Officials from Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) were on Thursday forced to bear the wrath of incensed residents of Ngamiland who were angry at the decision by government to impose a fishing ban in the area.
Chief Wildlife Warden Mpho Setlhogile last week told a packed kgotla meeting that government had suspended fishing from March 1st until December 31st. The fishing ban also extends to Lake Xhao in Boteti Sub District.
Setlhogile also announced that government will not issue any new fishing licenses during the closed period. The decision, according to Setlhogile, was made after realisation that most lakes were in a bad state because of pollution.
The announcement was met with anger by fishermen, who threatened to approach the courts of law to challenge the ban.
“I don’t know what we have done to deserve this kind of treatment from a government that preaches democracy and self reliance. We cannot plough our fields because our crops are damaged by elephants. We cannot sell our cattle because of Foot and Mouth disease. Now we are asked to stop fishing which is our only source of livelihood,” said Gaegatwe Sekeletu, one of the fishermen.
For his part, Kgosi Charles Letsholathebe warned officials to be cautious not to be used by people who want to push their own agendas.
“A lot of our resources have been taken away from us, so we are more than prepared to fight to the bitter end for this last one. We want to be issued with a document detailing everything that you are telling us now. Otherwise we will not heed what you are saying,” he said.
The feud between government and residents of Ngamiland over attempts to ban fishing in the area dates back to last year, when DWNP officials were forced to beat a hasty retreat during a meeting with fishermen to discuss a possible ban on fishing. Fishermen had a field day at the meeting as they took turns to poke fun at the government officials, who were apparently ill-prepared for the meeting.
Faced with an increasingly hostile team of fishermen, the government team, led by Principal Wildlife Officer Timmy Blackbeard, decided to retreat for the time being, with a promise to come back with detailed and well researched responses. They rebounded last week when Chief Wildlife Warden Mpho Setlhogile told the Maun sub-council meeting that fishing had been suspended from March 1st until December 31st. The fishing ban also extends to Lake Xhao in Boteti Sub District. Lake Xhao is surrounded by eight camps, most of which are owned by foreigners who don’t have fishing licenses. Because foreigners have been exporting large quantities of fish from Botswana, the department has decided to standardize fish prices and prohibit exportation of fish from Botswana without permits.
“We are aware that fishing licenses are valid for a period of three years. We will allow those whose licenses are still valid to continue fishing elsewhere, but not at Lake Xhao. We have identified alternative fishing spots in Chanoga, Nxaraga and Ditshiping,” said Setlhogile.
While he admitted that the ban will affect people who depend on fishing for their livelihood, Setlhogile said there is nothing they can do as they have a duty to protect the natural heritage, especially Lake Ngami which is a tourist attraction. Angered by the fishing ban, some councilors called for Lake Ngami Trust to take over management of the lake and regulate their resources without government intervention. However, another batch of councilors supported the ban, saying lack of proper monitoring by law enforcement officers has resulted in an unprecedented number of drowning cases, criminal activities and murder at Lake Ngami.
Councilors also revealed that law enforcement officers are compromised and unable to enforce the law at fishing sites because they also own fishing enterprises. Residents said they were against the fishing ban during a packed kgotla meeting addressed by wildlife officials on Thursday, further threatening to challenge the ban in court.