As the nation mourns, we salute these heroines!
A week after seven female students from Matsha College in Kang perished in a horrific accident along Letlhakeng-Morwamosu road in Kweneng West, the headmaster of the school Phodiso Phori has been suspended indefinitely.
Information reaching The Patriot on Sunday indicates that a delegation from the Ministry of Education delivered the suspension letter on Friday morning, although Assistant minister Fidelis Molao feigned ignorance about the development the same afternoon. Molao said when he left Kang on Thursday afternoon the headmaster was still in office and was even part of the program at the memorial service attended by President Ian Khama. He said their main focus at the moment is not about investigating anyone but making sure that the students who are hospitalised recover soon and also that families and friends of the deceased are engaged in counselling. "It is only after all those that relevant departments will make their reports and conclusions. There is no how we can communicate in bits and pieces, but a report will eventually be produced when everything is over," he said.
Contrary to such claims Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU) Tobokani Rari confirmed having talked to Phori who told him that he received a suspension letter on Friday. He, however, said he was not privy to the contents of the suspension letter.
The funerals for the seven girl, aged between 18 and 20, killed when the government open truck ferrying 125 passengers home overturned was billed for Saturday in their different villages.
i. Joyce Tsogwane of Takatokwane
ii. Oaitse Morualebe of Salajwe
iii. Olebile Mosielele of Salajwe
iv. Irene Molebeledi of Sorilatholo
v. Barati Sekgaolo of Khudumelapye
vi. Neo Kealotswe of Mantshwabisi
vii. Keakabetse L. Gakelebone of Salajwe
Molao's claim that investigations have not commenced on the tragedy contradicts what Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale told Parliament ealier in the week. Molale said although he had intended to provide details of the accident at that stage (Monday), it was not possible because investigations are still ongoing. "The policy of Government is to transport students in buses. This investigation will include why a truck was used in this instance. The investigation will therefore leave no stone unturned," Molale said.
The same policy alluded to by Molale has set government on a collision course with some sections of society including trade unions, politicians and members of the public accusing him and his colleagues of being economic with the truth. They claim that such policy does not exist as from time immemorial students from rural areas are transported in open trucks on school trips. They chronicle fatalities dating as far back as 1995, in which no less than 26 passengers-mostly school children and teachers-lost their lives while hundreds others suffered injuries of varying degrees resulting in permanent disability in some cases.
Botswana Lands Boards Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU ) has called on the leadership of the country to own up to the tragedy , apologise to the nation , as a matter of urgency and with immediate effect stop usage of open trucks to transport kids and buy buses for Councils for transportation of children. "The issue of hiring of private buses has failed to materialize as Councils have continuously indicated that they don't have money because some the bus owners were said to have made quotations that Councils couldn't afford. So the issue squarely lies with Government as a policy matter and under resourcing of Councils hence the need for decentralization and financial autonomy of Councils," said Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, Secretary General of BLLAHWU.
He accused Government of abdicating responsibility for the tragedy for fear of political backlash, by threatening officers based in Kweneng District Council with threats of transfers and dismissals from work.
Not only have KDC employees complained of being sidelined, Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) has also joined the fray compalining of being unceremoniously removed from the program for the memorial service in Kang. BTU Publicity Secretary Tidimalo Maeletso said that it is not like they want to cause any trouble, but rather they just wanted to offer their condolences. He said that what totally struck them is the fact that they were included in the program before but later found that they have been removed without explanation. But Molao said such claims are baseless as some of the teachers who directed proceedings are members of the trade unions.
Meanwhile Leader of Opposition and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) President, Duma Boko has vowed to take government to task over the tragedy. In a statement in Parliament on Thursday Boko said many families looked forward to happy reunions with their children. Their parents looked forward to meeting and welcoming them home after months of absence. Unbeknown to all and indeed to many Batswana, there was a tragedy in the making. It had long been coming. It began when the government neglected its responsibility to ensure the safety and security of hundreds of students both in ensuring they received the highest quality of education available and in providing for a safe and dignified means of transportation for them. It continued when state action or inaction conspired to load over 126 students together with their luggage onto a truck. The storms of catastrophe had long been looming large on the horizon. The warning signs had long been visible.
He said the tragedy reminds the nation recalls with renewed dread and grief, that in 1995 nine students and one teacher of Gosemama Secondary School in Tswapong died while others were seriously injured the same year, again two Setlalekgosi Secondary School students died around Dikabeya while travelling in a school truck. In 2003, five students from Kedia Primary School in the Boteti area died when the truck they were travelling in overturned. In March 2005, two students of Shakawe Secondary School in Boteti died in yet another truck accident.
Others including teachers were seriously injured. Boko said many teachers and former students today carry scars of life changing injuries as a constant reminder of the gruesome abdication of responsibility by Government and its agents. The youth of this country deserves better. The parents and citizens of this country deserve better. Botswana deserves better, Much better! he said. The people of this country deserve to be taken seriously and are tired of being offered a future that is in every respect a repetition of the painful past they have suffered.
"The joyful anticipation of the residents of Salajwe, Ditshegwane, Maboane, Sorilatholo, Sesung, Mantshwabisi, Takatokwane, Kaudwane and many other areas in the Kweneng West turned into lancinating pain when they received the news of this tragedy. It was rough, it was raw and it was real for them. Their own children were the victims of this truck accident. I feel their pain. I feel their profound sense of disappointment. It is gut wrenching when the same Government you look to for your safety and protection most callously lets you down. I saw the pain etched on the dejected faces of the parents and relatives of many of these innocent children.
I felt the grief breathed out in the tormented silence of those who could not find the words to verbalize their pain and their suffering. Some cried out to me. Their tears were as much an expression of their grief as they were a poignant condemnation of this ragged tradition of executive heartlessness. How did these innocent human beings come to be transported in the manner they were?" Boko asked.
He continued; "And now we see different Government Ministers and officials including the President jostling for preeminence and feigning alarm and concern. Too late. Too late! Our children, Botswana’s young citizens are gone. Those who remain will carry the visible and invisible scars of the systemic brutality of our Government. I can only offer the parents and students and teachers of Matsha Secondary School, unarmed truth and unapologetic love".
"I make a solemn pledge to them and the whole nation on my own behalf, on behalf of the entire cohort of UDC and BCP Members of Parliament and indeed on behalf of all Batswana: NEVER AGAIN. To the parents and students I say, those that have brought about this hurt and harm upon you and the nation will be brought to atone before the judgment seat of justice and equity," cried Boko.
As the nation mourns the loss of the young students and shares prayers for the speedy recovery of those still receiving medical care, the Bankers’ Association of Botswana has established a Relief Fund and opened a bank account into which pledges will be received. So far, member banks have made pledges amounting to P225,000.00 and more pledges are still expected. Details of the account are as follows:-
Account Name: BAB Matsha Students Relief Fund
Account Number: 9060002054588
Type of Account: Savings Account
Bank: Stanbic Bank Botswana
Branch Name: Fairgrounds Branch
Branch Code: 064967