Late at night last week Tuesday, Parks Tafa, Managing Partner at Collins Newman & Co, wrote an sms to the editor of this publication warning that the paper had made its “biggest mistake” and was going to be “punished heavily” as a result of theextensive coverage of the law firm’s recent troubles with the law. The threat of punishment against a journalist for publishing what is otherwise contained in public documents – court records – must have been uncharacteristic of the man who until recently was known as Khama’s right hand man when it came to providinglegal advice. Before Tafa found himself cell phone in hand, near midnight, having to draft an angry rant at a journalist, the lanky lawyer was a power broker.
Collins Newman and Co, arguably the country’s biggest corporate law firm has seen better days, and has been in better shape. Before the judgment of the High Court and firm’s fall from grace and descent into the current hard times after a ruling that accused it of wrongdoing and attempted manipulation of the judicial process, it was formidable indeed.
Standing at the meeting point of political power with its inherent inside knowledge of top decision-making processes and corporate legal expertise and advice developed over long years of access to the kind of corporate deals derived from that type of experience, Tafa, Rizwan Desai and then partner Laurence Khupe had a power some lawyers could only salivate at.
This power may have been in full view but it was never in fuller perspective than during the height of the Louis Nchindo corruption case. State prosecutors found themselves in the unenviable position of tussling with a man who stood in court between political access and legal expertise. Prosecutors Matshwenyego Phuthego and Kgosiitsile Ngakaagae had to seek cooperation from former Cabinet ministers in the Festus Mogae administration, diamond magnate Nicky Oppenheimer and even Khama himself. Without the cooperation and assistance of these heavyweights the case against Nchindo would have gone to nought. The state prosecutors found themselves in a tight corner they could not wriggle out of – Collins Newman, who was also Nchindo’s lawyer, was also the legal eagle for Khama and some of the Cabinet ministers. Prosecutors in the meantime had to confine their moves to official channels. It was increasingly becoming clear, almost embarrassingly obvious, that the prosecutors were not getting any traction.
In that court session Tafa revealed that Khama had maintained that the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) had never solicited any statement from him, criticising it for failing to get such from key witnesses among them the President, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Phandu Skelemani, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Dikgakgamatso Seretse and former minister, Daniel Kwelagobe.
And then came the clincher when Tafa revealed to the court that he had the benefit of an interview with Khama and others who had stated that the DPP never approached them. It was a revelation with damaging implications for the nascent case against Nchindo, and whether consciously or not, had the effect of showing to the court who had the ear of the political leadership and access to the state hierarchy.
“I can take an oath. They have not spoken to His Excellency,” stated Tafa during the court proceedings.
For good measure, he added that while the prosecution was struggling to get access to the highest office and Cabinet, the defence led by him had managed to get affidavits of its own from none other than Khama for a related civil case. He said that the DPP had failed to get a statement from Skelemani, adding that he had even deposed an affidavit for the defence in a civil application before court in which the DPP wanted to halt development on the plot at the centre of the case.
“I have spoken to these people and they have indicated that they were never approached for statements,” Tafa submitted, referring to Khama, the late (Mompati) Merafhe, Seretse and Skelemani. Tafa said this on May 27, 2009, according to Mmegi newspaper, s he continued to castigate the prosecution for failing to get into contact with key witnesses and former members of Mogae’s cabinet.
It was becoming clear that the statements were not forthcoming. After all Tafa knew his clients well. It wouldn’t have made sense for them, at a personal level, to assist prosecution against the interests of a man who was their lawyer, and his client, Nchindo, who was also until then perceived to be a kingmaker within the political elite. Tafa told court that the prosecution would not succeed in it attempts, and it did not succeed. He dared the prosecution to subpoena the group. It could not, for fear of finding itself saddled with hostile witnesses. Ultimately the prosecutors had no option but to proceed with the case by turning accused into state witnesses.
In that moment of muscle-flexing Tafa showed what type of man he was in the political landscape of this country. The access he commanded, the inside knowledge of the workings of the top political leadership, and in some way, how his strategic use of this deadly combination of assets could come in handy for any client that may need his premium service.
A hard worker and legal thinker of note, Tafa combined pure ability with strategic positioning within the social, political and economic space to create a law firm that provided much more than just legal service as the sun set on the Mogae presidency.Therefore, by default, Tafa became the face of the incoming presidency whenever in court, which was often, with all its power and swashbuckling ways.
The face of the presidency at legal war, also became the face of the presidency in legal defeat, and social, political mire.
The rise of Khama brought with it the rise of another man – Isaac Kgosi. Directorate of Intelligence and Security Director General Kgosi was more than top of the Khama kitchen cabinet, he was known as the right hand man to the new top man.
But the top man and Kgosi came from way back and their story would become more intertwined as the Khama presidency rolled on.
In 2008, when Khama was sworn in as Mogae’s successor, he promoted his private secretary Kgosi, a faithful friend from their army days, for whom he had especially created the secretarial post, to now head the newly established Directorate for Intelligence and Security (DIS).
Establishing a powerful DIS in that same year had also been Khama-driven. The law that established it, forcefully supported by the then Vice President Merafhe, gave its agents firearms as well as wide-ranging arrest and detention powers. It soon became notorious for using these powers to suppress opposition. In 2009, striking students were abducted, threatened and intimidated; 12 “suspects” were shot in broad daylight and with impunity, according to a ministerial answer to a Parliamentary question.
Subsequent extrajudicial killings were not so much about social protest, but seemed to centre more on corruption, scandal and extortion around Khama and his circle of close friends and relatives. Still in 2009, Gaborone resident John Kalafatis was shot in broad daylight and in public on the streets of Gaborone; it was alleged that he had tried to blackmail “high profile” individuals with an incriminating video tape.
The DIS which was not fully operational at the time but security agents implicated in the killing were linked to the core that later formed the DIS. The DIS became so omnipresent in the fear-ridden state of the times that when Nchindo was found dead in 2010, some people expressed suspicions that the security agents around the top leadership had something to do with it.
Nchindo had allegedly threatened to blow the whistle on a diamond-funding scandal from which the ruling party had benefited.
In February 2012, the bullet riddled body of IT company owner and DIS contractor Harry Tembo was found under a bridge bordering the upmarket suburb of Phakalane in the north of Gaborone. Tembo had been a personal acquaintance of some individuals at the highest level of the secret service. In 2011, he had turned chief witness in an enquiry by the state anti-corruption agency DCEC (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime) into Kgosi’s business dealings.
Among the subject of these enquiries were DIS tenders totalling close to US$6 six million which had been awarded to four companies owned by Kgosi and two of his associates. The associates had also obtained contracts to build Khama’s controversial home in Mosu, which was built with the help of army manpower.
Kgosi is director of Silver Shadows, a company that provides private security for state diamond mining company Debswana.
After a while Kgosi was discussed in hushed tones; seen as a man who represented Khama’s power and the unbounded ability and willingness to use it with deathly consequences if need be. Also in 2014, -the election year that renewed Khama’s mandate, the DIS prepared “sedition” charges against – and briefly jailed – Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone. The newspaper had investigated corruption in the security establishment in the run-up to the elections. DIS was also suspected to have hacked the website of the investigative weekly Mmegi and jammed the popular Gabz FM radio station, which was hosting political debates before the elections. At the same time the media reported extensively on Kgosi’s financial dealings, raising questions on the use of official position for personal gain. There were calls to prosecute Kgosi, but the case never saw the light of day.
Kgosi has been keeping a low profile in recent times, not as publicly seen as he used to be in the early years of the Khama presidency.
Both Kgosi and Tafa have been criticised widely for their roles in the Khama presidency. In recent times Tafa has been blasted for his role in the cases against Khama, in which the latter lost such as the infamous “Hands Up” case. Kgosi’s influence is blamed for having driven the Khama leadership to aloofness and an obsession with security solutions for public challenges. At the same time, the aura that used to accompany Khama and his leadership has dissipated, as the last general election results have shown. Some within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party even perceive him, and indeed those around him, as impediments to reviving the party’s standing in public. It is as if, as the end of the Khama reign comes to an end, the two main men around him also face a decline in public standing.
Initially published: April 2016