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Brigade instructor injured in forced training

RYDER GABATHUSE CHAKALISA DUBE
FRANCISTOWN: A Nswazwi Brigade instructor has sustained a broken hip during a controversial military training exercise at a Botswana Defence Force (BDF) facility a few kilometres East of Francistown.

The injured, (name withheld) was part of the 300 instructors from various technical colleges and Brigades sourced from across the country who were subjected to military exercises before Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) secured a court injunction to halt the tough military exercises last week.

The physical training, which was conducted by retired military personnel, commenced on August 29 to October 5, 2018.  But, due to sustained pressure on the instructors drawn from various disciplines, BOPEU was able to block the harsh physical training and now what is ongoing is the theory part of the training.

Instructors from wielding, bricklayers, carpentry, mechanical, electrical and others that do not require physical training were subjected to military fatigues by their trainers who strictly applied military tactics in training.

An insider at the BDF facility intimated that the army was not involved, but only the facility is being utilised for such training.

Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) secretary general, Agang Gabana confirmed the incident.

“Of course, we have received such allegations that one of our members participating in the military exercise sustained injuries. I can’t confirm the intensity of the injury yet as we are in the process of visiting the injured party following a report by our regional leadership,” Gabana told Mmegi.

Gabana however expressed anger that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Pearl Ramokoka has refused to give them status of the training.

“We even tried to go on a meet-and-greet session with our members at the BDF facility, but we were simply denied access by the authorities,” he said, adding that they have written letters to Ramokoka and have had no response to date. As stakeholders, BTU had raised a red flag seeking to be involved in the disputed training, but their calls were not heeded.

The BTU leader is insistent that its members were undermined by the government to the extent that when the whole thing started, it was alleged that the training was simply a bootcamp, only to be changed to a retreat.

“We were worried about the abusive training on civilians spearheaded by people with military training. We were opposed to the insistence that the brigade instructors will have to undergo compulsory medical examination before they commenced their training as there was no thorough explanation,” he said, indicating that immediately after the Independence holidays, they will chart the way forward.

Denying allegations of military training, PS Ramokoka said this week that instructors from the technical colleges were on a normal team building retreat, which is housed at a BDF facility. She termed the retreat a life skills, team building and management retreat.

“The reason why we chose a BDF facility is that the facility has accommodated our numbers, 300 instructors as we wanted an out-of-town facility where our targeted group will not be distracted by town activities,” she told Mmegi. In her view, physical exercises are required at a retreat as they are part of team building. She however, acknowledged that there were instances where the team was subjected to drills like where they

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will be called to attention and stand at ease, which were part of team building. The retreat was planned to train the 300 instructors on personal mastery, change management, emotional intelligence, public speaking, time management, supervision, stress management, substance abuse, gender based violence, cyber crime, balance score card, discipline and others. “We had meetings with BOPEU and BTU leaderships at different intervals and shared with them the content of the retreat,” Ramokoka, who seemed shocked at what she termed twisted facts said. The main purpose of the retreat, she explained, was transforming brigades, as the whole vocational technical training has changed hence those involved have to be taken on board.

She said the numbers of students absorbed by vocational technical colleges has grown exponentially from 9,000 to 21,000.

“They will be dealing with large numbers and they also need to be disciplined and work as a team.” BOPEU recently secured a court injunction that its members were being subjected to intense military training to become soldiers and, “our response was that no one will be coerced to continue with the exercises”.

Ramokoka also denied reports that one of the instructors sustained a broken hip during the exercises, rather indicating that she has received reports of those who have sprained their limbs.

Since there is a medical facility at BDF, Ramokoka indicated that people were able to access medical assistance. As for medical examinations conducted before the retreat, Ramokoka indicated that they were meant to remind people about their conditions so that they could get proper advice on how to conduct themselves.

Early this week, BOPEU was forced to intervene following numerous complaints from its members about the controversial military training.  A majority of instructors enrolled for the life skill-training programme are BOPEU members.

BOPEU said that the physical training was aborted after the union issued a statutory notice on intention to sue to the government through the Attorney General.

Its deputy secretary general, Ketlhapeleng Karabo led a delegation to interdict the trainings. The union said that the paramilitary training included marching, drills and parades, amongst others. In an effort to conceal the paramilitary training, BOPEU alleged that its officials were barred from accessing the training area and their members for consultation on the matter.

BOPEU said they read malice from the training. “BOPEU wonders if it is a coincidence that these suspicious paramilitary trainings are conducted on the eve of the 2019 general elections.

Do we have a reason to believe or suspect that some within the Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity and the BDF are planning acts of sabotage against the State? In whose interests are these controversial trainings done?” Karabo asked rhetorically.  Karabo, who was addressing a press briefing in Francistown, also called on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to take decisive action against those who sanctioned the paramilitary training on the civilian public servants.

“Those who sanctioned the military trainings are a threat to our stability and democracy. They have no place in the public service,” he said.



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