Motswana Muslim escaped death in Saudi Arabia
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.
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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help
President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.
Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”
Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.
On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.
He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”
President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.
“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”
When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.
“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”
He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.
“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:
He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”
Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.
“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”
In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.
It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.
Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.
President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”
In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”
He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.
“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”
Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”
Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV
Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”
Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.
“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”
He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.
In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.
Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.
Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”
“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”
Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.
“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”