We love our military, those men and women in camouflage who do a great job of keeping this country safe from hostiles.
That is why tens of thousands always turn up for the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Day. But this weekend, something wrong happened as we celebrated our military’s existence and the selfless work of our soldiers. There was a stampede. As early as 3am, people from the little ones to the old had started converging on the National Stadium. By 6am, the stands were full. Yet people continued pushing, trying to go in.
At face value, the large crowd, of mostly children and young adults would be understood to be a sign of popularity of the day – and it is. However failure by the BDF to have an effective crowd control strategy could have resulted in death. Mercifully it was minor injuries, and the injured have since been discharged from hospital. It could have been worse.
The BDF Day has always been a popular event. Its popularity continues to grow by the year as our population gets younger and younger. Questions abound in the aftermath of the stampede. How many soldiers were deployed to manage the crowds? In the pre-planning, did the BDF anticipate such a huge turnout? Could previous events not have given the BDF an indication of how many people would attend this year’s event?
Clearly, the BDF’s poor crowd control measures allowed too many people to enter the stadium through only one gate. In any case why was only one gate open? It is clear that whatever number of soldiers was deployed on the scene was outnumbered by the crowd. In all these, where were the police, the custodians of law and order? To what extend did the BDF engage them when preparing for the day? It was frightening that ambulances carrying the injured took a long time to make their way through the crowd.
The BDF has not said much following the stampede, and has failed to answer questions from this newspaper as to how it plans to celebrate its day in future; how it will ensure there is no stampede again. This is worrisome. It raises questions about the military’s ability to appreciate the gravity of the incident. Would the BDF still deal with the issue the way it is doing if the situation had been tragic? We can only ask the BDF to be more proactive in their communication with the public, and to provide answers when the public seeks them – and we in the media are merely a representation of society’s anxieties and curiosities.
We do hope however that the BDF, the police and other relevant departments have learnt a lesson. The stampede should serve as a warning and a prompt for them to deal proactively with issues of crowd management at places of mass gathering.
“You know, to address crowds and make promises does not require very much brains”
- Eduard Shevardnadze