A Motswana Muslim, based at the Letlhakane Islamic centre, Mr Alhajj Salahuddin, formerly known as Onalenna Chabaya, who has just returned from Saudi Arabia and bore witness to the bloody stampede where more than 700 people died and 900 more were injured says he escaped death by a whisker.
Recounting details of this unforgettable experience that occurred last week Thursday, Mr Salahuddin says the stampede took place just as he was returning from the stoning ritual in Mina, nine kilometers from the holy city of Mecca. He says the crush was caused by pilgrims who did not follow the laid down routes and protocol.
“There were close to five million people attending the Hajj, we had assembled in what is known as Arafat where the crowd resembles the Day of Judgment. Early in the morning we went out in our millions to stone a pillar that symbolizes Satan. It was after this stoning that two oceans of people came face to face with the soldiers who were assigned to control people’s movement. Failing to turn either crowd backwards, mayhem suddenly occurred as people started pilling on both sides and on each other with no group aiming to go back. At this point many people died and got injured,” he says.
He says while the Hajj crowds are generally organised, had the other group followed protocol, the stampede would have been avoided. Pointing out that it was explained to them that any mistake in the movement of people due to the huge number of people was bound to cause a stampede.
He says the annual Hajj pilgrimage hosted Muslims from all around the world and is considered sacred in Islam and something that every able-bodied Muslim should embark on once in their life time even as the trip is laden with risks. He says he was aware of the dangers posed by the war in Yemen and possible death as a crane accident that killed more than 100 people had just occurred before his arrival in Mecca.
“I might have escaped death because I took a different turn and followed instructions after the stoning ritual, but death during the Hajj is a huge blessing. It would have been an honor for me to die in Mecca,” he says.
He explains that it is better to die at a holy place of worship, in service of God than from other causes, adding that he was not fearful as the tragedy unfolded before his very eyes as to him “death is the only thing that we can be sure of.”
Looking back at the very moment people starting pushing and shoving before the stampede ensured he remembers a cacophony of noises, crowds going crazy and then ambulances noises and emergency services swiftly arriving at the scene. He says while it was unfortunate to lose some friends and fellow worshippers, he is happy with how the event went as the Saudis were highly organised and handled the whole event with meticulous precision.
“There were police with PA systems and people to guide us all throughout our journey and processions, they shouted hurry hurry as millions of people were behind, one lapse in understanding or concentration created a problem, some people put their lives in danger by not responding to instructions about where to go and how to move. Overall we were treated like royalty”.
He lauded the hospitality of the Saudis saying no other country on earth can host Hajj better than Saudi Arabia, he says it was surreal seeing people of all races and in his estimation more than double the population of Botswana in one place all being taken care of and focused on the same thing.
“We were treated very well, being given the best food, the best of everything, 24 hour attention, police guard and five star hospitality, even the guys who died received the best treatment from the hosts before their death,” he says.
He argues that all the dead are martyrs who are now in heaven. He promises to return to Mecca no matter the risks and says the incident has cemented his faith.
He says soon he will offer lessons to other Muslims about the Hajj to share spiritual transformation from his journey, saying having been among only six Batswana that made the trip to Mecca, it is appropriate to address him as Al Hajj, a title he has now earned by going to Mecca. He also points out that Botswana can learn a lot from Saudi Arabia where the HIV/AIDS infection rate is at zero percent.
He says he thanks Allah for the lessons, Mr Al Hajj Al Hassan Linchwe, Ahmed of the Botswana Muslim Supreme Council, Al hajj Hamid Kunju, chairperson of Letlhakane Islamic centre, Brother AbuBakr Ibrahim Dudu imam of the Letlhakane Islamic Centre, Musa Mukasa, brother Ibrahim Mulindwa and his wife Fadheela who were all instrumental in making his holy pilgrimage to Hajj 2015 possible “Their reward is with Allah alone” he concludes.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.