Lorato Bontle* is everything that any child would ever dream to have in a mother. A resilient and inspirational mother who has the strength of a thousand women, Bontle is a sterling example of the lengths and depths that some parents would go to give their children a better future.
Fourteen years ago, Bontle gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Tlhabi*. Tlhabi is currently doing Form 1. She is confined to a wheelchair due to a condition known as Amelia (born with no legs and arms). She is unable to do any basic tasks without any assistance – such as bathing herself, getting dressed, and many others that other able-bodied people can do. Tlhabi will be one of the beneficiaries of this year’s edition of the Desert Bush Walk slated for this Saturday in Jwaneng.
She has a number of needs, and organisers are hopeful that they will be able to assist. Every morning, since she started school, her mother has literally been with her at every chance. Using an old wheelchair that does not have any straps to hold her safe, the two take the walk and wheelchair ride to and from school every morning and afternoon, and the mother does this with a smile and swears it is what she will continue doing for as long as it will be necessary. What makes her even more extraordinary is that besides Tlhabi, she has three other children, the eldest being 23 years old, and her youngest being just two months old. Ideally, she should be in confinement as tradition dictates caring for the youngest member of her family, but that is not the case.
She told this publication that life has been treating them well, despite the daily challenges that they face. Bontle’s role at school is to assist Tlhabi when she has to use the bathroom, feed her and do other things that she needs help with. A teacher-aid handles the other responsibilities to do with education. “We rely on the support of her school peers, and school administration including her teachers such as Lekwalo Thobega,” she explained. This has obviously affected her because while her focus is on her daughter, her life is literally on a standstill. Having accepted Tlhabi the way she is has gone a long way in making life easier for her in the community.
For her part, Tlhabi who sat quietly dressed in her beautiful dress and a girly jacket, said she really appreciates everything that her mother has done for her. At school, she is in love with two subjects – Religious Education and Office Procedures – and wants to have her own office one day! “I actually want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she said as she smiled shyly, adding that she really enjoys her time in school. “I love going to school and learning. One day, I am going to make my mother proud and do something remarkable for her,” she said. Thobega, a Counselling teacher at the school, described Tlhabi as a beautiful soul with a very strong character. She pointed out that other children would have long given up on going to school but that this is not the case with her. “One thing that makes her even more special is the fact that everywhere she goes, everyone has to stand and accommodate her,” she said.
She noted that Tlhabi needs essentials such as a special toilet, a wheelchair, a walkway for the wheelchair. She also needs special books as she uses her neck to hold a pen. “She is doing very well at school, and enjoys her education a lot,” she said. To ascertain her needs, local NGO, Diamonds of Hope recently took her for assessment at the Jwaneng Mine. A representative of the organisation Sethunya Moala explained that they will take her to Johannesburg for further assessment. She said that Tlhabi needs an electric wheelchair, limbs, and that they will see how they help her.
The NGO has been in existence for three years, and their focus is on charity work. Other projects that they have been involved in include working with the Matsha students who were involved in a truck accident some years back. They have also assisted a Moshupa resident who lost her property to a house fire to mention a few. She said that they hold a fundraising dinner every year and that was how they heard about Tlhabi. Bontle* and Tlhabi* are pseudonyms to protect the identities of the subjects
BACK ON TRACK
BR train 0501/BD 540 would not have derailed on 10 December 2019 had necessary precautions been taken, Botswana Railways (BR) staff members told the ongoing commission of inquiry in Mahalapye.
They blame the fatal accident in which two BR employees were killed on a raft of lapses, indecisions and negligence on the part of BR management. BR Senior Traffic Controller Simon Matenje revealed that there is a WhatsApp group that discusses everything concerning the running of BR trains. He said meteorological services had posted a memo warning that there would be floods on 4th December and shared it on the WhatsApp group. “The contents of the memo and their implications were discussed,” said Matenje who revealed that the group comprises most of the senior personnel in the BR hierarchy.
He lamented that although read and discussed the contents of the memo were “not given due attention.” Above that, on 9th and 10th December many BR staff members using the south bound and north bound trains warned relevant authorities about the possibility of floods, said Matenje. He believes there was negligence of duty on the part of management because everybody was aware of the floods at Moreomabele and Palla Road. “The relevant office should have directed stoppage of the trains or the adoption of an appropriate speed limit. “The best that management did was to give warnings about the floods but fell short of prescribing a solution,” he said. Matenje, who was on leave, said that he communicated his concerns about the reports of flooding and possible solutions to no avail.
When asked who exactly had the authority to do that, Matenje explained that it was the Operation’s Manager. Matenje also decried the lapses in the organisation’s system. He said motor trollies are helpful when inspecting the railway line. “However, they have not featured for a long time,” said Matenje who feels that regular inspection of the rail is a very critical part of safety. He said BR has not held any safety workshops in a long time. Mompoloki Rutherford, a train driver also appearing before the commission conceded that trollies had not been used on the BR lines for a long time. He said some senior managers use the train to inspect the line instead of trollies. “There are only two seats in the cabin but, contrary to safety rules, sometimes they just join us in the cabin which is a breach of the safety rules,” said Rutherford. Dikabelo Nawa, a retired train driver noted that BR workers were a sad lot because of pressure always exerted on them by management.
“Drivers work under pressure. The line between Mafikeng and Plumtree is old and very bad but we were always pushed by management to arrive on time. “There is just too much pressure. I once lost time and that put me into a big problem.” He said. He is also unhappy with the undergrowth and hanging branches next to the line because they obstruct the view of the crew. He appealed to the panel to recommend the introduction of a training centre for BR staff.
Peter Mokokwe, a recently retired train driver also complained that the rail road is never inspected. In addition to that, he told the commission that, he witnessed water around Palla Road on 9th December at the same place where the derailment later took place. Mokokwe, who himself did not alert control room about the water because he had heard through radio communication that his colleagues had reported the situation to control room, is also of the view that the disaster could have been averted had the 501 crew been alerted of the water situation.
On the other hand, a train controller named Moses Sethomo says he never got the communique warning the drivers about the impending floods. “There was a clear breakdown of communication,” said Sethomo who revealed that very often, even BR assets are wrongly used. “For example, sometimes freight locomotives instead of passenger train locomotives are used to haul the passenger train and this is a safety concern,” he noted. The hearings are continuing this week. The rail services that were suspended have since been resumed.
Youth lament slow pace towards ICPD commitments
Young people representing Botswana at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya last week have expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which governments are moving towards achieving ICPD25 ideals.
Trevor Oahile, a youth advocate and student at the University of Botswana participated at the Nairobi Summit to highlight on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of men and boys.
Oahile hosts a radio show sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Don’t Get It Twisted on Yarona FM. The show deals with issues that affect boys and men. Oahile participated in a panel discussion at the Summit on the involvement of men and boys in accelerating the ICPD promise.
He is of the view that countries needs to work together to end violence that is perpetuated by harmful gender norms that are antagonistic to progress towards the ideals of the ICPD agenda. “Botswana government and private sector are still challenged to invest a lot of money into implementing their commitments,” Oahile said, adding that Comprehensive Sexual Education on the other hand has to be rolled out to every school in the country.
“We also acknowledge that it is important to avoid stereotypes that impact decisions that people make. Men and boys often avoid certain services because they are known to be for girls and women,” Oahile said. Millicent Sethaile was at the Summit as a youth ambassador from an organisation called Her Voice, which funds and offers grants to smaller organisations that advocate for SRHR in communities. In her view the summit was significant because it was an opportunity for countries including Botswana to make commitments to fulfill the unfinished business of the ICPD made 25 years ago.
“What struck me the most is that I realised that Botswana has a long way to go to achieve the commitments she set for herself.”Sethaile also observed that the four commitments including to strengthen access to family planning, the reduction of maternal deaths, reduction of Gender Based Violence, provision of quality, timely and disaggregated data are activities that were already in the pipeline and have been discussed before. “I believe we now have to come up with actionable items that we can work on so that we can effectively deal with current challenges.”
For 18 year old University student Michelle Simon, the Nairobi Summit was a reality check, an opportunity to reflect and map the way forward.
“I realised that there are so many challenges, especially in Africa concerning SRHR,” Simon said. She also realised that Botswana has a lot of catching up to do to implement the commitments of the ICPD. “I also realised that issues including youth in power were left out.” Botho Mahlunge on the other hand comes back from the Summit with a conclusion that there are a lot of predicaments that young people find themseles in across the African continent including GBV and teenage pregnancy.
Programmes need to be intensified to ensure implementation. Mahlunge is also of the view that there is minimum youth engagement on issues that affet them the most. “Young people are tired of always convening about the same issues. It’s time to see the outcomes of Summits and Conferences,” Mahlunge said. She advised the youth to also be willing to engage when the oppotunity avails itself and to take up programmes that have been set to help them. Mahlunge said that failure to educate our young people on sexuality “is the reason so many girls are getting pregnant and infected with HIV.”
She said the continued exclusion of young people in rural areas from sexual and reproductive health and rights discussion is also to blame for the prevailing state of affairs. “Young people in rural areas are completely vulnerable. They are so far removed from the little information and services available to young people in urban areas,” Mahlunge observed.
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