SEASONED CIVIL SERVANT
In 1971, five years after Botswana gained independence; the Botswana Police Force recruited its first female cadet officers.
Sylvia Tabitha Muzila enthusiastically grabbed the opportunity, making her one of the first eight young women to be trained.
Now Francistown’s first female Mayor, Muzila took The Voice down memory lane, as she spoke of her days as police woman.
Q.Please give us a brief background of your childhood
I am from a big family of ten children, three girls and seven boys.
I am the third child and the second eldest girl.
My parents were ordinary poor rural folks and subsistence farmers.
But all that was normal. It was also normal to walk to school barefoot.
To make ends meet, my mother would sell beans to buy us tennis shoes to wear during cold winter days.
Q. At what age did you start school?
I started school at exactly five years (laughs) after my elder brother and sister taught me how to pass the test of being able to touch my other ear from over my head.
Boy I practiced so much till I was good at it.
The trick I learnt was to bend my head slightly. But because I badly wanted to join my siblings, every day I practiced till I got it right.
Q. And during your school days what career did you want to pursue?
Never did I want to be a teacher, that is one thing I was sure of.
I wanted something unique, different and not ordinary.
While at I was at Swaneng school during the final year we would apply to different training institutions for various courses.
I applied for nursing, got invited for interviews but failed because I had painted my finger nails.
Something I remember each time I apply nail polish, apart from that I wasn’t really bothered because I didn’t have nursing at heart. (smiles)
Q. What was the point of applying in the first place?
I was young and enjoyed traveling. Also because all expenses were paid for and we were even given allowances.
But when I got word that Botswana police force was recruiting the first female trainees, I knew that was exactly what I wanted.
Q. Which year was this and how many female recruits were enrolled that year?
December 1971. We were only eight of us. Those days the police training college was in Gaborone, at the Village.
Q. Tell us more about your training?
Training was only four months and we were trained separately from our male counterparts.
While our male colleagues were trained in shooting using a rifle, we trained how to use the revolver.
But we paraded and marched together with our male officers.
We were even taught how to polish our boots, belts and to generally wash and iron the uniforms.
Q. So you know how to shoot?
Oh yes I do! Give me a gun any day and I will operate it for you.
(chuckles) although it’s been years I still remember all that we were taught at the police college on handling firearms. I was good at aiming too.
Q. Tell us a little more about your days a police officer.
After training, Edna Gilgaher and I were posted to Francistown, while others were deployed to Lobatse, Gaborone and Serowe.
We were posted in pairs so we could alternate duties or assist other police stations which did not have female officers like Tati town, Tonota and surrounding areas.
Being young and adventurous I thoroughly enjoyed my days, as a police officer.
I learnt a lot during the three years I was a full uniform officer.
Q. What was your uniform like back then and how much did you earn?
(Laughs) you should have seen us, the men wore Khaki shorts and shirts which had to be starched to keep their sharp.
For us the ladies, our uniform was Khaki shirt and skirt with an accompanying brown belt which we would polish till it shone like never before.
We wore silver grey pantihoses and brown shoes. And a black cap.
My first salary was R48 for those who had a Form Five and R32 for Form three holders.
As much as it seems so little now, we were able to lead modest lives.
With our first salaries Edna and I went to a furniture shop and bought our first beds.
Q. As a female police officer what were your main roles?
I worked in the main register and in the crime register like any other police officers.
During the three years I worked under the watchful eye of Edwin Batshu (Labour and Home Affairs minister).
Believe you me I carried out arrests of many offenders, complied statements, something which I was really good at.
Q. Why did you leave the police force?
I resigned when I went on maternity leave to deliver my first baby, back then female officers were not paid while on maternity.
It is then that I decided to pursue secretarial studies.Others would be asked to withdraw from the police force and only come back after delivery.
After completing my certificate I was recalled to the police force and offered the post of secretary to the Police Divisional Commander Jackson Ndubiwa.
I held that position for four years before leaving to join the local councils because I so much wanted to further my education.
In 1983 went to the United States to do my first degree.
Q. Did you meet your late husband when you were already a police officer and if so did he not have any problems with you working in a male dominated environment?
I met Robert in a train sometime in 1970, a year before I enrolled in the police service.
He had just come back home from Kenya where he had gone for training.
During our courtship he didn’t show signs of having problems with me being a cop.
But before and after we were married in 1979 he started to have reservations.
Q. What in particular did he not fancy or dislike?
He didn’t like the hours of work, the frequency I would be called in to assist, because female officers were few.
I would be called to assist in cases involving women.
There were times I would be called to escort mentally challenged female patients all the way to Lobatse hospital by train.
So it meant days away from home.
Q. What were the challenges you encountered during your years of service?
The 70s was when the Rhodesian war was raging.
The time when a number of bombings took place in Francistown for example the Mphane club where we used to meet and socialize, the Wenela bombing to name a few.
We experienced a mass influx of people running away from the war in Rhodesia into Botswana.
Our prison in Francistown was just too small, forcing us to take some of them to Selebe Phikwe. It was terrible.
Q. Did corruption exist back in those days?
No! It was unheard of and didn’t exist. We took our profession so seriously and wanted to maintain law and order at all costs.
Civilians knew that they can’t mess around with police officers.
One time I had to arrest a close friend of mine, it was hard but I went ahead.
Q. Being few in the police force were you ever sexually harassed by your seniors or colleagues?
(shaking her head) The men were so good, they treated us like their sisters.
The working relationships were so excellent and cordial.
Never did I feel vulnerable or discriminated because I am a woman.
Q. How did being a law enforcement officer influence the rest of your career?
Let me mention that I will always be proud of being a police woman.
It taught me to be an orderly individual and it opened my eyes to greater things in life.
And being a role model in society made me become a reserved person.
If I am not at work am home entertaining or spending time with a few friends and family.
If you see me in the evenings, I will be at work related functions.
Q. Forty-five years later what improvements can you highlight? Is the police profession better than in your days?
Oh yes it has. The uniform is much much better. It’s beautiful.
They can afford to buy brand new vehicles, something which we could not.
Back then a cop could only by a second hand vehicle.
I bought my first vehicle when I was working for the local council in Phikwe.
Opportunities to further their education are abound which was very rare in our days.
And gone are the days of roger roger (walkie talkie), they now have telephones and the internet.
Q. As we celebrate the golden jubilee what is one thing that you are proud of?
That I was part of history, being one of the first female police officers.
Throughout my career I have been a civil servant from police woman till my retirement as a District Commissioner.
Our lives have changed for the better tremendously.