Police helicopter helps combat crime in F/town

Staff Writer
FRANCISTOWN: "My wife and her cousin had just arrived home after visiting some of our relatives and friends on the other side of the town," recalls Ricardo Mbakile, tears welling up in his eyes.

"Three thugs," he pauses before he could complete his sentence as pain from his broken hand hit deep right into his heart.  He broke the hand in an unrelated incident when his motor vehicle overturned about a month-and-a-half ago. And before he could recover, three intruders - speaking with an Ndebele accent - raided his house, demanding cash and other valuables.

"With my hand still in the sling, I shouted in an endeavour to scare the three Zimbabweans away but all in vain. They pushed me so hard that I landed on the coffee table smashing it into pieces and I incurred injuries in the process," says Mbakile.

Mbakile makes ends meet by distributing Dikgang Publishing Company newspapers Mmegi and Monitor and Botswana Guardian and Midweek Sun. He distributes Mmegi/Monitor in Selebi-Phikwe and Guardian/Sun in Francistown and the North East.

He says helplessly he watched as one of the three raiders ransacked the bedrooms in search of women's bags hoping to find money and cellphones.

Mbakile, who also speaks Ndebele fluently, still bears scars on his head after the Zimbabweans attacked him about a month earlier. He is now deeply worried about his family's safety because there has been an increase in crime.

"This place is no longer safe at all," he says.

Mbakile is not the only one in the location known as Area-A, who is worried by the terrible turn of events. Area-A is middle to high-income location and it is a stone's throw from the town centre.

His neighbour's house was on Monday broken into and valuables stolen. Burglars stole a music system, clothing and other valuables whilst this man, a police forensic training student who hails from Kanye, was still at work.

This spate of break-inns and violent crime generally associated with illegal immigrants here has hardened the feelings of locals against foreigners and Zimbabweans in particular.

Generally, in countries that struggle with the influx of illegal immigrants and high levels of crime, it is the illegal aliens who are often blamed as the perpetrators.

In 1993, during the civil war in Mozambique, a good number of refugees and generally illegal aliens fled to neighbouring Swaziland in search of a better life.

It, however, turned out that for almost every crime that occurred in the Mbabane, the capital city, and Manzini was blamed on the Mozambicans who were called "Machangana".It is against this backdrop that the Botswana Police and its stakeholders have recently mounted a huge operation in a clean-up campaign.

Given its proximity with Zimbabwe, Francistown city is incessantly hit by a flood of illegal immigrants, fleeing political and economic turmoil in their country.

A lot of Zimbabweans enter Botswana through ungazetted points by jumping over the border. In the event they don't get the expected opportunities, they resort to crime, which brings them face-to-face with the law enforcement agencies.

Those who enter the country legally, as they have valid travel passports, overstay and play hide and seek with the law enforcement agents.

Although Zimbabwe's economy is far from full recovery, a few months ago it was reported that some shops were now back in business with shelves well stocked with goods after many years in the doldrums.

Francistown is one of the places in Botswana, which records high numbers of Zimbabwean migrants who come in to buy and generally do business with the locals. But there is a tendency by some people from both sides of the border abusing the relationship between the two countries, which dates to long time ago.

Our sisters and brothers have married in Zimbabwe and vice versa but with the current levels of crime perpetrated by Zimbabweans, the law will have to take its course.

By Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the law enforcement agencies had virtually taken control of the city's main streets 'cleaning' the city streets of illegal immigrants who were wreaking havoc. They also targeted smoking out criminals who give city dwellers sleepless nights.

Over the skies of the city hovered a blue and white police helicopter, which was part of the combined operation by members of Botswana Police Service, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Botswana Prisons

Services, and other stakeholders like Immigration officers and others.

The helicopter was used to hunt down illegals and criminals.

By Wednesday morning, as early as 8am, the city's main streets were quiet and clear.Normally around this time, as you walk along the Blue Jacket and the infamous Haskins Streets, there would already be heavy movement of people and trucks either reversing to offload another consignment from the Chinese trucks or just taking another delivery to the other side of town.

Business was slow in the Chinese shops as the police arrested some of them for operating without licences.

Most of the Zimbabweans buy goods like electrical appliances, television sets, home theatres and Chinese television decoders in bulk from the Chinese shops and ferry them across the border.

Some of the Zimbabweans, who usually assist their countrymen pack the merchandise on the trucks, are illegal immigrants who do such piece jobs for survival. They are the same people that are being used as labourers in different construction sites around the city.The situation is changing because of the stepped up stop-and-search operations by Francistown law enforcement agencies.

Officer Commanding Number 15 Police District, Senior Superintendent Chabaesele Kesupetswe said they have decided to collaborate with other law enforcement departments to fight the high numbers of illegal immigrants invading Francistown.

Kesupetswe said as the Christmas holidays are approaching, people will be leaving their residences for different destinations. "Normally, this is the time when more robberies occur."

He said that illegal immigrants are always involved in most of the robberies and house break-inns reported, "hence we came up with a decision as law-enforcement agencies to form a joint-force with other law enforcement departments to catch as many illegal immigrants as possible."

Kesupetswe said since the operation started they have managed to catch 340 illegal immigrants but added that the number is likely to increase since they have managed to bring the police helicopter to Francistown.

Officer Commanding for Number One Police District, Senior Superintendent Alakanani Makobo said the operation in his area had by Tuesday managed to net 208 illegal immigrants.

He said that they want to ensure the safety of Batswana and their property. He said they would intensify their stop-question-and-search operation until they feel that they have managed to reduce or taken all the illegal immigrants back to their respective countries.

Police have warned illegal immigrants and criminals generally who have a tendency of playing hide and seek with the law that their time is up. They have promised to unleash their very best.

The police are however, banking on the cooperation of the community to help them curb crime.

If there is one man who can proudly thank the police for a job well done is Mbakile. A few days after his family was attacked, the police brought three Zimbabweans who had raided his house for identification.

This time around, tears of happiness and not pain welled up in his eyes as he had been hit by a string of misfortunes.

Motsamai Sekgopi is a resident of Block Seven in the Phase Four Development area, which is commonly known as Blocks. He will never forgive illegal immigrants as last month he was attacked by four men speaking with a Zimbabwean accent. They emptied his pockets and went away with his wallet containing his bankcards, Omang national identity card and cash.

He was excited this week as he saw the police helicopter circling the city in a bid to combat crime. "May be this will give us some peace," he says referring to the police operation.

Mavis Choto resides at Block Three location, which is a combination of low-income, middle-income and high-income. She was also impressed by the police use of a helicopter to fight crime.

"I wish Francistown and the Greater North could have its own helicopter based here to help the police in combating crime. We witnessed the helicopter in full pursuit of fugitives, which was a good thing," she says.

Mosimanegape Moreetsi was happy to see the police chopper, painted in white and blue, flying above treetops and making several moves as if the city were under siege.



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