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SCHOOL OF HORROR

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TROUBLED PLACE OF LEARNING: Lempu Junior Secondary School continues to be haunted by a mysterious disease and parents want their children out of the school. Meanwhile, Kweneng Regional Director Benson Rauwe (right) confirms they are facing serious problems but continue to engage parents in order to find a lasting solution.

Kweneng Regional Education Director Benson Rauwe has admitted that they are running helter skelter trying to find solutions to an uproar unfolding in his region.Parents residing in the catchment areas of Salajwe village are said to be furious and demanding that authorities should not dare place their children at Lempu Junior Secondary School for the next academic year of 2020.

Lempu is a secondary school that was hit by a condition known as ‘Mass Hysteria’ early this year. More than 100 students were admitted at Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole said to be suffering from the bizarre condition. The condition made children wobbly while others could not walk. Doctors are yet to establish the cause of the condition or find anything that can lead them to a cure. Meanwhile students are reported to be battling with the condition to this day.

Parents are not ready to gamble with their children’s future and are suggesting that while the government is busy establishing the cause their children should be sent elsewhere. Others have even gone an extra mile by transferring their children from the school with the intention of distancing them entirely from the mass hysteria scourge.The Midweek Sun visited the regional director in Molepolole this week, who openly admitted that they are in a painful situation as more than 90 percent of parents have instructed them to place their children in neighbouring villages of Letlhakeng or Takatokwane.

“Lempu has been admitting students from the villages of Monwane, Khudumelapye, Malwelwe, Kaudwane and Sorilatholo however parents are no longer comfortable with their children schooling there. “This means that only the people of Salajwe are left to deal with the condition,” Rauwe said.He said the school had 622 pupils and more than 50 teachers but as of this past Tuesday, information gathered was that since the school reopened last month, 95 students had not returned to school. “30 of those are in Form 3, 27 in Form 2 classes while 35 are Form 1s and it should be noted that they are all girls,” he said. Rauwe said that according to a personal investigation he carried out, it does not seem like the students will return to school anytime soon.

Their health he said is seemingly deteriorating and their hands seemingly stiff now. It was under such circumstances that they took a decision that the affected students will be readmitted next year. Nevertheless he is worried that Lempu School could become a white elephant since everybody wants out. “We are expecting a worst case scenario because I do no see parents easily having a change of heart. “However we are busy refurbishing the school and hoping that parents will let their children school in Salajwe,” he said. He said they have no answers yet about the condition but myths thrown around are that ghosts are haunting the school while others believe the school is cursed. He said the affected students told them that they saw small looking creatures described as Thokolosi while others said that donkeys and goats appear at the windows at night.

“Those are all myths and we cannot really know if there are some truths to the stories because nobody can corroborate their claims,” Rauwe said.

HEADMASTER REDEPLOYED AT LEMPU
The Midweek Sun understands that Lempu School Head Barulaganye Moseki has been redeployed and the government is waiting to bring a new headmaster at the school. It is said that the parents were not in a negotiating mood as they requested that Moseki be removed from the school. They were dead serious about it and the ministry had to act quickly. Two other officials at the school are said to have also walked out. However, Rauwe remained cagey saying the matter was at management level and could not comment on it.

MASS HYSTERIA TRACED IN MPHUTE
Meanwhile the Kweneng region might as well prepare for the worst as the condition has allegedly spread to Mphuthe School in Letlhakeng. According to reliable sources at the school, two students recently showed signs of the bizarre condition. However, the headmaster Meshack Sechele and his team are said to have dealt with the matter swiftly and there are no signs of the condition spreading. Sources at the school said that the headmaster has been talking to the children and it remains a mystery what he said to them that made the condition not to spread like in Lempu. Some even wonder if all the children are affected or some of them are just attention seekers.

The affected pupils are said to have recently transferred from Lempu School. When visited at his school, Sechele and his deputy Kedumetse Mokganele said that they could not comment on the matter. They admitted that they have been seeing many parents coming to them asking that their children come to school in Mphuthe. “It will mean admitting a large number here but we do not have facilities to accommodate a large number in Mphuthe and we are hopeful that the region will find a solution,” Sechele said.

THE MIDWEEK SUN CHASED AWAY FROM KHUDUMELAPYE VILLAGE
In Khudumelapye, a village just 22 km away from Letlhakeng and said to have a high number of parents wanting nothing to do with Lempu School, The Midweek Sun crew was chased away by the leaders, led by Kgosi Othusitse Mosimane.Kgosi and his advisors accompanied by Khudumelapye Primary School Head and other officers said to be from the clinic said that they do not want to speak to the media without the involvement of the government.

“Please leave our village, nobody informed us of your visit and if you stubbornly do interviews here and you are attacked or something, don’t come back here crying,” they said. Interestingly, this publication learnt that the village leaders are allegedly the ones hellbent on ensuring that their children be removed from Lempu. Which could only suggest that they have also turned their backs on Lempu School.

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BACK ON TRACK

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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.

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Youth lament slow pace towards ICPD commitments

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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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