By: Spencer Mogapi
When seven school children from Matsha Secondary School perished in a road accident, the tragedy immediately assumed all the characteristics of a political rollercoaster.
First there was the blame game, with detractors accusing government of having blood in their hands.
Government was further accused of insensitivity and chiefly of attaching low premiums to human life by going against own policy not to transport school children in open trucks.
The accusations and counter-accusations reached fever pitch when blood was spilt following a fist fight between two councilors in the Kweneng District Council – one from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the other from opposition Umbrella for Democratic Chang (UDC). The two councilors were fighting over who was to blame.
The episode has now degenerated into a new low as opponents of the BDP are accusing government of hogging all the protocol ahead of the funerals as a way of trying to make political mileage from the tragedy. The accusations now have all the hallmarks of a catfight over the dead bodies.
Government Manual Workers Union (GMWU) – a quintessential anti-BDP outfit has said their pledge to contribute towards the burial of the seven dead children has been turned down by Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi.
The Organising Secretary of GMWU, Johnson Motshwarakgole has told The Sunday Standard that his Union had pledged seven (7) coffins to burry each of the deceased.
Motshwarakgole says the Union’s pledge had been accepted by the National Disaster Management Office director, Moagi Baleseng only to be rejected by Morupisi.
Morupisi who is the head of the civil service told Motshwarakgole that if the Union wants to help, it should do so by donating money and not buying coffins.
“We had pledged caskets. Each of those costs P30 000. Our members felt that those caskets would go a long way towards sending off these children in dignity. We had also intended to make sure that the coffins are the same to ensure uniformity. The National Disaster Management Office through the director had agreed, only to come back saying Morupisi was against it. I personally called Morupisi to cross check and he told me point blank that the Union should donate money in the same way that we donate to opposition
political parties. I have no idea which political parties he was referring to. As I tried talking to him about the funeral arrangement he veered into talking about our complaints in how judges of the high court are appointed in this country. I was left speechless,” said Motshwarakgole.
Motshwarakgole says what hurt him most is not that Morupisi has on behalf of Government rejected the Union’s offer to assist, but rather the casual manner with which the Permanent Secretary conducted his side of the conversation when talking about such a tragic situation.
Motshwarakgole says he has been left with a clear impression that Government as represented by its highest civil servant could not have cared any less.
“It’s clear that those in positions of power are seizing on these deaths to make mileage out of it. It is unlikely that Government can buy the kind of quality caskets that we had pledged. Not only that. It is against our culture to turn away assistance from others during such difficulties times.
Our thought was that we were in it together. We have an insensitive Government. There can be only one answer to it all – government wants to use the funerals of these young people to cleanse own hands,” said Motshwarakgole.
He said it is clear that Government wants to stage-manage the funerals.
Meanwhile assistance from Alexander Forbes, which has also pledged coffins has been rebuffed.
One of the bereaved families from Salajwe Village in Kweneng West had to go back empty handed after it had travelled to Gaborone to get assistance from Alexander Forbes.
The Managing Director of Alexander Forbes Botswana, Paul Masie confirmed that his company has been advised to make financial contributions if they want to make any pledges.