Residents of a small settlement in the Kgalagadi desert face a bleak future should government go ahead with plans to strip mine a piece of land which the tribe says stands between them and possible death due to drought and diseases.
The Roads Department has earmarked the area for quarry mining to supply crushed stone for the construction of an asphalt road going through the settlement to join the Trans Kalahari highway.
Onthusitse Sengwane, Chief of Tshwane a remote outpost in Kgalagadi told the Sunday Standard this week that by strip mining the area – which nurtures Leruswa tubers, a wild plant they rely on during drought periods ÔÇô government will be pronouncing a death sentence against his tribe.
“During drought periods when our boreholes and wells dry up, we simply take our hoes, go up that rock and dig out Leruswa to quench our thirst” said Sengwane.
The Department of Wildlife and Conservation has thrown its weight behind Tshwaane residents. A spokesperson from the Department of Wildlife and Conservation, Joel Losike told the Sunday Standard that they are worried because once the Tshwane natural habitat has been disturbed; it can never be restored to its natural state. Losike pointed out that the area earmarked for quarry mining which is on the fringes of the Tshwaane Salt pan is within the wildlife management area and has one of the richest biodiversity in the country which has been woven into the tribes lifestyle. “For example it has plants which they use as herbs for traditional healing.” He said the area has been set aside for a communal tourist area.
Residents of Tshwane, Dutlwe, Tsetseng, Motokwe and Kekeng have grouped themselves and approached the Department of Wildlife to help them develop the area in to a tourist campsite. Losike said the area was also a migratory route of wildlife that comes to the pan from Khutse Game Reserve during the wet season.
The controversial road is one of many projects that are being financed by the Chinese government with no questions asked except that the tendering process should be exclusive to Chinese companies. When all other international financiers are insisting on Environmental Impact Assessment Surveys to ensure that the projects they finance are environmentally friendly, the Chinese government has chosen to look the other way.
Sunday Standard Investigations have turned up information suggesting that the Roads Department which has commissioned the project also has a bad record on environmental conservation. Somarelang Tikologo a local green lobby group has been making noise about how “river sand resources are being exploited to meet the increasing demand of the construction industry.” For sometime, Botswana was the fastest growing economy in the world fueled by the country’s construction boom. Botswana roads were turned into huge construction sites with motorists having to dodge “detour” signs and big yellow construction machinery. Villages surrounding construction areas were reduced to huge burrow pits by convoys of seven ton trucks carrying river sand and pit sand to feed the insatiable construction industry. To most industry watchers, it did not come as a surprise when it emerged that the Roads Department had earmarked the site near the Tshwane salt pan for quarry mining without consulting residents.
An engineer from China State Contract, the contractor building the road told the Sunday Standard that they are worried because Tshwane residents will not let them mine Selkirk quarry from rocks near the salt pan where leruswe plants grow. The nearest Selkirk quarry is more than 50 kilometers away in Takatokwane where the stone has already been depleted. Should the residents hold out for one more month, construction of the road wild grind to a stop. The Tshwane Selkirk quarry should have been commissioned two months ago.
Construction of the road is however backed by powerful business and political interests. The project is viewed as a long-awaited dream for proponents, namely the Botswana, South Africa and Namibia freight operators and import export companies. The main reason for the road is the inefficient trajectory imports and exports currently must take in order to get to port. The new road will significantly reduce transport times going in and out of the country. The big push to reach Namibian ports is the economic allure of import substitution and the diversification of Botswana’s economy. READ INDEPTH FOR DETAILS