The two southern African neighbouring countries are trying hard to maintain civilised diplomatic ties amid growing public pressure on Namibia to condemn the recent killing of four of its citizens by the Botswana army on suspicion that they were poachers.
The citizens of Namibia want their government to confront Botswana on its alleged “shoot to kill” approach of people they suspect to be poachers.
The four Namibian men were killed along the Chobe River last Thursday.
The crocodile and kubu (hippo) infested river marks the border between Botswana and Namibia with no fences on either side.
Namibian people have expressed unhappiness after the deceased’s family told their government that the men were fishermen who had been camping in Kasika village close to what has now become their scene of death for the fishing season. The family alleges that the men were not armed when the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) fatally shot them around 11pm near the tourist town of Kasane in Botswana.
President Hage Geingob of Namibia met with the family of the deceased, who have been identified in local media as blood brothers - Tommy Nchindo, Martin Nchindo, Wamunyima Nchindo and their cousin Sinvula Munyeme, who were aged between 36 and 48.
Reports say they were from Impalila village in the country’s Zambezi region which also covers the Kasika area close to where they were killed.
The grief-stricken mother of the trio died of a suspected heart-related disease while walking in the village on Wednesday, media in Namibia reported.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows the governor of the Zambezi region, Lawrence Ampofu, alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
Meanwhile, the Botswana army released a statement this week confirming last week’s killings.
This was not the first time the BDF released a statement after its soldiers have killed suspected poachers since the country took a tough stance on those who kill animals that are part of the rich wildlife - and one of the country’s main sources of income.
“In its mission of defending Botswana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests, the BDF informs the public about an incident between members of the BDF and poachers which resulted in four poachers being killed. The incident, which happened on November 5 at around 11pm in Sedudu area [southern channel of the Chobe river, south-west of Kasane], involved contact with a syndicate of poachers believed to be part of a network responsible for cross-border organised poaching,” BDF wrote in a statement.
“As previously stated, there is an alarming surge of organised poaching for rhinoceros and elephants especially in the western part of the country (Okavango Delta and in the Chobe National Park).”
The deceased were unarmed fishermen
However, the family of the deceased refused to accept that the brothers and their cousin could have been poachers and were adamant that they were fishermen.
The NBC posted a video of a man who was identified as Matengu Mavuma, a nephew of the deceased men, who was part of the group but apparently remained behind at the camp site to cook when the four men took off for fishing on the fateful day last week Thursday.
He explained that the four men only took fishing nets, one knife and two canoes when they left the camp.
Mavuma struggled to hold back the tears as he recalled those moments of them leaving the camp, which turned out to be the last time that he would see his uncles alive.
“I remained at the camp that night to prepare the food and at about 11pm I received a call from Kasiki village of a shooting that took place at the Chobe river. I asked [the caller] who the victims might be and he said, your uncles,” he said, adding that they did not carry any firearms with them.
“I could not sleep the whole night after trying their cellphones that were not ringing.”
Botswana and Namibia maintains tight diplomatic ties
In a media statement released by Geingob’s office after he met with the family of the deceased at the state house on Tuesday where he extended his condolences and promised them support through their time of grief, the president said: “The shooting incident by the Botswana Defence Force, in which four Namibians from the same family lost their lives is deeply regrettable. Prior to my meeting with the bereaved family of the deceased, I had a telephone conversation with President Mokgweetsi Masisi [of Botswana] to discuss the incident.”
“I assured the bereaved family that this unfortunate incident is receiving the utmost attention it deserves from the relevant authorities in our two countries. A joint investigation will be carried out. As we continue to deepen our excellent bilateral relations with Botswana, I wish to assure Namibians that the safety of Namibians and the territorial integrity of Namibia will not be compromised.”
The joint investigation into the killing of the men by the BDF was “in order to shed light as soon as possible with regard to the incident”.
Masisi’s office also released a statement confirming that the two heads of state have agreed to the investigation.
“Mindful of the excellent and ever deepening bilateral relations between the Republic of Botswana and the Republic of Namibia, the two heads of state have expressed their full commitment to resolve this issue in an expeditious and amicable manner. To this effect, and in the spirit of good neighbourliness, the two governments have agreed to undertake a joint investigation with the view to determine and address the circumstances that resulted in the incident,” the statement read.
Both Masisi and Geingob have urged their countrymen to remain calm while investigations are underway and allow the two governments to attend to the matter.
Public demonstrations against Botswana planned in Namibia
Media outlets in Namibia have reported on planned demonstrations across the country including outside the Botswana High Commission in Windhoek.
Friday’s demonstrations are aimed at putting pressure on the government to condemn what Namibians have described as the country’s “shoot to kill approach”.
However, Geingob’s office has discouraged citizens from embarking on the planned demonstrations describing them as “pointless” and “wholly misplaced” at a time “when the president is urgently seized with the matter”.
The presidency said the action was “unnecessary” and blamed politics for escalating the matter, in what is believed to be a slight aimed at some opposition parties who have joined the public in calling for the government to be tough on Botswana.
“Government institutions for their part should be allowed to carry out investigations, without the distraction of politicised petitions and demonstrations. Namibia is a country governed by the rule of law and demonstrations for good causes are often hijacked and weaponised for political gains, and this has the potential to distract from the systems, processes and institutions that have characterised our governance architecture,” the statement read.