FRANCISTOWN: For many years, the governments of Botswana and Zimbabwe and even their people post-independence for both countries, have enjoyed cordial relationships.
The people of the two countries share similar cultures and have even married across the borders of their sisterly countries.
In the past, Batswana living in villages along the Zimbabwean border depended heavily on buying goods from Zimbabwe for a living.
Some Batswana even enrolled their children in Zimbabwe schools which back then had one of the best education systems in Africa and was economically prosperous.
However, there seems to be tension brewing between the two neighbours. If recent media reports are anything to go by, the relationship between the two SADC countries seems to be strained. The strained relationship seems to have even trickled down to the people of the two countries with accusations and counteraccusations coming from both sides of the border.
Last month, the MP for Tati East Samson Moyo Guma might have reignited a sleeping issue after he said Botswana should erect an electric fence along its border with Zimbabwe. He said the electric fence should be erected in order to stop the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) that is prevalent in Zimbabwe from infecting cattle in the villages that are along the Zimbabwe border.
Guma uttered his remarks during a meeting that was addressed by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama in Matsiloje.
Among other issues, the meeting was convened to solicit ideas from the people of Matsiloje and the neighbouring villages about how to control elephants that wreak havoc in the North East district.
Farmers complained that the elephants were destroying the border fence making it easy for their cattle to cross into Zimbabwe but are shot after they are tracked back into Botswana because they would be suspected of being infected with FMD.
After they are shot, farmers are compensated with P700 regardless of size nor breed.
Although Guma’s remarks have clearly angered the regime in Zimbabwe, scores of locals who attended the kgotla meeting applauded what Guma said. They said his idea will come in handy in preventing their cattle from being infected with the FMD, which has over many years impoverished them.
In fact one village elder Mothibi Lephalo fell short of saying the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe should just go to hell if he keeps on complaining about the erection of the electric fence.
Botswana long constructed an electric fence along its border with Zimbabwe during the presidency of Festus Mogae to prevent the spread of the FMD from Zimbabwe to Botswana. The erection of the fence back then did not go down well with Zimbabwe authorities who said it is erected as a smokes’ screen to prevent Zimbabweans from illegally crossing the border into Botswana.
Media reports from Zimbabwe clearly show that Guma’s remarks had attracted a barrage of criticism from both Zimbabwe authorities and it’s people.
Zimbabwe’s deputy Home Affairs Minister, Obedingwa Mguni is quoted as having said Guma’s words were anti-African. Mguni even advised Guma to desist from being a western copycat.
The Zimbabwe’s media also quoted the Zimbabwe Police National Anti-stock Theft Coordinator, senior assistant commissioner Erasmus Makodza as saying Botswana’s decision to shoot and kill all cattle from Zimbabwe that cross the border to Botswana was improperly implemented.
Botswana has a policy of shooting and killing cattle of locals that have crossed the border into Zimbabwe to stop the spread of the FMD. The same policy of shoot-to-kill also applies to cattle from Zimbabwe that may have crossed the border from Zimbabwe into Botswana irrespective of the circumstances that may have led them to cross the border.
However, this did not go down well with Makodza who was quoted in the Zimbabwe media as saying the shoot-to-kill policy adopted by Botswana is defeating the ends of justice in Zimbabwe because some of the cattle would have been exhibits in stocktheft cases.
In the past, media reports from Zimbabwe also stated that Zimbabweans found guilty of committing petty crimes were indiscriminately corporally punished in Botswana.
The reports described the use of corporal punishment as inhumane oblivious to the fact that under customary and other related laws in Botswana, even locals convicted of petty crimes are not spared the cane to prevent unnecessarily overcrowding jails among other reasons.
Media reports from Zimbabwe also say that authorities there also are incensed by the indiscriminate shooting of Zimbabweans by members of the Botswana Police Service. This followed the alleged shooting of an unarmed Zimbabwean woman in Francistown towards the end of last year.
Conversely, while Zimbabwe authorities may be right or wrong in condemning some government policies and the treatment of their citizens here, Batswana also point an accusing finger at Zimbabweans whom they say are responsible for most of the criminal activities taking place throughout the country.
In fact authorities here say the number of Zimbabweans convicted of crimes in Botswana far exceeds other foreigners found in jails throughout the country.
In the past, it was reported that Botswana uses millions of pulas a year to deport around 20,000 Zimbabweans. Now the big question: Is there tension brewing between Botswana and Zimbabwe?
Political commentator Solly Rakgomo said in his view Guma’s electric fence statement opened an underlying tension between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Rakgomo said internationally countries will do anything that protects the interest of their people and Botswana is no exception.
“There is nothing wrong with Botswana constructing an electric fence along its border to protect the spread of the FMD from Zimbabwe from reaching Botswana.
Maybe Zimbabwe authorities feel that Botswana is trying to humiliate or isolate them, which however is not the case. Botswana has a right to protect the interests of her people,” said Rakgomo. “I think the government of Zimbabwe is sensationalising things because of how in the past Botswana condemned the way Harare conducted its elections.”
Rakgomo also said it boggles the mind why Zimbabwe authorities are saying the fence was meant to prevent Zimbabweans from illegally crossing into Botswana while nobody, unless under exceptional circumstances, is allowed to illegally cross the border of any country.
He said by exceptional circumstances mean people who are fleeing from different kinds of persecution to seek refugee in another country, adding that in the same vein those people should immediately present themselves to the nearest police station to explain their predicament.
Asked what his take is concerning the applying of corporal punishment, which in the past has also angered authorities in Harare, Rakgomo said: “The law in Botswana is clear. People who commit petty crimes in Botswana inclusive of locals and foreigners receive corporal punishment. That is what the law says.”
The political commentator said Harare will use any issue concerning how Botswana allegedly treats its citizens to retaliate against Botswana no matter how credible or unsubstantiated the issue may be.