Guides unsure whether to sue ‘abusive’ soldiers Okavango voice
Four safari guides who claim to have been assaulted by soldiers and wildlife officers are divided over whether to press charges against the armed forces.
One of the quartets, 29-year-old Maithoko Nyame, has already engaged a local attorney to represent him in the matter, which took place in the Okavango Delta’s NG32 area.
The other three, however, remain undecided.
On 27 June, four anti-poaching soldiers and two wildlife officers are said to have assaulted the four men, allegedly after finding them with a cooler box full of fish.
The foursome is rumoured to have been using a vehicle with mismatching registration number plates and were accused of poaching. They were reportedly in possession of a fishing net and did not have a fishing licence, which further piqued the soldiers’ suspicions.
Speaking to Okavango Voice this week, one of the men, Onkagetse Sebora claimed his ‘assailants’ had since shown remorse for the ‘attack’.
“We are human and we do understand that as human beings we can err, so equally we should have mercy. They asked for forgiveness and what I know is we no longer have a case against them,” stated a sympathetic-sounding Sebora.
“We just cannot cause them to lose their jobs by pursuing a case against them,” he added.
26-year-old Mothokomedi Obonye, meanwhile, claimed the four had long reported the matter to the police but are yet to receive an update on the status of their case.
Denying claims he has been paid off to drop the matter, Obonye instead reiterated Sebora’s assertions that the soldiers had expressed regret over the incident.
“I have heard that our assailants have offered to pay for our silence, but personally they have never contacted me. The only time we met is when they went to our office [Machaba Safaris] where they asked us to forgive them, but they didn’t say anything about payments!”
Obenye further claimed the BDF boys blamed their heavy-handedness on an earlier altercation with poachers.
“The soldiers told us they had an encounter with rhino poachers earlier that day and they were very angry when they saw us with fish,” stated Obonye.
Another guide, Moleti Kelebile, however, is adamant he has been offered a financial incentive to drop the matter.
“I may consider withdrawing the case on condition that the officers compensate me for the sufferings and pain they inflicted on me,” said the 23-year-old, adding he is yet to withdraw the case because, “They have not given us that something they had promised us.”
Kelebile claims the ‘assailants’ summoned them to the police station to negotiate compensation, where they were promised ‘something’.
“But because other parties were not there, the deal failed to go through. When I asked them to give me the money, they said they could not do it because Nyame had already gone to the lawyer,” declared Kelebile, further contending that the soldiers even proposed to give the men some of their guns.
“They said they did not have enough money to pay us, but that they could give us their guns as surety. We were to keep the guns until they settled the compensation!”
For his part, Nyame told Okavango Voice he is not ready to negotiate any monetary compensation because he does not even know the full extent of his injury.
Nyame is said to have fainted during the ordeal and was hospitalized immediately after. He is awaiting a further x-ray examination on his badly injured left arm.
“They beat us up, made us undress in the presence of a female officer, poured water on us, and made us roll on the sand. The pain and humiliation was immeasurable!” narrated Nyame.
The Okavango Delta is one of the country’s red zones, with poachers in the area armed with military weapons. The zone has since been taken over by Botswana Defence Force (BDF) anti-poaching unit, which has been battling to save rhinos. The endangered animal has come under increasing threat in the last year, with rhino horn in huge demand on the black market.
When questioned on the assault allegations, BDF’s Public Relations Officer, Colonel Tebo Dikole told Okavango Voice, “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.”