THE trial of 10 soldiers accused of murdering three civilians in 2017 failed to take off on Monday due to the High Court’s information technology (IT) department’s failure to produce a transcript of some records relating to the case. It was then postponed to 28 September 2020 to allow the IT department time to finish transcribing the audio recording.
The 10 soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.
They allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after their release from police custody where they had been detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred three days earlier at the Maseru border.
They then dumped the bodies of their victims in the Mohale Dam.
Botswana judge Onkemetse Tshosa originally postponed the case in August this year to allow the defence and prosecution to be furnished with witness statements pertaining to the discovery of the victims’ bodies in 2017.
But the trial could not proceed as planned on Monday after the Crown Counsel, Advocate Naki Nku, told the court that she had just been told by the court’s IT office that the process of transcribing the witness statements was far from complete.
“I have just learned that the transcribing process is far from over as only two of the numerous witness statements have been transcribed so far,” Adv Nku told the court.
“Though we wanted to proceed today, we cannot do so without those statements because we need evidence from the witnesses,” she added.
One of the defence lawyers, Qhalehang Letsika concurred, saying their clients needed the records to adequately prepare their defence. He said they were unhappy with the delays in trying the suspects.
“The system (IT) is not effective as one would have expected.
“That information is vital to the accused who cannot adequately prepare their defence without that evidence.
“Essential documents must be availed to the accused. These frequent postponements of the case are expensive to the accused who are extremely frustrated right now. It is one mishap after another,” Mr Letsika said.
Justice Tshosa also weighed in on the issue, saying he could not understand why it was taking so long to transcribe the witness statements.
“How come only two witness statements have been transcribed so far? Anybody facing a charge needs to know his fate. We cannot operate like this,” said Justice Tshosa.
He then ordered the assistant registrar of the High Court, Adv Stafford Sharite, to be called in to explain the delay in producing the witness statements.
Adv Sharite said the recording of the witness statements was only found three weeks ago after he personally went to the IT office to inquire about it.
He said transcribing only began a fortnight ago and asked for another two weeks to enable the process to be completed. He promised to mobilise more transcribers to assist in converting the audio recording into a word document.
Justice Tshosa then postponed proceedings to 28 September 2020.
This is not the first time a case has been postponed over missing court records.
A similar incident occurred on 10 August 2020 in another case where four police officers are accused of murdering their colleague Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016.
The four police officers are Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu, Superintendent Mothibeli Mofolo, Inspector Mabitle Matona and PC Haleokoe Taasoane.
Their trial failed to proceed after the High Court’s IT department failed to produce a recording of the investigations diary of the murder case which had been requested by the defence.
Their trial was then postponed to 18 September 2020 after they had appeared before Zimbabwean Judge Charles Hungwe on 10 September 2020.