The forerunners of the Matsha tragedy

Public school learners are frequently transported in trucks
Public school learners are frequently transported in trucks

Tragic as it was, the Matsha truck disaster is just the latest in similar fatal and non-fatal incidents involving public school learners. Staff Writers, BABOKI KAYAWE and MBONGENI MGUNI trace the unsettling history

Eleven years ago, two siblings and their cousin at Kedia Primary School perished in a truck accident just a kilometre away from Kedia village in the Boteti area.  All told, the death toll came to five.

The truck, which was used for Namola Leuba  (drought  Relief) projects, also carried shovels, axes, grass slashers and an assortment of other construction tools.

Only 12-years-old at the time, Otlaatla Kganeletso was among the 100 passengers in the doomed truck on that fateful Thursday.  While 93 others sustained minor injuries, the young man lost his right leg on the spot when a spade cut it off. 


Now 23-years-old and bound to crutches, the young man remembers how he was in a jovial mood on the ill-fated day as he could not wait to see his uncle and cousins in Letlhakane village.

The accident did not just cut his plans short.  It also stole a critical part of his life.

“Just a kilometre from Kedia village, the driver fell asleep and lost control of the truck.  I cannot un-see those axes, spades and the shock and fear that was in the passengers’ faces.

“Five students stood up and they fell from the moving truck. The side doors of the truck opened and spilled some, before falling into a quarry pit,” he recalls.

In the ensuing panic, Otlaatla had to keep his wits about him.

“When I saw the volume of blood oozing from my leg, I had to fight for my dear life. I slit my t-shirt and bandaged the leg instantly. Yes, I was in pain, but I had to use my brain to avoid more complications.”

More than a decade later, Otlaatla is a trained leather craftsman who studied at Thuso Rehabilitation Centre. He now ekes a living from repairing shoes, making sandals, traditional dance costumes and belts.

“It is not every day that I get customers,” he says.

The disaster that befell more than 120 students of Matsha College last Friday was neither new or without precedence.

With regularity, learners – both young and older – have suffered permanent injuries and death through the years while being transported by trucks, particularly in rural areas.

1995 – Nine students and one teacher from Gosemama Secondary School in Tswapong die

1995 – Two Setlalekgosi Secondary School students die around Dikabeya

2003 – Five students from Kedia Primary School die Prophetically, the then Botswana Federation of Secondary School Teachers (BOFESETE), warned that the issue of children being transported in trucks was a recipe for disaster.

“BOFESETE has raised and condemned this many times in its congresses and other meetings and passed resolutions that transporting students in open trucks should stop,” wrote the then federation’s spokesperson, Justin Hunyepa in 2005.

“Where there is a will, there is a way, as the saying goes.  BOFESETE feels the Ministry of Education is not giving this issue the attention it deserves and we call upon them to help stop the deaths by procuring buses as an urgent matter in the next financial year.” In the same year, the then Botswana Teachers’ Union president, Japhta Radibe, was equally exasperated with the use of trucks to transport children.

“For more than 15 years, we have talked to all the ministers of education about the problem, but to no avail,” he said at the time.

“We suggested that extra curricular activities be stopped if the method of transportation was not changed.

“Parents are made to sign unfair indemnity forms because the Ministry of Education wants to free itself from blame. Transportation in trucks puts the lives of children and teachers in jeopardy as the trips often involve long distances at night and in the cold.”

Today, the struggle to end the reign of trucks in the transportation of learners continues.

Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Duma Boko gave an impassioned speech this week, in which he said the use of trucks should immediately become a thing of the past.

“Never again,” Boko said.

“Young people full of promise and vitality sat their final high school leaving examinations at Matsha College.

“They looked forward to a bright future as engaged and innovative citizens of their country.”

“The people of this country deserve to be taken seriously and are tired of being offered a future that is in every respect a repetition of the painful past they have suffered.”

“Indeed tragedies of this nature have struck so many times before that their reoccurrence can only point to grotesque criminality.”

For Joyce Tsogwane of Takatokwane, Oaitse Moruale, Keakabetse Gakelebonye and Olebile Mosielele of Salajwe, Irene Molebeledi of Sorilatholo, Barati Sekgaolo of Khudumelapye, Neo Kelaotswe of Mantshwabisi, the promises are too late.

The seven young women died on what should have been the happiest day of their lives, celebrating the end of examinations and the start of an exciting new chapter in their lives.

 

May their souls rest in peace. shed and is now an education centre and accommodation block within the Game Park. It is a very popular destination for schools. The development of the Orapa and Jwana game parks disproves the traditional image of mining companies being a threat to conservation, but rather shows Debswana to be an active player in revitalising these areas for the benefit of all.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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