Neglect, death & fist fights

After it was confirmed that 109 students, the truck driver and his assistant were  admitted in various hospitals between Molepolole and Gaborone, The Botswana Gazette went to Dutlwe to appraise the scene of this tragic accident, and evidence telling of brutal  strewn across an 83 foot expanse in and out of the tarmac. Left at the accident were the shattered windscreen, heavy skid marks, a slightly dug out tarmac and pool of fuel mixed with blood and pieces of hair and braids still patched on the road.

Breaking away from the technocratic tone which has enveloped the narrative of this tragedy, Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan, yesterday in Parliament contested some parts of government’s version of the accident, saying two students died at the accident scene, while  five   died on their way to Letlhakeng Clinic.  Above all, Khan said more lives could have been saved if the response had been swift.

“The response time was very slow and had it not been that, we could have possibly saved more lives,” he said repeating the same view to The Botswana Gazette.

Khan, says he worked together with one of opposition councilor to ferry injured students to  Takatokwane after the first ambulance arrived at the accident scene 2 hours later after the accident had occurred.

“By the time the first ambulance arrived, the public had already taken some students to some clinics with their private cars.”  he said.
Khan was also critical of government’s reference to the number  121, saying it was not the actual number of all students who had been in the truck, meaning that there were more students since some who were going to nearby villages ended up leaving the scene.

“ I don’t understand why government seems to be sugar coating the issue as if they did their best while we know there is more that could have been done and that there is capacity…where were government officials when I, together with some people had to arrange food for the 200 Scottish staff on duty? They only came late and now they are claiming to have done that which could have been done and on time,” said an incensed Khan.

Students involved in the accident were enrolled in the Rural Area Dwellers Program (RADP)  were    returning from Matsha College, a boarding school in Kang where they had just finished their  Botswana General Certificate in Secondary Education (BGCSE) on the day of the accident. They are from   Salajwe,  Takatokwane, Sorilatholo, Khudumelapye, Letlhakeng amongst others villages.

The accident was on Saturday, declared a national disaster by Minister of Health, Dorcus Makgato and her appeal did not fall on deaf ears as members of the public and family members of victims thronged the hospitals to console relatives of victims and assist with food, water, sanitary pads and general moral support.

On Monday morning, Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale confirmed that of 109 students,a driver and his assistant were and remain admitted at Scottish Livingstone, Princess Marina Hospital, Bokamoso Private Hospital and Gaborone Private Hospital.
“Three students were attended to at Letlhakeng clinic and discharged. Four students had earlier disembarked at Tshwaane before the accident occurred,” said Molale, adding that a follow-up health programme, including psycho-social support and rehabilitation, had been put in place for all students.
Minister  Makgato and Minister of Education and Skills Development Dr Unity Dow on Saturday however did well to  avoid committing to specific information about the accident, saying  it was still too early and that they were only concerned with managing issues about surviving and late victims of the accident.

The Botswana Gazette however has learned from the Botswana Police that at the core of their investigations  will be a specific attempts to determine whether the accident was due to the driver’s error or the condition of the truck, and whether the truck should have carried over a hundred pupils in the first place.
The first phase of this investigation will be straight forward; Speaking to the The Botswana Gazette on Sunday, Divisional Traffic Officer-South, Assistant Commissioner Engemadzo Sechele said investigations will initially try to determine the speed at which the truck was traveling, the condition and experience of the driver at the time of the accident and the general condition of the vehicle, especially the condition of the tyres. “All this can be forensically determined”, he said.

However, when The Botswana Gazette tried to challenge him to use his experience and hunch  to give a preliminary view  on what could have caused the accident, Sechele avoided the trap and instead strode  an honest but technocratic fine line.

“At this stage, it is difficult to explain what happened but this was a bad accident! While its important to give journalists information to avoid speculation, it is important to first complete investigations with all the relevant experts involved. All the information gathered will have to be verified to finality.”
He said their investigations might take a while because they are yet to record statements of accident victims who are still receiving help in different hospitals in Gaborone and Molepolole.

On the surface of it, the accident scene which the The Botswana Gazette appraised just near Dutlwe, bears the hallmarks of hard breaking or tyre deflation which is common with tyre bursts vehicle accidents. While Sechele declined to verify this theory, he said they will be able to determine from the outset whether the tyre “burst before or after the accident,” and whether the capacity of the truck’s buck was appropriate for the number of students who were being transported.

Sechele says while the law is not clear on whether or not it is illegal to transport people in trucks, it is not ideal to transport people in trucks as they are more suitable for transporting goods than human beings. Sechele, who also accepted that the accident was a national disaster, said investigations  also include assessments of the truck by the transport department.

“In the end, when all investigations are done, recommendations will be taken to the DPP and the Attorney General and other experts who will determine the appropriate course of action after the investigations.” he said.

Was Gov’t policy violated?
In 2005, government undertook a decision that students would no longer be transported in trucks but buses. This was after several students lost their lives in similar accidents in the past.

Asked on why Matsha students were transported in the truck last week despite the decision, Dow stated that despite the existence of a government policy at times there is a deviation.

“Standing government policy says students should not be transported in trucks, but terrain can cause deviation from policy,” she explained, maintaining that they are yet to find out why the students were transported in an open truck.

Meanwhile, this publication understands that a bus could have been used as none of the roads to either of the villages were too extreme for a bus.
Five students died in a similar accident in 2005, when an open cattle truck transporting them overturned at Kedia in the Boteti Sub-District. Similarly, the students who were from Kedia Primary School were also among 94 students also from the Remote Area  Dwellers government  program.
According to Botswana National Front Youth League President in the region, Kemonnye Makatane, the 2005 incident attracted a directive that RADP students should be availed buses and only if the terrains are rough could trucks be used.
Kgalagadi, Mabutsane, Tsabong and Kweneng have a large number of RADP students in Matsha