innocent in cell from hell

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Tiro Ramatlhatse

153 12-06-2012 South African Poloko Bafedile (24) who was arrested after illegally jumping border fences into relates his sad story of being kept in a Botswana prison and constantly thinking of being sentenced to death only to be released after seven months and cleared of double murder charges. Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

POLOKO TAU

poloko.tau@inl.co.za

AS HE lay in a cramped prison cell, he could not help but think of the noose that awaited him if he was found guilty of murder by a Botswana court.

Thoughts of the execution of South African Marietta Bosch 11 years ago haunted him for the seven months that he was incarcerated.

Poloko Bafedile, 24, and fellow South African Muthusi Mmeko, 23, as well as Botswana resident Tumelo Masilo, 30, spent almost seven months in “detestable living conditions” at Lobatse prison awaiting their fate last year.

They were arrested in March last year for the 2009 murder of an elderly couple, Ratlou and Mmakatlholo Sechele, in Phitsane Molopo village situated along the southern perimeter of Botswana bordering SA.

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112 12-06-2012 South African Poloko Bafedile (24) who was arrested after illegally jumping border fences into relates his sad story of being kept in a Botswana prison and constantly thinking of being sentenced to death only to be released after seven months and cleared of double murder charges. Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

Tiro Ramatlhatse

Bafedile’s village, Makgobistad, is adjacent to Phitsane Molopo, but falls within SA’s borders. The villages are separated by a wobbly fence which residents use to cross into Botswana and back.

Bafedile had on the day of the couple’s killing slithered through the fence into Phitsane Molopo.

“Botswana police came to my house and took my sneakers with them, because they had mud on them I got when I crossed the river into Botswana,” Bafedile said. The shoes were later returned and he thought he had been cleared.

Two years after that, in March last year, Bafedile again illegally crossed the border into Phitsane Molopo. He was arrested and, together with Mmeko and Masilo, charged with the double murder and “entering Botswana through an ungazetted point of entry”.

He said he was still haunted by the memory of being stripped naked by two female police officers, who constantly beat him and reminded him that murderers were hanged in Botswana.

He said that the shocking prison conditions “made me believe that indeed this was how people in line for execution were kept”.

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090 12-06-2012 A letter of release to South African Poloko Bafedile (24) who was arrested after illegally jumping border fences into relates his sad story of being kept in a Botswana prison and constantly thinking of being sentenced to death only to be released after seven months and cleared of double murder charges. Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

Tiro Ramatlhatse

“About 20 of us with no shoes on were crammed into a cell that could accommodate no more than seven people. We slept on the floor packed like sardines with no space at all to turn around or bend our knees,” Bafedile said.

“Blankets were dirty and infested with dust mites. We were fed half-cooked cabbage, samp and badly prepared meat.”

Bafedile said that every two weeks he and the other two suspects were taken to the court at Kanye where they attended hearings “in the chambers and not the actual court”.

And then, “after months of imprisonment in degrading living conditions we were called and given a letter from the director of prosecutions ordering the discontinuation of any criminal processes against us.

“No apology was issued and I wish I could make them pay for my suffering and humiliation,” Bafedile said.

“I only felt relieved after I walked through the border control into South Africa leaving behind my misery. My family was also extremely relieved that I was free and faced no possible execution.”

Bafedile said his story was one of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“We’re neighbouring Botswana villages and, like everyone in my community, I jump the fence into Botswana for many reasons. Whenever there’s a crime in Botswana, South Africans are the first suspects,” he said.

“I am innocent, and for months they could not get any evidence to link us to the crime, but the stigma that I have killed people and the prison conditions have also affected me in that I feel worthless at times.

“I am not sure if I will ever want to set foot in Botswana again, but I know that fellow villagers will continue crossing through the fences and can only think of who will next have false accusations pinned against them.”


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