It is saddening to note that seven Matsha Community College students recently lost their lives while being transported in an open truck. May their souls find eternal peace and the parents, surviving students, teachers and support staff be comforted. This open truck transportation is done with impunity by the government. In the late 1990s, Botswana Federation of Secondary School Teachers (BOFESETE), mounted vigorous anti open trucks campaigns. This was after several open truck fatal accidents. In 1995, nine (9) students and one (1) teacher of Gosemama Junior Secondary School in Gootau lost their lives while being transported in an open truck. A total of 10 died in that accident and several others had serious injuries and are still carrying some indelible scars today. As if that was not enough, still in 1995, two (2) Setlalekgosi junior school students were killed in an open truck accident. Several students and teachers were also seriously injured.
In early 2000, BOSETU’s campaigns were intensified following yet other students’ deaths due to use of open trucks. In 2003, five (5) students of Kedia primary school in the Boteti area died when their truck overturned. In 2005, two (2) more students of Shakawe secondary school died and others were seriously injured after their truck overturned. These open truck accidents have now become massacres and the government remains stubborn in abolishing open truck transportation.
After several campaigns, mainly through the media and peaceful demonstrations, BOFESETE now Botswana Secondary School Teachers Union (BOSETU) changed the campaign strategy and mobilised teachers to boycott the use of open trucks in January 2007. The boycott campaigns mainly condemned the loss of life due to use of open trucks. The organisation further argued that the open trucks also subjected the poor students and teachers to extremely bad weather conditions.
BISA’s four regions then unanimously endorsed BOSETU’s proposal to boycott the use of open trucks as they did not want to be party to the continued deaths of the innocent students. Some teachers also stated that they lived with huge emotional and psychological scars having witnessed the tragedies of colleagues and dear students dying through the horrific accidents. To avoid any possible litigation, the government made parents to sign indemnity forms which essentially absolved government from responsibility in the event of road accidents. This meant that government was not legally bound to compensate parents in the event of an accident.
BOSETU had proposed that government should buy buses for the regions as the government had capacity to do so. The union also suggested that government should increase the transport and travelling vote so that schools can hire buses. The union also suggested that four-wheeled buses were now available in the market and can be used in sandy and other remote areas which normal buses cannot traverse. Since open trucks were an open grave, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led government was called upon to be compassionate and caring and promote a fundamental human right – the right to life. The BDP government was called upon to abolish open trucks as a form of transportation.
The January 2007 boycott paid dividends as the government, in February 2007 through the Ministry of Education consulted BOSETU, Association of Botswana Tertiary Lecturers (ABOTEL, now TAWU), BOPRITA and BTU and proposed to buy 10 buses. The government also proposed to increase the Travelling and Transport votes so that schools can hire private buses for their trips. The use of indemnity forms was also abolished. Surprisingly, it seems the practise has never really stopped as it has since been recently extended to Ipelegeng employees which the Office of the President prides as employment creation initiative. The OP cannot therefore feign surprise that the practice is still in place while they know it is.
The BDP led government has failed the youth of this country and we call upon the youth to rise and defend their rights. They should unite to remove the BDP government before they are wiped off through the use of open trucks and poor education. A proper educational policy to direct education should be in place. The current policy, the Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) has more than 20 years and has not been properly implemented, monitored and evaluated, hence the thousands of students being thrown into the streets every year. The BDP-led government ignored sound advice from opposition parties and professional teacher organisations which could have helped to make our education system relevant. Instead the government has been unrepentant and came up with half baked programmes like the introduction of the 2-year junior certificate; Double Shift; automatic progression from primary to secondary schools; large class sizes and many other educational ills. Through these ill-thought out programmes many youths have failed in our education system and thrown into the streets only for them to turn into criminals or channelled to perish into a life of despondency and nothingness. The youth would be workers in 5 years or less time and contribute to the socio-economic development of this country. By not taking Batswana seriously, especially those in rural areas and disadvantaged, the government has to pay a price for this. The government should compensate parents for the loss of life, though life itself is priceless. The government should also fully account for the deaths of these innocent students. In addition, the Matsha student community, parents, teachers and support staff need to be provided with professional counselling services for them to be able to contend with this situation.
We call upon all youth and workers’ organisations to unite and stand up, condemn and take stern action against what the BDP is doing to the nation. Otherwise the youth will live in perpetual terror and fear, and ultimately face early demise. The labour and youth movements should therefore help in ensuring that there are proper policies in place and that they are being properly implemented, monitored and evaluated. It is now time for action as advocacy and lobbying has been done many times. The labour and youth movements should now bravely ensure that adequate compensation is paid to the affected parents and surviving injured students. And that appropriate buses for all types of terrain are bought by the government. With the accumulated number of deaths, and the recent fatalities, the Cabinet should do the honourable thing and resign en masse if they are to be taken seriously.
We should continually pray for the students, parents, teachers and support staff to help them heal and recover from this heart-breaking ordeal. May the souls of our departed children rest in peace!
UDC Labour Secretary