Sunday, April 18, 2021

Molepolole riots blamed on intelligence failure

As Molepolole reeled from its biggest riot ever on Friday, Police officers and village administrators were coming to terms with the exposure of what may be the biggest failure of intelligence since the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) was set up.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information suggesting that the riot was not a heat-of-the-moment reaction to an approach by police. It followed lengthy preparations, including students’ mobilization and coordination.

Police officers at the scene admitted that there were never any security measures in place to contain the riot because they had not anticipated one.

Even Cabinet was caught off guard. Minister of Education, Pelonomi Venson Moitoi, who apparently did not have the benefit of intelligence allegedly ignored advice from Molepoloe Member of Parliament, Daniel Kwelagobe, to close school. It is believed this would have disrupted the student plan to strike. Venson Moitoi could not be reached for comment.

Sunday Standard can reveal that the students were sticking to an elaborate plan. It all started with students from Moruakgomo Community Junior Secondary School walking to Sedumedi Community Junior School to mobilise their support. When they arrived at the school, Sedumedi students were ready for their arrival. The intention was to present a petition to the Regional Education Officer, the District Commissioner and Chairman of the District Council outlining their complaints about deteriorating learning conditions as a result of the strike. The students were to then retreat to join government workers who are on strike.

When incoming students arrived, the police were divided over whether they should barricade gates to restrict communication between the two groups or just let the students move freely. The police officer who was commanding the crew insisted on sealing off Sedumedi students from those of Moruakgomo. The decission agitated students and for the first time offered a glimpse of what was to follow when students started hurling stones at the police who immediately ran for cover without offering the slightest resistance.

Molepolole police officers were caught off guard and the riot was a study of Murphy’s law in intelligence: anything that could go wrong did. Police officers, who were caught unprepared, argued over tactics in front of an agitated mob of students. The overstretched and ill prepared team of police officers could not contain the riot and fled from the charging mob to seek cover in a busy shopping complex.

Reinforcements, in the form of a police chopper and five amour plated anti riot Land Rover Defenders, were only brought in after the mob had dispersed, half a dozen police officers were rushed to hospital and a number of students shot with rubber bullets and chocked with tear gas.
For most of the day, up until reinforcements arrived from Gaborone, the police were outnumbered, outwitted and outmanouvred by a group of students some of whom were as young as twelve years.

After a bruising battle, which lasted for well over an hour, during which the police were forced to flee inside one of Molepolole’s shopping complexes from where they were stoned out , some Junior officers accused their superior of provocative conduct towards students.

Emerging from their refuge inside the shopping complex, which itself bore subststantial scars from the encounter, a number of officers were helped into police trucks to the Scottish Livingstone Hospital for medical attention.

“We should not have harrassed these students. It was provocation on our part that led to all this,”said one junior officer who was also bleeding.

The message from the junior secondary school students was clear and simple: “we want education”.
This was in protest against the almost three weeks they have been spending at school without any guidance from their teachers, many of whom have been camping on one side of the village as part of the ongoing standoff between public servants on one hand and Governmdent on the other over trade unions’demands for a 16 percent across the board salary increases.

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