Saturday, May 15, 2021

BDF soldiers threatening mutiny

The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is reported to be investigating the source of a document claiming that a section of its members are threatening mutiny.

BDF told the Sunday Standard this week that “questions raised on your questionnaire which are based on alleged complaints border on issues of national security and may provide a platform for mutinous conduct alleged or intended in part of service members.”

The document claims that the recent relocation of rhinos from Zimbabwe and South Africa to Botswana has exposed the BDF anti-poaching unit to danger as they now have to confront armed poachers “who are in pursuit of the relocated rhinos.”

The authors of the document, who call themselves “concerned soldiers” complained of the army command’s failure to address their welfare concerns following the relocation of the rhinos. They claim that whenever their tried to engage the BDF command on their concerned, they were accused of indiscipline.

The document which has been passed to the Sunday Standard, alleges that the concerned soldiers who identified themselves as junior soldiers are threatening to withdraw services such as border patrols and anti poaching activities.

The document warned that Botswana government should not be “surprised to wake up one morning and find that a number of wild animals have been shot dead by poachers.”  The “concerned soldiers” complain that they are putting their lives at risk although they do not benefit anything from the tourism sector.

They further claimed that they “can’t endure the situation anymore and it is time to fight for our rights with our fellow brothers who have since quit the army.”

“We would like to remind Government of Botswana and its fellow people that it is too hard to operate in anti poaching activities while we are benefiting nothing from it.  Recently rhinos were relocated from South Africa and Zimbabwe and we believe that this process has attracted poachers from the countries where the rhinos were relocated,” said the alleged concerned soldiers.  

The document further states that sometime in 2010 government promised the BDF officers that it will start paying them for 25 working days. The government has allegedly gone back on its promise and soldiers who dare to inquire about the promise are allegedly accused of indiscipline.

The concerned soldiers allege that BDF Commander, Major General Gaolathe Galebotswe is failing to address them in their various barracks to get first hand information about their grievances. They said they are not paid overtime allowances like other public servants but only paid what is called “Ex-Fact allowance,” which should be paid to us as of results of conditions where we are deployed.”

The junior soldiers said they are paid 50 percent commuted allowance, 50 percent meal allowance, “while officers get 75 and still the same officers’ benefit from the 50 percent meal allowance.”

In a written response to Sunday Standard queries, Acting Director, Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola warned that the “Botswana Defence Force wishes to bring to your attention that questions raised on your questionnaire which are based on alleged complaints border on issues of national security and may provide a platform for mutinous conduct alleged or intended in part of service members.”

Machola said “It is important to note that the alleged threat to withdraw services is likely to impact on national interests to include tourism industry by any service members is mutinous and offends the provisions of section 32 of the BDF Act 34 and punishable under.”

Machola further stated that, military operations by nature are life threatening and for the originator of the purported document to allege that relocating rhinos from South Africa and Zimbabwe will put their lives in danger, defies military ethos in all fairness and are a strong indicator of the calibre of the alleged individual(s).

“The alleged grievances are not only unfounded but are also misplaced and lacking in understanding of the authorities, rules, regulations and or laws governing conditions of service for the members BDF,” said Machola.

He said it was an unfortunate ignorance on the part of the author of the alleged complaint to say they are entitled to be paid at 25 days but are only paid at the rate of 22 days.

“It appears to us to us on the face thereof that the author confuses the rate at which other ranks earn annual leave with the rate at which monthly pay for that cadre of ranks is determined,” said Machola.  

He said the 22 days rate at which members of the BDF, Officer or Other Ranks, draw salary is provided for in the DPSM Directive no. 5 of 2011.

“The payments made to members of the BDF are all based on the authority of the Defence Council and are not determined by the Commander, BDF,” said Machola.

He said Galebotswe addresses soldiers in a liberal forum such as and when the circumstances require, whereat, soldiers are free to raise their concerns and have in the past taken advantage of such meetings.

“Besides meetings and addresses, there are directives and circulars which issued by the Commander to address solders on a need to know basis on matters pertaining to their conditions of service and welfare. In addition to that the BDF has a chain of command in place which requires commanders at every level to address troops and be in touch with their subordinates on welfare and conditions of service,” said Machola.

He said recently the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi addressed service members on welfare issues and informed them that the government was in the course of reviewing conditions of services for members.

“At this meeting, as it has happened with his predecessors, the minster heard grievances from soldiers and responded accordingly to their issues,” Machola said.

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