Allegations of a witch hunt have been raised against a Board of Inquiry, which began public hearings into the Botswana Railways train accident that occurred on December 10, 2019 near Bonwapitse River in the Central District, claiming the lives of two crew members.
Some employees of Botswana Railways have expressed discomfort with the commission, claiming that the inquiry is being turned into a platform to settle old personal scores. They also have reservations about the composition of the board of inquiry, which is made up of almost 90% former employees of Botswana Railways.
“Some of them left the company under dubious circumstances while some had issues with those in management. Now it seems they are using the inquiry to settle old scores,” said a concerned employee.
The Board of Inquiry started public hearings on Monday in Mahalapye and already there are complaints about the line of questioning from the panel, which some feel is not relevant to the issue at hand.
“They want to push witnesses to pin the blame on certain managers whom they had issues with while still employees of the company,” another senior employee at Botswana Railways (BR) alleged.
Another senior manager at Botswana Railways feels that government should have engaged experts from outside the country, especially from neighbouring countries.
“They could have enlisted some from outside especially from South African Railways even from Railway Systems of Zambia Limited due to their experience, especially when dealing with train accidents,” he said.
The board comprises Chairperson Olefile Moakofi, Gofaone Morweng, Eutlwetse Chimidza, Batholomew Seithamo, Wilson Molebatsi, Moses Bagayi, Nyaladzani Daniel and Dr Enoch Ogunmuyiwa.
The public hearings follow a train accident that occurred between Pallaroad and Mahalapye on December 10, 2019 in which two BR crew members lost their lives. The BR Express train derailed near Bonwapitse River while en route from Gaborone to Francistown, carrying about 400 passengers who were evacuated to safety.
In evidence given by one Motimedi Ngati, a field service engineer at Progress Rail – the company that manufactures the locomotive in question, he said there was negligence on the part of Botswana Railways.
He told the Board of Inquiry that Botswana Railways used the BD5 goods locomotive with a 3 250 horsepower, for haulage of passengers without permission. He said despite being the officer responsible for issuing authorisation for the use of goods locomotives he was only informed of the decision a day before the accident. He, however, acknowledged that he did not take any action upon learning about the decision.
Ngati said by doing so, BR risks losing out on the warranty of the locomotive in question.
Sharing information at the inquiry, Senior Traffic Controller at BR Simon Matenje said that Director of Operations ignored a message sent to their WhatsApp group warning that Bonwapitse area was flooded. He said the Director of Operations is empowered to have made a decision to stop the movement of the train but that did not happen. Botswana Railways Communications Manager Sakaeyo Baitshepi declined to comment on the issue.