Contrary to popular belief, the sub judice Tshepang Mabaila was not born with a silver spoon. At least, according to his new book, The Legacy I Failed to Uphold (The Ambuscade of Power…the propaganda lab rat), the 33-year-old ambitious businessman, philanthropist, politician and ex-soldier had a rocky childhood, which was smothered by extreme poverty.
MABAILA’S SOUR UPBRINGING
Mabaila is erroneously deemed to be a scion, or to come from a family that had goods, property and money in abundance. Is it because of the personality he portrays now? Well, he has penned down a sixty-four paged novel, addressing allegations linked to him, from childhood to being in the military and his association with former President Ian Khama as well as a broken bond with President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Born in Serowe, the young man was raised up by a single mother and he had to find his father with time. The absence of his father somehow contributed to the adverse poverty that became friends to the extended family he stayed with. This is a group of people that survived on Tsabana with water. On lucky days, Mabaila will feast on leftovers from the neighbors.
MABAILA JOINS THE MILITARY
The hardship motivated Mabaila to wax resilience. He had to roll sleeves and build his future from a young age. He then landed in the military at the age of 17. The military journey wasn’t something smooth as a smoothie. The lad had to prove why he needed the job, which was typically to improve his livelihood, to at least put something on the table.
He effortlessly nailed the eight-month military training and passed as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) of rank Private. “I had made it and I was the best in drill, shoe polishing and general neatness. It was at this point that I was later posted straight at the headquarters. Military life then started,” says an extract from the novel.
Five years in the military, Mabaila practiced what he was taught at the training which was held in Paje at the time. By working at the headquarters, this meant that he will associate with the bosses. He started being humble, clean, thoughtful, inspirational and hardworking. He commanded irresistible attention from superiors.
This did not sit well with other colleagues of the same rank. He put it on record that this wasn’t on the basis of boot licking but on his value adding engagements.
“I was the BDF ancestors’ dream of a future soldier. And I wasn’t exempted from carrying out military duties. Unfortunately, my lack of understanding of the sober play of association attracted negative energy and too much hatred towards me from certain people within the organization. My relationship with the top brass (Commander Lieutenant-General Masire) presented its dreadful side.”
Mabaila resigned after Masire retired. This was because he was transferred to ground forces in Glen Valley and ordered to travel to Francistown where he tendered a resignation letter.
MABAILA QUITS THE MILITARY, JOINS POLITICS
Fast forward to 2019, Mabaila joined politics under Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), a swimming pool full of shacks. He says he played all his cards right on the surface but was let down by people he trusted as mentors and role models. At this time, perhaps, Mabaila, didn’t know yet that politics is a dirty game. One of the party loyalists then, and probably an inspiration, confessed to Mabaila that he played very well towards his downfall.
“Young man, the reason I requested you to meet up with me it was solely to confess to you on what actually transpired during the primary elections and what led to your defeat. Baila’s I hereby confess that I was the lead guy in staging a conspiracy about you. Madigele and the rest of the people you might have suspected to have staged this, are actually innocent. We are the people that even came up with letters because really, we knew that you were a close associate with SKI and we couldn’t afford any risk of you winning and later defecting with our votes. It is to this effect that we had to conspire against you. I had to say this to you, so that you and I may have peace,” confessed a top BDP member known to this publication.
HIS ASSOCIATION WITH IAN KHAMA
This is when it was revealed that Mabaila had a close association with former President, Ian Khama, something that he says is fallacious. Even though it was a moment of closure for him that the truth has been told, the damage had already been done: he lost the elections drastically and that was the end of his political dream. He later decided to go solo, a move that saw him drown further, losing as an independent candidate again.
“Now it was clear to me that a rug had been pulled under my feet over false accusations and unfounded hawks. At the time of elections, I was not close to SKI as alluded or rather suspected by my fellow party constituency top brass. We had met on occasions with SKI but had not yet established a relationship that would deny one sleep at night. To me he was just a man that I respected and held in high regard for the position he held just like any ordinary Motswana would. These guys had cost me a lot.
FALLOUT WITH PRESIDENT MASISI
He said that his fallout with President Masisi started after fabricated lies he was not in support of the latter. This was because he was linked to Khama, a man who had a fallout with Masisi after handing him the presidency baton.
“I actively took part in politics in 2017 and did well in the primaries. I won against my competitor with a very high margin of about 2000. That is where the mess and dirty tricks began. Due to local constituency politics, the branch wanted their own to win the elections as compared to an outsider that did not grow up in the area.”
Mabaila wrote in this novel that the branch conspired with the crew to stage his downfall. “They all connived to build up a story that I was not in support of President Masisi. Little did they know of the rapport I had built with the President long before anyone was desperate to be his bootlicker. This was the man that launched my Foundation. How could I possibly turn my back on him?
After news spread that Mabaila wants to table a motion of no confidence against Masisi, he was summoned for a disciplinary hearing and slapped with a letter of suspension from the party. “My plea to the disciplinary hearing officer to postpone the hearing pending the attendance of the duo fell on deaf ears and they chose to proceed to charge me. I was suspended over evidence that was submitted by people that never turned up to give testimony and according to procedure, I had to cross examine them but never got that opportunity.”
LETTERS WRITTEN TO VINDICATE MABAILA
According to Mabaila, the duo alluded that they were forced to write letters to vindicate him. “However, they did not tell me who was behind the plot and why it was so. It was really sad. I then became close to SKI who offered support and this was at the time of the formation of the BPF.”
“I was then requested to join the BPF in order to enjoy the privileges of being launched by SKI and I rejected same, which then denied me the opportunity of a pie bite. The mighty had fallen at this point. I was in shock. A great set back and big blow on my hopeful pursuit. I thought I had it in the bag this time around. The devil had his fair share on me again.”
BREAKING THE SILENCE ON KHAMA SAGA
He further said the perception that hovered the corridors that he was a blue-eyed boy for Khama has costed and haunted him in many aspects. “Stories were fabricated about my relationship with the old man which found a fertile spit in the minds of the people. These developed a negative perception in minds of the people while I remained silent and never got to share my side of the story.”
“The longer I remained silent, the more the lies they told ravaged me like cancer in its last stages. This narrative was one of the sabotages I met along my path to becoming. It is about time I open up and tell my own version of the story. Even at the time I pen this down, emotions still get hold of me as it opens up old wounds.”
Mabaila indicated that he had shed tears and countlessly asked God why him? This is because tears have not changed stories in the corridors, he had to come thus far and table it.
“Many people have abused me on the basis of this narrative. I had no special-lap-do kind of treatment from Khama. Some of his close associates brutally hated me. One of them would fabricate baseless stories against me just to see me behind bars with the hope to break me. I have faced humiliating arrests, interrogations and accusations as a result of people’s lies about my relationship with SKI. However, I will not let that change how I’ve always felt about the man. I still respect him very much. Yes, we might differ and ride different ships politically but he remains an elder to me and I was raised to respect my elders.”
The newly elected Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) Executive Committee led by Pastor Reverend Thuso Tiego has declared their disapproval of homosexuality saying it is anti-Christianity and Botswana culture.
Speaking at a Media Briefing this past week, BMD President Tiego said Botswana has been a country that respects culture hence endorsing homosexuality will be catastrophic.
“Our young generation grew up being taught about types of families, if homosexuality is passed, at what age will our children be introduced to homosexuality?” he rhetorically asked.
He continued: “If we are going to allow homosexuality then the next day, another person will come and say he wants to practice bestiality. What are we going to do because we have already allowed for this one (homosexuality) and at the end it will be a total mess.” Bestiality is sexual relations between a human being and an animal
This according to Tiego will give those people an opportunity thus disrupting known Botswana beliefs. He however dismissed any notion that the decision to condemn homosexuality should not be linked to the top two of the committee who are men of cloth. “This is a decision by the whole committee which respects the culture of Botswana and it should not be perceived that because we are clergymen we are influencing them, but even if we do, politics and religion are inter-related.”
Of late the church and the human rights organization have been up in arms because of the high court decision to allow for same sex marriages. Ministries ganged up, petitioned parliament and threatened to vote out any legislator who will support the idea. The ruling party, BDP which was to table the amendment in the constitution, ended up deferring it.
BMD President further revealed that he is aware of what really led to the split of the party and he is on course to transform as they approach 2024 elections.
“There are so many factors that led to split of party amongst others being leadership disputes, personal egos and ambitions, toxic factionalism and ideological difference just to mention a few, but we are transforming the party and I am confident that we will do well in the coming elections.
In addition, Tiego is hopeful that they will take the government as they feel it is time to rebrand Botswana politics and bring in fresh blood of leaders.
He further hinted that they are coming with positive transformation as they eye to better the lives of Batswana.
“When we assume government, we promise to be transparent, free and fair electoral processes and encourage pluralism as way of getting back to our roots of being a democratic country as it seems like the current government has forgotten about that important aspect,” Tiego explained.
Reeling under the increasing barrage of stinging international sanctions, the isolated North Korean regime is reportedly up to its old trickery, this time in a more complicated web of murky operations that have got the authorities of five southern African countries at sixes and sevens as they desperately try to tighten their dragnet around Pyongyang’s spectral network of illicit ivory and rhino horn trade.
It is an intricate network of poaching for elephant tusks and rhino horns that spans Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the main sources of the contraband being Botswana and South Africa.
The syndicate running the illegal trafficking of the poached contraband is suspected to be controlled by two shadowy North Korean government operatives with close links to one Han Tae-song, a disgraced North Korean career diplomat who, while serving as the second secretary at his country’s embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, was expelled in 1992 after he was fingered as the mastermind behind a similar illegal ring that was busted by the country’s authorities.
This disturbing tale of malfeasance by North Korean state actors is as real as it gets.
Recent reports indicate that authorities in the source countries are jointly battling to plug holes created by the shadowy syndicate which allegedly has on its payroll, park rangers, border officials and cross-border truck drivers.
Even more disturbing are allegations that some wildlife officials are conniving in misrepresenting numbers of retrieved rhino horns and ivory from poachers and getting kickbacks for their involvement in the pilfering of ivory and rhino horns from government stockpiles especially in South Africa.
In a shocking and well-orchestrated movie-style heist in South Africa, thieves in June this year made off with 51 rhino horns after breaking into a very secure government stockpile facility of the North West Parks Board (NWPB).
While some suspects from South Africa and Malawi were nabbed in a government sting operation, none of the rhino horns – 14 of which were very large specimens that can fetch serious money on the black market – were recovered.
A report of the heist said the police were lethargic by eight hours in responding to an emergency alert of the robbery which was described by North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone as “… a case of business robbery…”
Thabang Moko, a security analyst in Pretoria says the military precision in the burglary, delays in police response, and failure to recover the stolen rhino horns is dubious. “This development lends credence to suspicions that some government officials could be part of a shadowy syndicate run by foreign buyers of rhino horns and ivory,” Moko says.
It is understood that in light of the rhino horns heist in North West, South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy on 1 August, shared her concerns to her counterparts in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique calling for greater regional cooperation to combat the illegal wildlife trafficking which she believes is being masterminded by the Far East’s buyers of the ill-gotten horns and ivory.
It is believed that foreign kingpins involved in perpetuating the illegal trade are mainly North Koreans vying against Vietnamese and Cambodian buyers in the quest for dominance of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory sourced from southern Africa.
Creecy’s concerns, which she also shared to South Africa’s state-run broadcaster SABC, echoed Moko’s worries that the North West heist may have been an inside job.
According to Creecy, there was a need for the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol)’s greater involvement in joint investigations by affected countries as there were indications of ‘local knowledge’ of the North West job and that syndicates, “Higher up the value chain actually recruit park rangers to the illegal ivory trade network.”
Botswana’s Environment and Tourism Minister Philda Kereng is on national record admitting that poaching was a source of headaches to her government, especially considering that the daring poachers were making successful incursions into secure areas protected by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
This came after poachers gunned down two white rhinos at the BDF-protected Khama Rhino Sanctuary in August 2022 despite Kereng putting the time frame of the killings between October and November 2022.
Kereng hinted at the existence of Asian controlled syndicates and acknowledged that the surge in poaching in Botswana is driven by the “increased demand for rhino horn on the international market” where in Asia rhino horns are believed to be potent in traditional medicines and for their imagined therapeutic properties.
Botswana has in the past recorded an incident of a group of an all-Asian reconnaissance advance team teams being nabbed by the country’s intelligence service in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Masquerading as tourists, the group, with suspected links to North Korea and China, was discovered to be collecting crucial data for poachers.
Also according to reliable information at hand, an undisclosed number of wildlife parks rangers were arrested between September 2022 and January this year, after information surfaced that they connived in the smuggling of rhino horns and ivory from Botswana.
One of the rangers reportedly admitted getting paid to falsify information on recovered horns and ivory which were smuggled out of the country through its vast and porous eastern border with South Africa, and making their way to their final destination in Mozambique via back roads and farmlands in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“We are aware that in the past year, some rhino horns and ivory illegally obtained from Botswana through poaching activities and shady deals by some elements within our wildlife and national parks department, have found their way out of the country and end up in Mozambique’s coastal ports for shipment to the Far East,” a Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) source says.
Independent investigations reveal that two North Korean buyers, one of them only identified as Yi Kang-dae [confirmed to be an intelligence official in the country’s state security apparatus], acting on behalf of the disgraced Han Tae-song, financed the entire operation on two occasions between 2022 and 2023, to move at least 18 rhino horns and 19 elephant tusks from Botswana, including pay-offs – mostly to border patrol and customs officials for safe passage – along the knotty conduit across South Africa’s north western lands, then across south-eastern Zimbabwe into Mozambique.
According to a trusted cross-border transport operator in Zimbabwe, the rhino horns and elephant tusks were illegally handed over to smugglers in Mozambique at an obscure illegal crossing point 15km north of Zimbabwe’s Forbes Border Post in November 2022 and February this year.
The end buyers in Mozambique? “It is quite an embarrassment for us, but we have solid evidence that two North Korean buyers, one of them who is linked to a former notorious diplomat from that country who has been in the past involved in such illegal activities in Zimbabwe, oversaw the loading of rhino horns and ivory onto a China-bound ship from one of our ports,” a top government source in Maputo said before declining to divulge more information citing ongoing investigations.
Yi Kang-dae and his accomplice’s whereabouts are presently unclear to Mozambican authorities whose dragnet reportedly recently netted some key actors of the network. Han Tae-song currently serves as North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Switzerland.
North Korean diplomats have in the past used Mozambique as a final transit point for the shipment of rhino horns to the Far East.
In May 2015, Mozambican authorities nabbed two North Koreans, one of them a Pretoria-based diplomat and political counsellor identified as Pak Chol-jun after they were caught in possession of 4.5kg of rhino horn pieces and US$100,000 cash.
Pak’s accomplice, Kim Jong-su, a Taekwondo instructor also based in South Africa, was fingered as a North Korean spy and returned to North Korea under suspicious circumstances on the heels of Pak’s expulsion from South Africa in November 2016.
A security source in Zimbabwe closely following current developments says there is a big chance that Han Tae-song may have revived the old smuggling network he ran while posted in Zimbabwe in the 90s.
“The biting international sanctions against North Korea in the past decade may have prompted Han to reawaken his network which has been dormant for some time,” the source says. “There is no telling if the shady network is dead now given that Han’s two front men have not been nabbed in Mozambique. More joint vigilance is needed to destroy the operation at the source and at the end of the line.”
North Korean diplomats have, as early as October 1976, been fingered for engaging in illegal activities ranging from possession of and trade in ivory pieces, trade in diamonds and gold, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit currencies, pharmaceuticals, and the sale on the black market, of a paraphernalia of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other trinkets on the back of protracted and biting international sanctions against the reclusive state for its gross human rights abuses against its own people and flagrant nuclear tests.
These illegal activities, according to a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, have raked in at least US$500m annually for the Pyongyang regime. Other global studies estimate that North Korea’s illegal earnings from the black market are around $1bn annually, and are being channelled towards the country’s nuclear weapons programme, while ordinary North Koreans continue to die of mass starvation.
In February 2014, Botswana, citing systematic human rights violations, severed ties with North Korea with the former’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi (then vice president) calling North Korea an ‘evil nation’ on 23 September 2016, at a United Nations General Assembly forum in Washington, USA.
Botswana has close to 132,000 elephants, more than any of its four neighbouring countries, namely Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to a 2022 Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) Elephant Survey.
The rhino population in Botswana has significantly dwindled, with poaching a leading cause of the decimation of the country’s rhinos. Despite dehorning and relocating its diminishing rhino population from the extensive Okavango Delta to undisclosed sanctuaries, Botswana has since 2018, lost 138 rhinos to poachers.
The sharp spike in rhino poaching in Botswana came after the country’s government made a controversial decision to disarm park rangers in early 2018.
In a statement delivered in November 2022 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP-19 in Panama, the Botswana government instead blamed the surge in poaching to a shift of foreign-sponsored organised poaching organisations from South Africa to Botswana.
“This increase in rhino poaching in Botswana coincided with a decline of rhino poaching in South Africa from 2018 to 2020, suggesting a displacement of the poaching syndicates from South Africa to Botswana,” the statement reads. “The recent decline in rhino poaching in Botswana (2021 and 2022, relative to 2020) coincides with the increase in rhino poaching in Namibia and South Africa, further suggesting displacement of the poaching syndicates across the sub-region.”
According to the Botswana government, as of 13 November 2022 the country has secreted its shrinking rhinos (only 285 white rhinos and 23 black rhinos) in undisclosed locations within the country’s borders.
South Africa has close to 15,000 rhinos. Between January and June 2022 alone, poachers killed 260 rhinos in South Africa for their horns. The country is home to the majority of Africa’s white rhinos, a species whose existence remains under threat of extinction due to poaching.
The major threat posed by foreign state actors including those from North Korea, to southern Africa’s rhino and elephant population remains grim as the bulk of the rhino horns and elephant tusks reportedly continue finding their way to the Far East, where China is being used as the major distribution centre.
Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama has said he is disappointed by the remarks directed to him by Botswana Congress Party (BCP) President Dumelang Saleshando, but he will just wait and see how far he wants to go with his remarks before he decides whether and how his response should be.