Soldiers terrorise Okavango residents

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 29 July 2020   |   By Solomon Tjinyeka
BDF soldiers on patrol BDF soldiers on patrol

Tension is brewing between communities residing in the Okavango Delta and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) soldiers deployed on anti-poaching missions in the NG 32 concession, over complaints about beatings, abuse, torture and harassment.

Despite the rising poaching incidents in the Okavango delta, where 56 rhinos have been killed to date especially in the Mombo area, communities living in the Delta complain that nobody has bothered to inform them about the developments or the anti-poaching patrols by the BDF as they only hear reports in the media.

Seikaneng Moepedi, the Chairman of Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT), told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Wildlife, Tourism, Natural Resources and Climate Change during their visit to Maun during the week that communities in the Delta live in fear of the BDF anti-poaching soldiers who frequently torture and harass some residents. He explained that they have since reported a number of cases about the brutality and torture to the Maun police.

In a surprising turn of events late Friday, Maun police station commander, Superintendent Chenamo Orateng, denied receiving any reports from residents of communities inside the Okavango Delta alleging abuse by the BDF anti-poaching unit. Notwithstanding the denial by the police, The Patriot on Sunday, has uncovered a petition written in vernacular dated 01 July 2020 signed by 30 residents of Ditshiping village addressed to the District Commissioner's office in Maun. They are requesting the District Commissioner to intervene by facilitating a meeting between Ditshiping residents and the BDF leadership to resolve tensions between the parties. 

Among their complaints is that the BDF anti-poaching unit accuses them of encroaching into the Mombo Area, when they infact reside in NG32, which they have been duly allocated and given permission to exploit for natural resources for survival. The natural resources include fish they obtain from nearby rivers, firewood, building and thatching materials among others. In addition, the petitioners explain that they have been earning a living by finding employment in tourism businesses and lodges operating in the Okavango Delta. Such businesses have since closed shop due to the Covi-19 pandemic.  

The petitioners complain that despite the debilitating impact of Covid-19, soldiers have blocked them from leaving their homes to visit the rivers to find food and other amenities. Therefore, they have nothing to survive on, they complain.  

Moepedi had complained that the anti-poaching unit whose role is to protect endangered species like rhinos are clueless about communities residing inside the Okavango delta. He explained to the portfolio committee members that NG32 Concession, which consists of six settlements and is under the care of OKMCT Trust, is located inside the Okavango Delta.

In a shocking revelation Moepedi told the committee that two weeks ago one of their male staff members was brutally beaten and paraded naked in front of women by the BDF APU soldiers patrolling the area. Further, he also revealed that some law enforcement agents, who included BDF APU soldiers, recently confiscated their fish caught from the delta. He explained that communities living in the Okavango Delta eke out a living by fishing and harvesting reeds, but live in fear as they are always harassed by anti-poaching agents when they meet them in their patrols.

Moepedi suggested that soldiers deployed on anti-poaching missions in the Delta should undergo orientation about NG 32 concession made up of communities, that they will be expected to live and work with inside the Okavango Delta. This could help reduce clashes and tensions between BDF and the community.

The councillor for Bojanala ward, Luke Motlaleselelo said as the leadership they have received complaints about the harassment from the Ditshiping community by the BDF.

Motlaleselelo further stated that the confusion between the BDF and community is that BDF thinks that Mombo camp where they are rhinos is a no-go areas and communities should not be staying there. He however explains that Mombo is a camp owned by Wilderness Safaris and its share its border with NG 32 concessions and is close to 200 kilometers from Ditshiping village.

The outspoken councillor also indicated that after the incidents, they invited the BDF management to have a kgotla meeting to resolve their differences in the which BDF agreed on the 1st of July, but they did honour their invitation. He added that as a result they ended up writing a letter to the North West District Commissioner so that he can mediate them. He however decried that they have not received any response from the DC office. As a councillor I have instructed residents to temporary harvesting natural resources so that we resolve our matter but it dragging too long and the community which is dependent on natural resources is going suffer.

Head of BDF anti-poaching unit Colonel Simon Barwabatsile referred inquiries on the matter to Protocol office where Colonel Tebo Dikole requested a questionnaire to respond to the allegations. He had not responded to the inquiry by time the paper was sent to print.