Gangsters’ paradise

Thamaga gang members in  Molepolole Magistrate Court
Thamaga gang members in Molepolole Magistrate Court

The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture has decided to sponsor the notorious Thamaga gang group, known as Matsetsenkane, on a trip to Okavango to unwind, learn and each pocket P700 afterwards.

Mmegi has learnt that on Sunday, members of the dangerous gang will travel to Okavango with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Integration of Offenders (BIRRO) to ‘unwind’. The holiday is meant to engage the group in various discussions meant to lure the naughty boys out of their wayward ways.

BIRRO, a group of rehabilitated and reintegrated ex-convicts has been brought in to provide their past experiences and lecture to the gang. BIRRO was tasked with the tough job of identifying members of the gang and managed to get about 45, but only 36 are eligible to go to Okavango, as some will be in court accounting for their criminal activities.

The minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Thapelo Olopeng has defended the move saying it is not spoiling them but a strategy to rehabilitate and counsel the gang to reform and refocus. Most of the members are University of Botswana dropouts.


Olopeng said a rich programme is being planned to feed the boys. “I am hopeful that they will emerge from the trip as responsible young men with better goals in life,” he said. Olopeng could not field other questions and instead referred Mmegi to his Permanent Secretary, Louis Malikongwa who pleaded with the publication not to report anything on the issue saying it is very sensitive. “Reporting on the issue may defeat the whole purpose of our objective,” he said.

He then refused to field questions, saying since he had no authority to tell us what to write, “then go ahead with your story, I  have nothing to say to you”. It is understood that the programme features business lectures, behaviour change, counselling and sharing of ideas and experiences.

It is understood that the 36 members will each pocket over P700 at the end of the retreat in compensation for their time out. The money amounts to over P25,000. The trip is altogether expected to cost over P100,000.

While the minister justifies the move, the affected community and leadership of Thamaga are in the dark.

Kgosi Segale Gobuamang of Thamaga said while it has been hinted to the traditional leadership, they are clueless about what will be going on in Okavango.

“You better speak to the District Commissioner. He is the one who hinted to us that they will be going on such a trip but could not divulge more. So I cannot field any questions because I don’t know much,’ Kgosi Gobuamang said. He however said as the village leadership, “we welcome any suggestion or intervention that may help rehabilitate them”. The District Commissioner, Fredrick Monyakeng also refused to engage on the matter, reiterating Malikongwa’s views that the trip was to be kept a secret.

“In counselling and rehabilitation issues confidentiality is key, we have agreed that the issues should remain secret. We will issue a public statement once we have failed or succeeded on what we will be doing there,” he said further adding that most of the gang members are young people who need to be protected.

While appreciative of efforts to rehabilitate the gangsters, Thamaga West councillor, Tona Selala said the government should know that the youth is lured into these activities by unemployment.  “While we welcome any development that may help reform these boys we equally call on the government to know and address the root causes,” he said.

He said as political leadership they have not been consulted.  “Maybe they have consulted Dikgosi but it is important to consult all stakeholders when you carry out such interventions so that we do not in the process end up running parallel intervention programmes,” he said.

Matsetsenkane, and other groups such as Merubisi, have in recent years been known to terrorise the Thamaga community, committing despicable and horrendous crimes, which left the nation shocked. The notorious gangs, largely made up of school going teenagers led by the fearsome school drop-outs, have for the past years taken to beating, maiming, robbing and even killing with impunity. It was only after the murder of an elderly woman last year November that Dikgosi, the community and the police came together and declared they would fight back. For three months after, the security forces, who included members of the Botswana Police Service, the Special Support Group and the Botswana Defence Force descended on Thamaga to restore order, and peace prevailed.

The Okavango trip is said to be part of the government programme to identify juvenile delinquency groups, and take them on mentoring trips. But most of the trips are said to fail because the organisers decline, as they want to be paid. Mmegi has learnt that the groups argued that the Ministry officials only want to use them when it suits them without any financial support for their hard work.

Out of the invited anti-delinquency groups only BIRRO acceded to the request. The group has been instrumental in combating crime and providing counsel to criminals and former criminals. The group however has some pending issues with the government. They have been advocating for changes in some laws for ex-convicts to feel free and be fully reintegrated into the society.

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