Botswana Secondary School Teachers Union (BOSETU) members have decided to completely stop using open trucks to transport students for sporting and any other school activities starting this term (2007).
This is a Gantsi 2006 Congress resolution. Teachers feel that a lot of lives have been lost due to the use of open trucks. While there have been many accidents in the past, there are some that still haunt and traumatize teachers due to their horrific nature. Teachers usually recall the Gosemama CJSS accident of 1995 where nine students and one teacher lost their lives and others are still carrying indelible scars today. Still in 1995, two Setlalekgosi CJSS students (Francistown) lost their lives at Dikabeya and others including their teachers, are also carrying the terrible scars of that accident. In 2003, five students of Kedia primary school in the Boteti area died when their truck overturned. In 2005, two students of Shakawe secondary school died and others were seriously injured after their truck overturned.
Besides loss of life, open trucks have also subjected students to extremely bad weather conditions. Students and teachers have been soaked to the skin during rainy seasons; scorched black and dry by the torrid Botswana sun and blown pale by the strong dusty winds.
In the past week, BOSETU attended all the four Botswana Integrated Sports Association (BISA) Zonal preparatory meetings of South, South Central, North Central and North to remind them of the Gantsi Congress open truck boycott resolution. Sports masters then unanimously agreed that the boycott of open trucks will not make them party anymore to the continued death of their innocent students. Some of the attendants said that they are haunted by students who died in these accidents while they were in their custody.
The other concern expressed by teachers is the use of indemnity forms by government on the parents. To safeguard against possible litigation from parents, the Government gets them (parents) to sign indemnity forms thus absolving it (government) of the responsibility for accident victims. This means that government is not legally bound to compensate victims of road accidents when using her vehicles. The Attorney General’s Chamber Civil Division, told BOSETU that students involved in road accidents while traveling in government vehicles may not be compensated by the government. The Division was shocked to learn that schools use the indemnity form to absolve the government in the event of an accident.
BOSETU therefore calls upon government to urgently consider buying buses for all these four regions. During the above BISA meetings, teachers also suggested that as an alternative temporary measure, government must increase the transport and traveling vote so that schools can hire buses. They also suggested that four- wheel buses are now available on the market and these can be used in sandy and remote areas where normal buses cannot traverse. Given the statistics, teachers strongly felt that though buses also get involved in road accidents, they are far safer than open trucks. With a humanitarian note, and others quoting Vision 2016 pillar of a ‘compassionate and caring nation’, they concluded that the resolution will actually help promote a fundamental human right-the right to life.
Meanwhile, Botswana Police (Traffic Branch) informed BOSETU that transporting people in open trucks is not a traffic offence, but they strongly condemn and discourage it and are disappointed that teachers have in fact been sustaining it with reckless abandon. MVA Fund also confirmed to BOSETU that accident victims including students traveling in government vehicles are not covered by their organisation in terms of compensation.
The Department of Roads, Transport and Safety have mounted numerous campaigns for years now preaching against the use of open trucks to transport people.
BOSETU therefore advises teachers not to betray students’ lives by exposing them to possible fatal open truck accidents. BOSETU further calls upon the government, the Ministry of Education in particular, to get its priorities right by urgently considering purchasing buses to transport students. BOSETU strongly believes the government has the means to do so. Subjecting students to all these bad conditions does not augur well with the caring and compassionate nature Botswana is globally known for.
The boycott of open trucks does not mean that teachers should stop training their athletes and / or participating in extra-curricular activities.
This letter was written 26 February 2007. Hunyepa was Executive Secretary of BOSETU at the time