Invisible weapon at centre of BDF’s Chobe River killings inquest
A key piece of evidence is missing in the ongoing inquest on the shooting of three suspected poachers by the Botswana Defence Force Anti-poaching unit in November last year.
A gun suspected to have been used to open fire at the advancing BDF unit by the slain suspected poachers is nowhere to be found.
On 5th November 2020, three Namibian brothers Tommy Nchindo, Martin Nchindo, Wamunyima Nchindo and their Zambian cousin Simvula Munyere were fatally shot on the southern channel of Sedudu Island in the Chobe National Park. Five days later, the Nchindo brothers’ mother Alphonsina Mubu allegedly collapsed and died of heartbreak in a field, while their sister had to be admitted at a health facility.
BDF Section Commander, Lieutenant Moreri Kenneth Mphela, 32 said acting on provided intelligence they set off into the river on the trail of four armed suspected poachers aboard two dug-out canoes.
“On spotting them I shouted, who goes there, halt!” said Lt Mphela.
He said instead the quartet ignored his command, paddled away and fired a single shot in the general direction of his soldiers who were on two speed boats.
“Immediately the section fired back, and the shooting lasted a few seconds,” he said.
Mphela said he did not order the shooting, but said his soldiers had every right to defend themselves as per the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) which he said clearly states that when you’re being fired at, you have to fire back.
Mphela, who is a Water Engineer by profession said the suspected poachers were about 35m away from them when they spotted them.
“However after securing the place, on realisation that the bodies were motionless, we did not find any gun at the scene,” he said.
Mphela told Regional Magistrate Taboka Mopipi that when the police investigation team arrived in the morning, no weapon was recovered. Police only retrieved two long spears, three elephant tusks and peddlers.
“We suspect the gun fell in the water,” Mphela told court.
Giving evidence in court, a member of the Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) diver Ndingisano Mfazo said he was called the next day to look for the missing gun in the Chobe Rive. Mfazo said together with a Staff Sergeant they began combing the river at 4pm and left just before darkness.
“When we were supposed to continue the search the next day we received an order that we should wait for the Namibian Scuba divers,” he said.
He said a team of four Namibian divers arrived on the 19th, and together with a team of four they began scrapping the bottom of the river for the missing gun.
“The water is muddy, and there’s limited visibility. There’s also the issue of a heavy underwater current and wild animals,” Mfazo told court.
He said they had subdivided a 50m by 50m area and had barely finished combing the first 15m when two large hippos began circling them.
“The Namibian police official who was the most senior at the time called off the search. He said our lives were in danger, and we never went back to search for the gun,” the court heard.
His sentiments were shared by Staff Sergeant Bolotsang, 53 who revealed that Chief Inspector Ottoh of the Namibian Police Force (NAMPOL) called off the search as he felt they were in danger from the hippos.
Asking questions from the gallery, a Zambian by the name Webby Kasale asked how come the suspected poachers were unable to hear the engine sounds from the two BDF speedboats until they were within 25m.
“I’m pretty certain that a speedboat engine would be audible from 50m away, which would have given the poachers enough time to flee,” he said.
Evidence however given by eight BDF officers so far has been consistent. They insist that they were travelling at a crawling speed and stealthily approached the unsuspecting quartet.
The inquest continues until next Friday.