Thursday, April 25, 2013

Deadly Harvest

Next week (April 30th) sees the release of the new Detective Kubu mystery DEADLY HARVEST.  Naturally we wanted to tell you about it, but we decided to let Kubu himself talk about it instead.  

We were in Botswana at the beginning of the month so we lured him away from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Botswana police by offering him lunch at one of his favorite restaurants – the Caravela, a great Portuguese restaurant in Gaborone with an interesting background.  (We reported on it in an earlier blog.)

Once we had settled down and Kubu had regretfully passed on the wine because he was on duty, we chatted.  Of course we are old friends so we used his nickname “Kubu”, which means hippopotamus in the Setswana language.  Kubu doesn’t mind.  It is part of his persona and has been with him since his school days at the Maru a Pula school.

Michael asked him about being a detective in Botswana.

Kubu laughed.  “I thought you’d want to talk about food and recipes!  You know there’s a cook book out now as an e-book with my favorite African dishes?  Sometimes I think I’m better known as a gourmet than a detective.  But don’t ask me to be the cook!  By the way shall we order?  Joy says I should have a salad for lunch.  It’s part of my diet.  So I’ll start with the avocado salad.  It’s excellent.  Then I’ll have the peri-peri whole chicken.  I really recommend that.  We can wait till after the main course before we order the desserts.”

While we were wondering about the salad ‘diet’ and whether we’d brought enough pula to pay for all these courses, Kubu returned to the subject of police work.

“Michael, you have to understand that Botswana is a very big country.  The size of France.  Less than two million people though.  We have about twenty main police centers, but they all have a lot of area to cover and lots of places for criminals to hide.  And the countryside is very diverse.  We’ve got the huge Kalahari desert with very low population – mainly Bushmen.  There’s the lush northern area along the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, with all that spectacular wildlife.  But, at Kazangula, Botswana has a joint border with three other countries – Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia.  Think of the smuggling possibilities that offers.  Then there are the cities like Gaborone and Francistown, nothing like Johannesburg, but they have their share of crime.”

We’re very interested in the situation with the Bushman peoples of Botswana, so Stan asked about it.  Kubu sighed.

“It’s such a difficult issue.  Some of the Bushmen want to live a nomadic life in the Kalahari like their ancestors, but most want the comforts of modern life, education for their children, health care, and so on.  The government is bound by the constitution to supply those things, but they can’t do it if people are in a different place every day.  One needs a consensus from the people involved – particularly the Bushmen - as to how to move forward, and that didn’t happen.  It ended up in the High Court, and Judge Unity Dow gave a judgment in the Bushmen’s favor.  But it will take time for the Bushmen to find their role in modern Botswana.”

Courtyard at the Caravela. Photo: J Everitt
We really wanted to know about muti murders: people – especially children – being murdered so that witch doctors can use their body parts for black magic.  It’s a scary practice becoming more, rather than less, prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, and it provides the backstory of DEADLY HARVEST.  Michael asked Kubu how these cases were handled in Botswana.

Witch Doctor
Photo courtesy A Zaloumis
He hesitated, then said: “You must understand that most witch doctors do good.  They have a variety of herbal remedies, usually supplied with a dash of good advice or a prayer.  My father is a herbalist, although recently…  Well, that’s another story.  Now a few witch doctors might add animal parts – like the heart of a lion to give the client strength.  But a very few – reputed to be the most powerful – use human body parts.  Children are abducted.  It’s horrible.  And the culprits are very hard to find because the victims aren’t related in any way to their abductors.  Worse, everyone is too scared of the witch doctors to give information.  Even some policemen are nervous.  Not me, of course.”

Shangaan fetishes Photo courtesy Alex Zaloumis
We said we found it hard to credit that modern educated people still believed in these types of potions, but Kubu shook his head.  “It’s supposed to give the evil witch doctors tremendous power, shape changing, invisibility.  The witch doctor I had to deal with in the Deadly Harvest case was thought to be invisible. As you can imagine, it was a very hard case to solve.  Fortunately the CID has a new detective – a woman believe it or not – who really pushed us to make progress.  We got to the bottom of it all together.”  He paused.  “These cases really shake things up.  There is the infamous case of a young girl, Segametsi Mogomotsi, which occurred in Mochudi in 1994.  She and her friend were selling oranges and became separated.  Segametsi disappeared and her mutilated body was found weeks later.  Segametsi’s murder caused the community to come out in violent protests because they believed the police were protecting the witch doctors’ powerful clients.  One person was shot and killed by a policeman.  The government eventually felt it necessary to conduct an independent enquiry, so it called in Scotland Yard from the United Kingdom.”
From The Star newspaper. Courtesy Alex Zaloumis
We nodded.  We had heard about that awful case at our first meeting with the previous director of the CID, Tabathu Mulale.  The Scotland Yard report was never released and the case remains unsolved.  To lighten the rather somber mood, Stan asked: “Have you ever met Precious Ramotswe?  You’re sort of in the same line of work.”

Kubu laughed.  “No, not really.  She’s that lady private investigator?  She solves people’s problems, but I’m after murderers.  She’s very resourceful, but our cases don’t overlap much.  Maybe I’ll bump into her one day.”

At that point the food arrived, and that was all we could get out of Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu.


  1. It will be good to have the big fellow back,
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. It hit me as I was reading your interview with "the Man." You, Michael Stanley, are the the Tony Hillerman of South Africa...and far from Precious!

  3. Thanks, Peter and Jeff! Flattery will get you everywhere!

    Hope you'll be at Crimefest, Peter. Will be great to catch up. Jeff will be there too.

  4. Yes I'd seen both your names on the list, and I will be at Crimefest. And Kubu could kick Precious' ass, though he'd be too much the gentleman to do so.

  5. Great! Looking forward to it! (Seeing you both at Crimefest, that is.)