Tuesday, April 23, 2024

At last Botswana Christian Council finds its voice

For the first time since he was born in Moshupa in 1961, Peter Sethibe has never seen what he is seeing unfold in his village today. And he has seen pretty much – including during his political career as a councilor and also as a small-time business man. He owns two trucks – that is if both are working, which is seldom the case and uses the trucks to carry sand for the local community. Sethibe says the harvesting of sand in his village has left Moshupa barren and very dangerous especially during the rainy season.

The Village Development Community says Moshupa East and Moshupa West are worst affected. The police too are not spared. Villagers speak openly about officers receiving bribes to look away as big truckers from Gaborone descend onto Moshupa to loot sand – at night and illegally. But Moshupa Police Station commander, David Ramoseki is of the view that it is the villagers who are colluding with “sand thieves” by acting as their pimps. He says the community has been infiltrated and is being manipulated by big business eager to get sand. On the ground the police are seeing syndicates made up of young local men who communicate with those in search of sand, where to go, how to dodge the police and also which direction the police are moving.

The Village head, Kgosi Oscar Mosielele has been grappling with this environmental disaster for as long as he can remember. There is still no break-through. At one time in the past he felt like a solution had been found after the central government agreed to work with bogosi only for the agreement to collapse. Kgosi Mosielele worries that when all the disaster has played out, the people of Moshupa will remain poorer – with big holes on the ground and nothing to show for it. He blames the Department of mines for their unwillingness to work with the community to find a lasting solution. From his tone he is clearly hurt, but not disillusioned. He underscores his readiness and that of his tribesmen to do what is right to secure the future of their children and grandchildren. Behind all this chaos lurks the Church – an otherwise unlikely party on these matters, some in Botswana might say. For the first time, the Church is going full force on issues of the environment, inequality, social justice and poverty.

Botswana Christian Council, led by Bishop Beleme of the Anglican Church has responded by mounting a number of simultaneous campaigns to draw public attention to the net effects of mining on the communities surrounding mines. Moshupa is one area used as a guinea pig. The Church is getting more assertive. They have in the past come under attack, including from opposition leader Duma Boko for not doing their civic duty. But it is the Covid-19 pandemic that seems to be firing them into action. Since the pandemic started, families that had escaped from poverty have since slipped back. The church is clearly worried that if these social issues are not tackled, they will over time become untenable and even foment social unrest.

In Botswana as elsewhere, the relationship between the Church and the State as well as the Church and business has often been tricky, with the church in Botswana accused of cozying up to the two at the expense of the poor. It looks like Botswana Christian Council is out to mend its ways.  They have even created a fully-fledged media arm.A video created by Botswana Christian Council in Medie village in the Kweneng District is particularly distressing. That same video is used by Botswana Christian Council as a preemptive strike to telegram exactly how they intend to remake not only what they stand for but also their new public image.

An old couple is seen showing how blasting at a nearby mine is causing cracks in their houses. Mine trucks run through the road passing across the village with wanton abandon, oblivious of students walking to and from school. The conflict between the mine and the mine-affected community is palpable. The dust – from the mine, but also from the mine trucks is weighing down on the health of the local community. Things came to a head when goats belonging to the couple breached the fence and went inside the mine. Desperate, the old woman braced herself to jump the fence. She was restrained by some of her relatives.

She ended up approaching the local chief for assistance. While she finally got her goats back, she still feels that the price they are paying for developments is too steep. The mismatch between the mine and the local communities is evident. Mines are run and owned by powerful individuals. The companies are rich and able to hire public relations companies to crush the voices of the local communities. Mine-affected communities, as in the case of Medie are very rural and with little education. Long before the arrival of the mine, the Medie community was already lagging behind on various development indices. Reaching the village is itself a struggle.

The village is extremely rural and poor.  Water is a problem. Many in the community rely on government food handouts for sustenance. Disease is prevalent. And kids have to walk a long distance to and from school. Many drop out before reaching secondary school. And young girls start having sex when they are barely teens. The development of a mine in the vicinity had been welcomed as a big opportunity for poverty alleviation.

Instead it has brough misery and suffering. It is the issues brought by mining that the Botswana Christian Council is picking and campaigning against. The General Secretary of the Council, Rev Motshwane speaks of the pain that mining-affected communities have to go through as a trade-off for presumed developments, starting with relocations to make way for the mine and having to forfeit their grazing lands.

But it is what sand mining and harvesting is doing to the community of Moshupa that has gotten Botswana Christian council most worried. The environmental degradation that has resulted in and around Moshupa has been breathtaking. The helplessness and in some cases complicit of the officials has left the local communities stunned. The net impact is staggering. Sand in Moshupa is taken at an industrial scale. There are whispers that trucks ferrying sand from Moshupa into Gaborone, but at times as far away as Takatokwane are owned by powerful individuals including inside cabinet.

Kgosi Mosielele says a time when his tribesmen will be buying sand from quarries as far away as Gaborone because there will no longer be any sand left in Moshupa is not too far away. For now the people of Moshupa can only watch in despair; totally helpless to stop the environmental looting that happens right before their eyes during the day and also at night. At least now they are not alone as the Botswana Christian Council has promised to take their case high up in its advocacy campaigns.

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