Living in fear

Francinah Baaitse Mmana
UPSET: Ditshiping residents

OKMCT Residents accuse BDF of brutality

Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT) has accused armed soldiers of terrorising people in the area, with a recent skirmish almost ending in death.

The Trust’s General Manager (GM), Seikaneng Moepedi reported his concerns to a Parliamentary committee on Tourism, Natural Resources, and Climate Change during a consultative visit to Maun last Thursday.

“We’ve had several issues with anti-poaching soldiers who have been harassing our community members. They have harassed staff at our Gomoti camp. About two weeks ago, one of the staff members was harassed by soldiers,” Moepedi told the committee during the open meeting.

Living in fear

The GM was referencing an incident in which an armed soldier allegedly stormed into Gomoti Safari Camp, pointed a gun at staff members, and threatened to shoot them. Although no one was physically harmed during the altercation, the staff members were severely shaken by the episode.

In another incident that occurred on 27 June and has since been reported to Maun Police, four employees of Machaba safaris claim to have been tortured by soldiers just outside Ditshiping settlement.

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The men were allegedly beaten up after they were found with a cooler box full of fish, which they insist they intended to share amongst themselves. However, it seems the soldiers were convinced the quartet had been poaching and are said to have settled the matter with their fists.

“As I speak there is a case of another young man who was beaten up by the soldiers. They brutally assaulted him, handcuffed him, and inflicted all sorts of brutalities on him!” continued Moepedi, in reference to the incident.

29-year-old Maithoko Nyame is said to have fainted during the ordeal, only regaining consciousness at Letsholathebe Referral Hospital, where he was temporarily hospitalised and treated for his injuries.

Living in fear

With numerous similar complaints emerging from NG 32 residents against Botswana Defence Force (BDF) personal, Moepedi called on government, and especially the BDF, to ensure soldiers posted to the area undergo an orientation first.

“So that they can understand and appreciate the communities living along the Okavango Delta and their lifestyles. It looks like security agents who are brought into NG32 to guard and protect it, to protect rhinos, are clueless about this concession and its inhabitants. This is a concession given to six settlements, but when they get there, they confuse it with Mombo and Moremi Game Reserve,” said Moepedi.

The OKMCT man feels the soldiers do not know the boundaries of the areas they are supposed to be protecting.

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“They are saying people are not supposed to live freely in these areas and they are habitually harassing them, they do as they please with them. Every three months or so, a new batch of soldiers comes in, so let them know and be orientated to understand that there is an area called NG 32 that people live within. It’s a community concession where people catch fish for subsistence, they cut grass to thatch their huts, they cut poles and reeds to mend their homes and other useful natural resources.”

Moepedi’s declaration comes roughly two weeks after Ditshiping residents requested an audience with BDF through the North West District Commissioner’s office regarding the same complaints. The residents maintain that the soldiers who are supposed to be protecting them are abusive and ‘sowing fear’.

NG32 is one of 18 concessions in the country given to communities in remote areas by the Botswana government. 14 of these are in the northwest district and are run by community trusts. Most of the settlements in these areas are ungazzeted.

NG32 is within the red zone wildlife protection area and is policed by BDF. This, according to Regional Wildlife Director in Maun, is because the area is a target of armed poachers and thus can only be managed by armed forces such as the BDF.

Responding to harassment and brutality allegations, BDF’s Public Relations Officer, Colonel Dikole told Okavango Voice simply, “The BDF is not in the habit of responding to unsubstantiated allegations raised by media houses.”

Dikole further noted that if any member of the public claims to have been beaten or harassed, “They must report their supposed grievances to relevant investigating agencies where such allegations will be fully investigated.”

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