Thursday, September 15, 2022

Murder Most Foul

Michael - Thursday

While we were writing our first book, A Carrion Death, we managed to spend an afternoon with the then director of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department in Gaborone. We had a great time and I think he enjoyed our interest in his country and his department. At one point he asked us what our book was about, and we described it to him. He nodded and made a few comments, and then told us what he thought we should be writing about, describing the brutal abduction and murder of a young girl, Segametsi Mogomotsi in 1994. Parts of her body were used for muti – potions for black magic. He finished with the statement that following angry riots motivated by the lack of resolution of the case, the Botswana government had called in Scotland Yard to review the local police’s investigation. The UK team had reported to the government, but that report was never released to the public. The girl’s stepfather was arrested at one point and confessed to some involvement, but later withdrew his confession, which he said was coerced. When the director told us the story, no one had been convicted of the murder. That’s still the case twenty years later.

The story of Segametsi stuck in our minds, but we wrote three books before we thought about basing something on that case. We were ambivalent. In the first place, basing a novel, even loosely, on a real case can be hurtful to people involved. However, twenty years had passed, and the furor caused by the case in Botswana had died away. Secondly, a book about the ritual murder and dismemberment of children was much darker than our previous books, and finally, did we even want to deal with a subject that might well upset some of our readers?

Muti murders weren’t new in fiction. It had already been addressed by Unity Dow, a campaigner for women’s rights in Botswana, a high court judge, and subsequently minister of education, who also wrote fiction (and other works). Her book The Screaming of the Innocent is an excellent, if deeply disturbing, novel.

In the end, we wrote Deadly Harvest as sensitively as we could, trying to explore the factors that led to the beliefs as well as the motives and the impact on the families. Belief in black magic and its trappings is a horrific feature of much of sub-Saharan Africa—yes, even the Africa of skyscrapers and modern economies and technology. The belief hasn’t gone away, and these cases are hard for the police. They remain reticent to take on witch doctors and the rich and powerful people who employ them, and it's hard to trace the connection between the victim and the murderers. But technology has moved on.

Lobatse in southern Botswana

Six year old Tlotso Karema disappeared from his home in Lobatse this March. When his remains were discovered recently, forensic pathology confirmed them using DNA, and established that certain body parts were missing. The police assessed the case as a ritual murder and addressed it in that context. Here is an extract from Botswana news site The Voice:

“A distressing and dramatic three months after Karema’s disappearance, the boy’ stepfather, Lovemore Sithole has been arrested and detained in connection with his kidnapping. Sithole, a 37-year old father of three has allegedly confessed to the police that he sold Tlotso for P200 000" (about US$15,000).

‘Those bones discovered two weeks ago belonged to Tlotso. Some members of his family are implicated in his kidnapping. Some prominent figures too, but it’s too early to reveal names,’ a source close to the family has alleged."

According to a neighbor, what led to Sithole’s arrest was a discussion between Sithole and a possible partner in crime that the boy’s mother overheard when Sithole was in the (outdoor) toilet.

‘Kesego followed him to the toilet and overheard Sithole talking to someone on the other end about Tlotso. When she confronted him, he grabbed her phone and threw it, together with his in the toilet because she had claimed to have recorded the entire conversation on her phone,' said the neighbour.”

Arrest of Lovemore Sithole

The police were left with the job of dredging the toilet.

The Botswana Police Service had little comment, but Kgosi Ngakaayagae (described as a “celebrity lawyer”) summed it up rather clearly:

“The ultimate beneficiary of a ritual murder is usually some privileged guy removed from the scene. … The principal criminals in ritual murders are usually; some Chief, some Politician, some businessman, some traditional doctor who prescribes the evil, some sick person who has been told by a traditional doctor they 'need' a human sacrifice to heal,” he explained. “Their DNA is never at the scene of crime. It’s the runners (catchers, if you will), that get arrested and that ultimately hang...

“My point is that the big criminals, including the traditional doctors who prescribe (muti) always get away, with murder. The small guy pays for them all, with his life. So, Lovemore's guilt (if true), would only be 10% of the puzzle. He’d at best be a lead. The crime would be far from solved. I trust the police to do a thorough, job.”

Well, perhaps they did. Last month the Member of Parliament for Lobatse, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, was arrested and held in connection with the murder. Was he then Kgosi Ngakaayagae’s “ultimate beneficiary”? How had they traced him? Through the sodden cell phones?

Arrest of Dr Matsheka

Despite Kgosi Ngakaayagae’s description, Matsheka seems an unlikely "ultimate beneficiary". He has a successful financial consulting business. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Kent and an MPhil from the University of Glasgow. He has a safe seat in Lobatse for the government and was minister of finance until recently.

But “recently” was when he challenged the party hierarchy and President Masisi at a political level and was suddenly replaced. So was he the “ultimate beneficiary” of a horrible muti murder, or could it be that powerful political opponents have spotted a way to neatly settle a few scores?


Saturday 17, 1:00 pm 

Nokomis Library event

5100 S 34th Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55417 Phone: 612-543-6800


Wednesday 21, 6:00 pm 

Thomas St. Angelo Public Library of Cumberland event

1305 2nd Ave, Cumberland, WI 54829. Phone: 715-822-2767


Thursday 22, 6:30 pm 

Spooner Library event

421 High St, Spooner, WI 54801 Phone. 715-635-2792


Saturday 24, 1200

The Bookstore at Fitger’s

600 East Superior Street, Duluth MN 55802

Tuesday, 27, 6:00 pm (In person and virtual)

Official launch of A Deadly Covenant at Once Upon A Crime

604 W. 26th Street, MinneapolisMN 5540 Phone: 612.870.3785 


With Mary Ann Grossman


  1. This is both totally believable, while being also unbelievable. I guess it all depends on the depth of the belief and what the person believes in.

  2. Exactly. And, of course, as someone said, "of course I don't believe in it, but it is true..."