- Say they have no PPEs but must arrest border jumpers
- Are thinking of only scaring the illegals away
- BDF says infection with COVID-19 is an occupational hazard for its troops
Soldiers on border patrol have raised fears of infection with COVID-19 because they have no Personal Protective Equipment but must arrest border jumpers who may have the virus. So serious is their anxiety that some say they are thinking of only scaring the illegals away in order to avoid close physical contact with them.
Speaking with The Botswana Gazette on terms of anonymity, Botswana Defence Force troops on duty in the North East District that runs along the border with Zimbabwe say their commanders have not supplied them with any PPEs in spite of the high risk nature of being on border patrol in the time of COVID-19. “Our role is to apprehend these border jumpers when we find them,” said one.
“Our orders are to catch them without fail and then hand them over to the police. This puts us face-to-face with potential infection with the Coronavirus.”
“Most of these border jumpers are from villages just inside Zimbabwe,” said another soldier. “They cross the border at ungazetted points every day for a variety of reasons, including shopping and seeking employment in Botswana because things are bad in Zimbabwe. Sometimes we catch them and then let them go because their stories can be heartrending.”
But the BDF has responded in a manner bordering on the improbable. Army spokesman Colonel Tebo Dikole says contracting the virus is an occupational hazard that soldiers on border patrol should live with. “The cloth mask, sanitizing of hands and social distancing when arresting individuals who refuse to comply with our orders are part and parcel of the risk mitigation strategy to protect our troops,” Dikole stated in a written response.
He added that prompt testing and isolation are done to contain the spread of COVID-19, should be a case of infection among troops.
The police have confirmed that border jumping by Zimbabweans is a serious issue for Botswana, especially in the North East District. Officer Commanding No. 15 District (Francistown), Senior Superintendent Kabo Badirwang, says more than 100 such illegal immigrants were arrested between March and April this year alone.