Over eight hundred (800) of boat polers in the Okavango area have not escaped the wrath of COVID 19 pandemic as they were forced to dock their canoes and speed boats in the absence of tourists.
This has put a burden on number of bread winners as they are unable to provide for their families before so says the Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT) which operates in a controlled hunting area of concession NG32 in the Okavango delta.
While at that, most campsites and lodges along the Thamalakane and Boro river front, stretching to the buffalo fence have since closed shop and are now deserted as they couldn’t keep up with the slow pace of business.
The current situation was worsened by the fact that even before the outbreak of COVID 19, activities such as boat cruising and poling were automatically brought to a halt as most rivers in Ngamiland had gone dry for a couple of months, something which has not been experienced in many years.
To date the renowned Lake Ngami in Sehithwa has still not received any water, and without any sign of expected rains, a dream to see it overflow might be farfetched.
Community senior escort guide Monopane Namanga said at a media briefing where OKMCT launched a six-months boat project that targets local tourists willing to explore the delta that their biggest challenge is that they operate in an area which has in recent months been a hot spot for poachers.
The brigands took advantage of the dry rivers and the slow movement of people which led to them killing animals, especially elephants as they wished.
“It only becomes better when there is a lot of activity going on because we scare them away, which is why we plead with fellow Batswana to help us make this place a hive of activity because by so doing we will also be assisting our government by way of reducing chances of illegal hunting”. Namanga stated that the five boat stations identified at Boro, Xharaxao, Ditshiping, Xuoxao and Daunara have been rehabilitated and are ready to receive guests at reduced fees suitable for locals.
Although these polers and tour guides have received training at the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute (BWTI) in Maun, a good number of them are said to be experts armed with indigenous knowledge and natural talent to detect animal movements and are very good at taming the most dangerous animals.
The tourism sector according to OKMTCT general manager Seikaneng Moepedi is so challenged in all fronts that they even fear for the worst, should the COVID 19 issue continue.
“We have decided as a community trust to re-strategize and see what can work better for all of us. Our challenges are so unique because we exist to better the welfare of people who reside deep in the delta and cannot do a thing for themselves. These are the people who have never experienced any kind of lifestyle apart from that of engaging in tourism activities, most of which are now on hold. These are the people also who have lived in wildlife management areas which have own tight restrictions which limit their chances of earning a good life”.
Moepedi further noted that their uniqueness means they cannot diversify eitheras a result of the many animal species concentrated in the delta which pose danger.
“Our people are forced by circumstances to engage in this type of business alone. Other people have gone back to farming and many other activities which put food on their tables, but here we co-exist with animals which demolish our fields the very moment we try to put them up. I just wish Batswana could hear our cries and come to our rescue by allowing us to show them around at reduced fees”, he said.
Director of Boro Okavango Safari Gabofele Mokgwathi who is also in the same business of ferrying tourists on game drives and boat cruises, dismissed talk that locals cannot afford high fees charged at tourism establishments in the delta as a myth which needs to be cleared.
“People need to ignore this belief because it is so misleading. The people spreading untruths fail to understand that we actually listen to our clients and offer suitable packages based on what our clients can afford and most are very affordable. Our wish is for locals to visit the delta in good numbers and see historical places here”. He added that there are still untold stories of some designated places in the delta which can be of great use even to the educational system of Botswana. The botanic part as well as the abundant bird species, he said, are just some of the many features that add to the beauty of the Okavango delta. Because the Boro Okavango River Safari will be working alongside the trust, Mokgwathi stated that they will charge a little extra taking into consideration what is included in their various packages such as meals, beverages, and in some instances accommodation as they also have camping sites. He said they will try by all means to ensure that they don’t deviate from the charges put up by the community.
“We want to take it upon ourselves to jealously safeguard our communities. We have relied on the international market for a very long time. We see the need to localize our tourism to include Batswana. It is worth noting that our profit margin can only improve if locals come in large numbers. We are well aware that the reduction of prices means we will be running at a loss, but this has proven to be the only alternative. We can only wish that one day we will eventually recover post COVID 19,” said Mokgwathi.