A student at the University of Botswana is demanding legal action following an alleged sexual violation and humiliation by police officers in Gaborone that left her feeling “powerless.”
Having been apprehended on the school campus and taken into custody at the Central Police Station in the nation’s capital, Kesaobaka Kemotlhale’s unnerving account of the treatment she said she received at the station made national news earlier this month.
“I realized I forgot my medication. I went to the security officers by the main gate to seek permission but instead of helping me they called me derogatory names” recounted the second year special education and science student who identifies as transgender.
After she received permission to access her dormitory, charging documents indicate Kemotlhale was taken into custody under allegations of stealing “a blue overall suit valued at P200 ($20) being the property of the University of Botswana.”
The campus had been evacuated by Botswana Police Services at the time due to violent student actions against security services, which were aggravated by a dispute over living allowances provided by the Botswana government.
While being processed at the police station, Kemotlhale says the female officer preparing the paperwork “referred to me as ‘she’ without even asking.” She further alleges that when she was due to be taken to a holding cell, some male officers who “couldn’t believe” her gender identity as attested to by their counterpart took her into the restroom where they proceeded to forcibly strip and grope her.
“I just stood there while they touched and violated me, and there was nothing I can do.” she said. Following this, “the officers confirmed that I was a ‘she’ and can be taken to the female cell.”
As a result of being restricted from taking her medication while in police custody, Kemotlhale reportedly fainted and was hospitalized upon her release.
Her lawyer, Kago Mokotedi, on Feb. 13 appeared in court with her and a fellow student facing the allegations of stealing with her after they had been granted a collective bail of P1000 ($96.44).
Mokotedi has said the matter of the sexual harassment is a “human rights issue” and will be dealt with as such with him seeking to enlist the assistance of local human rights organizations such as Ditshwanelo. Central Police Station Cmdr. Vincent Pitsietsile too disclosed that an internal investigation will be conducted by an officer from a separate station in order to maintain impartiality and transparency — though he could not offer more details as the case is still ongoing.
Trans persons have no explicit legal protections in Botswana, with the exception of the Employment Act that prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Kemotlhale’s case will, perhaps, garner more national attention as she is an outspoken advocate for trans visibility through her work as a model, designer and actress. She is currently featuring on “Ntwakgolo”, a locally produced TV drama that is broadcast internationally.
In response to comments on the Facebook post which publicized her story, Kemotlhale not only stood up to those who continue to ridicule her and other openly trans people in Botswana, but consoled her supporters in saying, “I’m not going to throw a pity party. I have to focus on my future, career and solutions.” She is poised to join the ranks of Ricki Kgositau and Skipper Mogami as an outspoken advocate for trans rights, visibility and education in Botswana.