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Crossroads on the rail

NOT AMUSED: Mathangwane residents

Mathangwane farmers fume at BR level crossing closure

Residents of Mathangwane village, some 30km west of Francistown, have accused Botswana Railways (BR) of playing dice with their livelihoods following the parastatal’s decision to close the only level crossing in the village.

According to BR, the level crossing, constructed in 1989, had to be sealed as it posed danger to both train operators and pedestrians.

Outlining the basis for their decision in a statement, BR explained the crossing was built on a curve, which obstructs the train driver’s vision.

In early January, logs were subsequently piled high at the crossing, making it impassable.

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For 63 local farmers whose lands are located on the other side of the track, the move has effectively cut them off from their farms. To access their ‘masimo’, the farmers are now forced to take an 18km detour to Makobo to use the nearest crossing.

It has ultimately turned what was a 10km journey into a 72km round trip.

Voicing their displeasure during a heated meeting at the village’s main kgotla recently, residents told a BR delegation the decision has brought misery to a lot of subsistence farmers in Mathangwane.

Growing increasingly agitated as discussions developed, the fed-up villagers said the extra travelling was proving a huge burden.

“This has crippled us. Most of us were unable to plough this season. Tractor owners, who used to drive at least 10km to reach the farms now have to contend with a return trip of 36km which has become costly,” said Margaret Keakwa.

A solemn Keakwa pleaded with BR to consider temporarily opening the level crossing to allow farm owners to plough.

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Another resident, Keatlaretse Kebarakile wondered why the level crossing was built in the first place if indeed it posses such a danger to the community.

NO SOLUTION: Engineering Director, Shubane

“Is Botswana Railways saying for the past 31 years they’ve been risking our lives?” demanded Kebarakile.

“We’ve been using that crossing for more than three decades and there have never been any accidents. In fact, we know a lot of level crossings in Francistown where people die regularly but there are no plans to close them,” Kebarakile pointed out, further urging BR to find another spot for a new level crossing.

Perhaps more brutal in his assessment was Kgosi Katholo Samuel.

The Headman accused BR of acting in bad faith, noting that when the rail line was constructed, there was a special request for the level crossing which was acceded to.

“Today I’m disappointed that it has been closed. I can only assume that this was done because in the eyes of BR we’re not human enough,” said Samuel, his blunt statement triggering murmurs of agreement in the kgotla.

Samuel urged BR to find a solution where people can co-exist with the rail line without any disturbance to their livelihoods.

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Vainly attempting to soothe the hostile crowd, BR Engineering Director, Boineelo Shubane explained they have rules and regulations on the distance between rail crossings.

“These must be observed as per the agreement we have with the other nations we share the rail line with.

“Level crossings should be 5km apart. What the residents are demanding is impossible as it would be in breach of the set down regulations,” insisted Shubane.

The BR man further said it was important to keep engaging residents to explain why some of their demands are not possible.

“We cannot compromise on safety. We currently don’t have a solution and my hands are tied because of the points raised above,” Shubane reiterated, much to the annoyance of his audience.

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