To curtail the problem of illegal immigrants and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Botswana erected a high electric fence along the border with Zimbabwe dubbed â€˜Gaza Stripâ€™. Mmegi Staffer OARABILE MOSIKARE reflects on events leading to the erection of the fence and intended purpose
Botswana was losing millions of pula every year deporting illegal immigrants back to its economically and politically unstable Southern African neighbour, Zimbabwe. Not only was Botswana confronted with the issue of illegals but also the deadly FMD caused by cattle from across the border.
In 2003 the leadership of Botswana, under pressure from its citizens, erected the 2.4 metre high electric fence stretching nearly 800 kilometres of its border with Zimbabwe.
The decision did not go down well with the then Zimbabwean High Commissioner to Botswana, Phelekeza Mphoko, who reportedly accused Botswana of “trying to create a Gaza Strip” by erecting the electric fence. The cantankerous Mphoko, now one of the two-Zimbabwean vice presidents, was more of a street fighter than a diplomat, who once courted controversy after he allegedly ‘kaffir clapped’ a journalist for writing negative articles about his country. Before the slap incident he drove to Mahalapye to confront a headman who had meted out corporal punishment at a kgotla on some convicted Zimbabweans.
Back to the issue of the ‘Gaza Strip’. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mompati Merafhe was livid over Mphoko’s response about the fence.
The General, as Merafhe was fondly called, accused the Zimbabwean diplomat of being malicious. “Botswana has a problem with Zimbabwean illegal immigrants and cattle crossing the border spreading Foot and Mouth Disease.
“We are not closing borders with Zimbabwe, there are gazetted points of entry. The construction of the fence will continue,” explained the furious Merafhe. Three years later the then vice president, Ian Khama told a kgotla meeting in the Bobirwa area that the government was considering stopping installing of the P8 million electric fence due to recurring vandalism.
Instead security patrols by members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), the Botswana Police Service (BPS) and the veterinary officials would intensify their patrols along the border with Zimbabwe. The impoverished farmers were angry, but there was nothing they could do.
Actually the then Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Peter Siele told Parliament in 2006 that they stopped the project after encountering so many problems. Five years later the dreaded FMD hit the Zone 6 again. The government was forced to depopulate the area of all infected and in-contact animals. The animals were sold to neighbouring Zimbabwe, which is constantly blamed for the spread of FMD in Zone 6.
Mphoko’s ‘Gaza Strip’ is still there; abandoned, dilapidated and serving no purpose.