in the morning they only get a small amount of soft porridge.
“Their situation worsened about three weeks ago when their families were barred from bringing them food and toiletries. They were told by the correctional services staff that this was being done to protect them from contracting Covid-19,” Captain Nyakane’s lawyer, Adv Tuke, told the court.
The other accused soldiers’ lawyers, Advocates Napo Mafaesa and Kabelo Letuka, echoed similar sentiments.
They asked the court to order the government to provide the detained soldiers with adequate food or allow their families to continue bringing them food. They said if all this failed then they should be released on bail.
Their request was dismissed by Justice Tshosa on the grounds that it was an administrative issue which could be addressed by requesting the Registrar of the High Court, Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai, to liaise with the prison authorities on the matter.
The allegations about the inadequate food were made during the morning session of the court which began at 9.30am until proceedings were adjourned for lunch at midday.
The soldiers continued to frustrate the trial by refusing to plead when proceedings resumed at 2.30pm.
Adv Mafaesa even objected to the reading of the charges, alleging that his client, Private Tšepe, had been illegally detained and the courts had to address the issue before he could plead.
Adv Letuka said he was only standing in for Adv Zwelakhe Mda who represents Lance Corporal Sebilo. He said Adv Mda had not diarised the trial date and had therefore failed to attend the court proceedings. He said Lance Corporal Sebilo would only enter a plea to the charges when Adv Mda was present in court.
Having listened patiently to the soldiers and their lawyers until 4.30pm, Justice Tshosa then postponed the trial to 9 September 2020.