17 August 2012

Namibia: Debate On BDF Rages On

Amid a host of accusations and counter accusations between both Batswana and Namibian citizens regarding the killing of two Namibians by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) the matter seems to have attracted a lot of media scrutiny.

The two victims were shot to death last month by BDF soldiers on the grounds that they were caught poaching in the Chobe National Park in Botswana. After running a story in New Era on the condemnation of the killings by the Caprivi Regional Youth Forum, this reporter was approached by a Gaborone-based radio station known as Yarona FM regarding what transpired and the reaction of Namibians and what the regional and national government's position is, regarding the killings.

In a previous story published by New Era, Caprivi Regional Youth Forum, chairperson, John Ntemwa accused the BDF of having "no regard for human life." Ntemwa, who accused BDF soldiers of random shootings, alleged that so far about 30 Namibians have lost their lives due to alleged poaching activities in Botswana. He maintained then that, the two suspected poachers killed by the BDF were in fact only fishermen tending their fishing nets.

However, a report from a Botswana weekly publication, Weekend Post states that the public relations manager of the Botswana Defence Force, Colonel Paul Sharp confirmed the killings, and added that the "poachers were shot and killed after they first shot at members of the BDF who had surrounded them and asked them to surrender."

The weekly continues to report that the coordinator of the national anti-poaching unit in the BDF, Brigadier Sentsekae Macheng had said "the two were found at midnight carrying two rifles and two elephant tasks and were therefore perceived to be dangerous."

Another Botswana publication, Sunday Standard reported the same Brigadier as saying that the "law requires that they have to first warn then arrest, but at that time the situation was different because the two poachers had guns and when they were challenged they reacted in a manner that threatened the security officers who immediately fired back."

Macheng was further quoted as saying the correct procedures were followed and dismissed statements made by the Caprivi Regional Youth Forum.

In the Weekend Post report, the Caprivi Regional Youth Forum is described as "radical by nature" and that it had made threats against Batswana who enter Namibia if the tendency of shooting innocent Namibians by the BDF continues.

Approached for comment, the chairperson of the regional youth forum Ntemwa denied that the youth forum has ever made such threats and maintained that it was pure fabrication from the reporter and his sources. "That is an exaggeration from the Weekend Post journalist with his Namibian counterpart where he got his news from. We never said that and it was not even in the press release," said Ntemwa.

The killing of the two suspected poachers has sparked an uproar in the Caprivi Region and the country at large with strong condemnation coming in from all quarters. Recently, Chief Boniface Shufu of Mayeyi in Caprivi region condemned the killings at a cultural festival. He said this was not the first such incident and that people in other areas under his jurisdiction such as Nongozi, Sangwali, Lizauli and Malengalenga have suffered the same fate.

Even though he sent a strong message that denounced poaching activities, he felt unhappy at the manner in which people are being killed. Chief Joseph Tembwe Mayuni expressed similar sentiments at his palace of Choi during the recent Tulikonge annual cultural festival. However, Caprivi regional governor, Lawrence Sampofu cautioned people to stop entering neighbouring countries illegally with the intention to commit crimes.

Meanwhile, some Batswana hailed the killings online and maintain that poaching destroys their valued wildlife in postings sent to the Mmegi Online newspaper's comments page.

A joint police investigation has since been launched into the matter. According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Namibia by its Permanent Secretary, Veicco Nghiwete, a joint investigation into the incident is continuing between the Botswana Police and a team from the Namibian Police.

This is in sharp contrast to a report in the Sunday Standard, which quoted Brigadier Sentsekae Macheng as saying the investigation on the matter was complete and conducted jointly and found to be in Botswana's favour. Regional Police spokesperson in Caprivi, Geofrey Samunzala also maintains that the investigation is still on.

The two victims of the shooting are Munguni Siyanga Richard (36) and Nyambe Nyambe, both residents of Nakabolelwa and Kabulabula in the Kabbe Constituency in the Caprivi Region.

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