Saturday, December 9, 2023

Good work but not enough from BDF alone

Recently Botswana Defence Force showed up a beautiful and portable house on social media that was being given out as a donation. This good gesture by our military was going to one Jacobus Matthys. This individual was retired on medical grounds in 1999 after he lost both his legs while in Somalia. Matthys was part of a BDF contingent that participated in the US-led Operation Restore Hope. This soldier stepped onto a landmine that severed his legs. It was a sad day for his colleagues serving with him and those at home. The BDF had become participants in this operation at the end of 1993 at the request of the American government.

Lieutenant Colonel Thulaganyo Masisi became the first contingent commander to lead the troops into that hostile environment. Our troops performed exceptionally well and beyond the expectation of many in the country and abroad. President Masire was elated on this achievement. On that fateful day, Matthys joined his section of soldiers on a routine patrol. Mogadishu was such a hostile place to be, stepping out of their base was always a reminder that they may not all return to the comfort of their protected base. On that fateful day, no one in this group of soldiers knew that one of them would return in a stretcher and without limbs. Matthys was soon sent airlifted home after recovering from an American military field hospital for two months. When he arrived, he continued with his medical care until he was declared heathy.

Even though BDF did not have a disability policy in place, they decided to maintain his employment. The fellow was kept as part of the registry staff for his 77 Mechanised Infantry Battalion. He remained there until the institution decided to release him. When he was retired on medical grounds, he was at the time holding the rank of Lance Corporal. He went over to live in his remote village of Struizendam in Kgalagadi District. His life has deteriorated over time and this is why Lieutenant General Placid Diratsagae Segokgo kick-started the campaign to raise funds to build this fellow a decent house. The nation needs to recognise the efforts made by the BDF leadership toward raising money to build this beautiful structure.

What they have done is in line with our past vision 2016, which called for compassion to all. But people are asking why BDF has waited for so long to get this done. This fellow lives in the desert and without limbs, on a daily basis he is faced with a humongous challenge of traversing that landscape with a non-motorized wheelchair. Still others are questioning why so late. It has been twenty eight years since Matthys was incapacitated. To begin with, BDF does not bear the responsibility of caring for military veterans. It is the duty of the Ministry of Defence to look after those who have served this country in the past. The BDF commander’s role remains to recruit, train and equip those service members of the military and to take care of their welfare.

He is answerable to the minister for service members only. The commander and his staff need to be congratulated for achieving this milestone. This was not an easy exercise as the contributions had to go to round two in order to meet the budget for the house. It is not just an ordinary house, it is a significantly decent one that will help recover the dignity of the recipient. Now the question is; what is the Ministry of Defence doing about the veterans who have challenges in life post their military service?

Minister Thomas Mmusi is the relevant authority to answer this important question. Soldiers should not be the ones raising capital to try and improve the lives of their former comrades in arms. There is a specific office at that ministry that has to deal with such matters. As mentioned before, it is not the duty of the commander to be taking care of the welfare of veteran soldiers when this country has a ministry that should be doing that course. It is appreciated if serving members of the BDF raise money to augment what the ministry has already done. But in this case, they were starting from scratch. It is apparently clear that Minister Mmusi is not interested in playing a role in alleviating the lives of military veterans. This is true because the fellow has failed to take up the Military Veterans Bill to parliament in two full years.

What is so difficult about tabling a motion in parliament which is certainly going to receive unanimous agreement? It is lack of political will that is standing between the minister and parliament. Soldiers were generally happy at Mmusi’s appointment because he himself has served at BDF. His service as an officer should inform him that he needs to triple his efforts to get the veterans bill to parliament. The minister must get to the realisation that he will also be a beneficiary by virtue of being a veteran. It is not only Matthys who is living a life of destitution; there are many more who have similar of even worse situations. The number of veterans requiring wheel chairs is alarming. Some sustained injuries after service but they are still veterans that require care from a government that they so diligently served. Hopefully the minister will take the Veterans Bill to parliament in the next session that comes in July.

While many are hopeful and waiting, many are lost to death from various conditions and we cannot rule out stress and depression. One of them even committed suicide less than three weeks ago. We hope this long delayed bill will bring something of value to the lives of military veterans of Botswana. Our neighbours in South Africa and Zimbabwe are far ahead of us. They are diligently taking good care of their military veterans so much that those in Zimbabwe have increased in number over time. But remember that we were fighting the same enemy, the white supremacists in southern Africa.


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