The preliminary findings in the just ended Botswana Railways public inquiry into the accident involving the passenger train points to irregularities in the train’s radio communication system which was found to be ‘absolute’.
This was revealed by Botswana Railways Inquiry Chairman Olefile Moakofi (Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana) on Tuesday this week, marking the end of the two month long public inquiry that was conducted across the country since January 2020. Even though most of the train personnel interviewed by the inquiry subjected a gross negligence on the part of BR, the Inquiry Chairman on Tuesday pointed that a malfunction on the train communication system could have led to the derailment of train 0501/BD549 between Palla Road and Mahalapye on December 10, 2019 in which two BR crew members lost their lives.
The train derailed at around 2am December 9, near Palla Road. Heavy waters following heavy downpours in the area were fingered as the cause of the accident. The Ministry had set up an eight-man investigative board made of engineers and former BR employees to gather evidence. The inquiry came to an end on Tuesday evening and the team is now busy, working on the report. On Tuesday, Moakofi had told WeekendPost that so far one of the leading causes of the accident is the communication system which from which they cannot even retrieve any messages or communications leading to the fateful day.
Moakofi even though he did not want to pre-empt the report said some of their team members have travelled to South Africa to further the investigations. The radio communication networks are critical to train operations including stringent requirements for reliability, availability, safety and security for these operations. Different security measures are considered based on the assumption of transmission error or communication blackout in RSTT. In general, radio communication for railway operations are considered as “mission critical” for train operations in general and the management of train emergency situations.
Furthermore, railway radio communication systems require the support of legacy technology and to have a long life cycle. RSTT provide improved railway traffic control, passenger safety and improved security for train operations. These systems also provide for interoperability of train operations in some regions. After the accident, Minister of transport and Communications Thulagano Segokgo promised that he is going to set up an independent investigation team to get to the bottom of what could have caused the accident.
According to reports the new Minister was later advised by attorneys for Botswana Railways, that according to the BR Act where there are casualties, the President should institute a Commission of Inquiry. On the fateful day, 10th December 2019, the nation was awoken by bad news that Botswana Railways passenger train en-route to Francistown from Gaborone, was derailed near Bonwapitse River.
The Francistown-bound train carrying around 400 passengers broke down damaging the locomotive, luggage van, generator van, buffet car and four coaches. After the much talked about incident, many questions were raised on why Botswana Railways allowed the movement of trains when they were floods in Mahalapye and knowing that the railway line was not in good conditions. Briefing Parliament about the accident Minister Segokgo revealed that it has come to his attention that the rail coaches were not ensured and that the railway line is very old.
“The railway line was constructed initially before independence and it has been confirmed to me verbally that indeed we do not have insurance on the trains and it is a very disturbing matter which I am addressing at my ministry,” he said. Following the interviews, employees took turns in the hot seat and claimed serious malfunctions within the BR Management. They asserted that the malfunctions coupled with decrepit systems have always presented a ticking time bomb within the organisation.
The December 10 accident, they said, was a result of a toxic environment at their headquarters. They claimed that top management authorised movement of the train, despite their warnings of adverse weather conditions. At the time of going to press the Ministry of Transport and Communications did not respond to WeekendPost inquiry on the matter despite the Inquiry Chairman Moakofi having answered the questionnaire and forwarding to them as protocol dictates. The Ministry telephones rang unanswered the whole of Thursday while a message was relayed that the ministry’s spokesperson Oteng Mokowe was in Lobatse and will address to the WeekendPost inquiry.
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.