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.
Despite being hailed and still regarded as a hero who saved many lives through his decision to crash the BF5 fighter Jet around the national stadium on the eve of the 2018 BDF day, the deceased Pilot, Major Clifford Manyuni’s actions were treated as a letdown within the army, especially by his master-Commander of the Air Arm, Major General Innocent Phatshwane.
Manyuni’s master says he was utterly disappointed with his Pilot’s failure to perform “simple basics.”
Manyuni was regarded as a hero through social media for his ‘colourful exploits’, but Phatshwane who recently retired as the Air Arm Commander, revealed to WeekendPost in an exclusive interview that while he appreciated Batswana’s outpouring of emotions and love towards his departed Pilot, he strongly felt let down by the Pilot “because there was nothing wrong with that Fighter Jet and Manyuni did not report any problem either.”
The deceased Pilot, Manyuni was known within the army to be an upwardly mobile aviator and in particular an air power proponent.
“I was hurt and very disappointed because nobody knows why he decided to crash a well-functioning aircraft,” stated Phatshwane – a veteran pilot with over 40 years of experience under the Air Arm unit.
Phatshwane went on to express shock at Manyuni’s flagrant disregard for the rules of the game, “they were in a formation if you recall well and the guiding principle in that set-up is that if you have any problem, you immediately report to the formation team leader and signal a break-away from the formation.
Manyuni disregarded all these basic rules, not even to report to anybody-team members or even the barracks,” revealed Phatshwane when engaged on the much-publicised 2018 incident that took the life of a Rakops-born Pilot of BDF Class 27 of 2003/2004.
Phatshwane quickly dismisses the suggestion that perhaps the Fighter Jet could have been faulty, “the reasons why I am saying I was disappointed is that the aircraft was also in good condition and well-functioning. It was in our best interest to know what could have caused the accident and we launched a wholesale post-accident investigation which revealed that everything in the structure was working perfectly well,” he stated.
Phatshwane continued: “we thoroughly assessed the condition of the engine of the aircraft as well as the safety measures-especially the ejection seat which is the Pilot’s best safety companion under any life-threatening situation. All were perfectly functional.”
In aircrafts, an ejection seat or ejector seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. The seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it.”
Manyuni knew about all these safety measures and had checked their functionality prior to using the Aircraft as is routine practice, according to Phatshwane. Could Manyuni have been going through emotional distress of some sort? Phatshwane says while he may never really know about that, what he can say is that there are laid out procedures in aviation guiding instances of emotional instability which Manyuni also knew about.
“We don’t allow or condone emotionally or physically unfit Pilots to take charge of an aircraft. If a Pilot feels unfit, he reports and requests to be excused. We will subsequently shift the task to another Pilot. We do this because we know the risks of leaving an unfit pilot to fly an aircraft,” says Phatshwane.
Despite having happened a day before the BDF day, Phatshwane says the BDF day mishap did not really affect the BDF day preparations, although it emotionally distracted Manyuni’s flying formation squad a bit, having seen him break away from the formation to the stone-hearted ground. The team soldiered on and immediately reported back to base for advice and way forward, according to Phatshwane.
Sharing the details of the ordeal and his Pilots’ experiences, Phatshwane said: “they (pilots) were in distress, who wouldn’t? They were especially hurt by the deceased‘s lack of communication. I immediately called a chaplain to attend to their emotional needs.
He came and offered them counselling. But soldiers don’t cry, they immediately accepted that a warrior has been called, wiped off their tears and instantly reported back for duty. I am sure you saw them performing miracles the following day at the BDF day as arranged.”
Despite the matter having attracted wide publicity, the BDF kept the crash details a distance away from the public, a move that Phatshwane felt was not in the best interest of the army and public.
“The incident attracted overwhelming public attention. Not only that, there were some misconceptions attached to the incident and I thought it was upon the BDF to come out and address those for the benefit of the public and army’s reputation,” he said.
One disturbing narrative linked to the incident was that Manyuni heroically wrestled the ‘faulty’ aircraft away from the endangered public to die alone, a narrative which Phatshwane disputes as just people’s imaginations. “Like I said the Aircraft was functioning perfectly,” he responded.
A close family member has hinted that the traumatised Manyuni family, at the time of their son’s tragedy, strongly accused the BDF ‘of killing their son’. Phatshwane admits to this development, emphasising that “Manyuni’s mother was visibly and understandably in inconsolable pain when she uttered those words”.
Phatshwane was the one who had to travel to Rakops through the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) aircraft to deliver the sad news to the family but says he found the family already in the know, through social media. At the time of his death, Manyuni was survived by both parents, two brothers, a sister, fiancée and one child. He was buried in Rakops in an emotionally-charged burial. Like his remains, the BDF fighter jets have been permanently rested.
A matter in which former President Lt Gen Ian Khama had brought before Broadhurst Police Station in Gaborone, requesting the State to charge Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) lead investigator, Jako Hubona and others with perjury has been committed to Headquarters because it involves “elders.”
Broadhurst Police Station Commander, Obusitswe Lokae, told this publication this week that the case in its nature is high profile so the matter has been allocated to his Officer Commanding No.3 District who then reported to the Divisional Commander who then sort to commit it to Police Headquarters.