In the wake of rising rhino poaching in Botswana, despite government crackdowns, WeekendPost has it in good authority that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration rejected the British army anti-poaching assistance program which was coming free of charge.
At the moment it looks like Masisi led administration is now fighting a losing battle against rhino poaching with a record 36 rhinos having been killed in the past twelve months. When he took to power, President Mokgweetsi Masisi took a repressive decision to disarm the Anti-Poaching Unit of the Department of Wildlife leaving the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) with the leading role of safeguarding the endangered species. Currently the country is home to just under 400 rhinos, according to Rhino Conservation Botswana, most of them roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta.
Former Minister of Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, in an interview with this publication this week, said in 2018 towards former President Ian Khama’s end of office, they unanimously agreed with the British army deployed in the anti-poaching exercise in Zimbabwe, to liaise with Botswana government in assisting anti- poaching in the country. According to Tshekedi, the move was necessitated by their constant differences with the British government because of Botswana’s ‘shoot to kill’ policy.
Tshekedi said they met the visiting British crew from Zimbabwe through their Ambassador and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time. He said they then solicited assistance from the British army to help with the anti- poaching. “They were even taken on tour of the concerned areas”. According to Tshekedi Khama, they also met with members of Wildlife and BDF anti- poaching units before they went back to put together a strategy on how they can go about.
The former Minister of Tourism said he was however surprised last year when he received a call from Vice President Slumber Tsogwane at a time when President Masisi was outside the country. “He told me that we are now engaging the British army and charging them with the responsibility of our animals. I told him that we are only soliciting their assistance but he told me to wait for President Masisi who outside the country”, said TK.
However another call from Permanent Secretary to the President at the time, Carter Morupisi put an end to Tshekedi’s ambitions when he told him that what he is trying to do is not allowed and it should be stopped. “Look this was after they disarmed the anti- poaching unit. This was never about the weapons, they had wanted to train our people on bush tactics, GPS training and logistics as well as radio communications and operations. They have also offered to donate tents to support the cause and there were no conditions whatsoever attached,” he said.
Tshekedi said during his stay at the ministry, poachers knew that when they enter Botswana they will be killed. He said the policy was very effective and they had a very operational intelligent unit in place. He recalled an incident in Makalamabedi, where two men were arrested for the possession of an elephant trunk. “President Masisi’s recent conspiracy about the rising number of poached rhinos is a fallacy. He is always shifting the blame. He should just admit it was a mistake and re- equip the anti- poaching unit, get over it and move on. BDF Commander is even quiet, what are they doing about the situation?” asked TK.
Also called for comment; former President, Dr Ian Khama said the current administration has taken their eye off the ball. Khama said there was poaching under both former President Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae, whilst he was still BDF Commander. “We ensured that we tackled it, under Masire I was in charge and Masire took particular interest in what was happening. Same thing happened under Mogae. I had weekly meetings with anti- poaching teams and made demands because I was on the ground. Masisi should stop making excuses,” said Khama.
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.