Kuzeeko Tjitemisa/Albertina Nakale
Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander Tebo Dikote was yesterday unapologetic over the killing of Namibian fishermen who were gunned down last week Thursday between Impalila Island and the Kasika village on the Chobe River.
The Batswana commander accused the four slain men – three Namibians and a Zambian national – of being poachers.
Dikote in a statement yesterday informed his nation about the killing, saying his force acted in defending his country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interest.
“The incident, which happened on 5 November 2020 at around 23h00 in Sedudu area (Southern Channel of Chobe River), involved contact with a syndicate of poachers believed to be part of a network responsible for cross-border organised poaching,” he said.
“The matter has been handed over to relevant investigating agencies. As previously stated, there is an alarming surge of organised poaching for rhinoceros and elephants, especially in the Western part of the country (Okavango Delta and in the Chobe National Park).” News reports from the northern region claim that brothers Wamunyima (36), Martin (40) and Tommy Nchindo (48), as well as their cousin Sinvula Munyeme (44), a Zambian national, were gunned down by the BDF.
The shooting has been widely condemned back home, with the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) yesterday saying it was deeply concerned by the silence of the Namibian government on the “cold-blooded” killing of three brothers and their cousin.
Minister of international relations and cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah was yesterday unavailable for comment, as she was reportedly in meetings.
PDM leader McHenry Venaani in an open letter to President Hage Geingob and Nandi-Ndaitwah said the conduct of political, economic or cultural relations between Namibia and Botswana should be put aside so that government can provide a listening ear to hundreds of Namibians who are advocating for actions against the barbaric killings.
“Your Excellency, I write to you today, in disgust at our government’s ongoing close and supportive relationship with these neighbouring countries amidst increasingly clear connections to escalating killing and terror to Namibians living and visiting these countries. We are complicit in this violence and killing – because, in that, no thorough actions are taken to arrive at the bottom of these matters,” said Venaani.
“We are complicit in this violence and killing – because, in that, no thorough actions are taken to arrive at the bottom of these matters. These are serious and ongoing human rights abuses we are tolerating as a government, and all we do is release statements that matters are under investigations.”
Venaani said while the recent killing of the four men is linked to illegal fishing close to Kasika village near Kasane, it fits into a broad pattern of targeted attacks against unarmed civilians who are not found guilty by the court of law.
In criminal law, he said, guilt is the state of being responsible for the offence, but more generally by a court of law, not by the security forces. He said international human rights bodies, including Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and the African Union on Human Rights have all documented dramatic increases in killings of civilians.
He stated that government needs to take on the Botswana state and hold them accountable for killing innocent lives.
Zambezi regional governor Lawrence Sampofu yesterday condemned the killing, saying it is unacceptable and can be avoided.
“We condemn the killings of our people by the BDF. The incident is really not good for the neighbourhood. They could have at least arrested them instead of shooting them,” he said. “The residents in the region are really angry. They feel they are not protected by the government because the BDF is just killing our people. These people were just found near the river and not poaching.”
He, however, cautioned Namibians to desist from crossing the river illegally, although he is mindful that both Namibia and Botswana share natural resources such as fish, reeds and grass.
He said he will go and assess the situation at Impalila. The bodies of the victims are currently being held at Kasane, Botswana.
Over the past ten years, the BDF has killed over 30 Namibians and over 22 Zimbabwean nationals along the borders under their ‘shoot to kill’ policy.
Botswana and Namibia have previously engaged in a diplomatic spat after BDF anti-poaching teams gunned down a considerable number of Namibian nationals believed to be poachers.