“Let me be specific: I don’t have the keys,” is the response that former president Ian Khama gives when asked about the current status of custodianship of keys to Gcwihaba Caves
.Such custodianship began as a rumour but was later confirmed by Khama himself, first to Weekend Post and later to a kgotla meeting that he addressed in Maun during his national farewell tour in 2017.“There is a big snake there, you need to be accompanied by army officers to go inside and there are high chances of coming out from there lifeless. When we go inside we use army tactics like crawling and so forth, and when you meet the snake you should know what to do,” Weekend Post quoted Khama as saying.
As regards the Maun meeting, the Botswana Daily News says that he “admitted that he had the keys to one of the caves because it was dark and infested with snakes. As such they decided to lock it to protect visitors.”
To a large extent, Khama’s custodianship of the keys had to do with the position that he held at the time but not only is he no longer president, he has had running battles with his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Naturally, one is curious about how this dynamic affected this custodianship and we sought to find out from Khama himself.
With his clarification also came revelation that only one cavern (being a large chamber within a cave) ever had locks, whose keys he took custody of. The former president further reveals that due to rust, the locks were changed, rendering the keys he had useless for purposes of going into that one cavern with restricted access.
The account of the Director of the National Museum and Monuments, Steven Mogotsi, is thatthere is no part of Gcwihaba Caves that is currently under lock and key.
“The need to lock any caves has been overtaken by events as there are [now] full-time custodians and guides on site. However, there are some areas not accessible by the public and are open only for researchers because of their fragility or safety concerns. The Gcwihaba cave system remains under custodianship of the Department of National Museum and Monuments,” he says.
Away from custodianship of the keys, the presence of a dangerous snake (or dangerous snakes) raises the question of whether Gcwihaba is a viable tourism venture because tourists would have to go into the caves. Mogotsi provides assurance that caverns that are currently open are safe for both members of the public and tourists to enter.
“All the cave systems in the area that are deemed unsafe for tourists are out of bounds and are only accessible for research and monitoring purposes,” he says.
For his part, Khama says that the snakes have been seen in one cavern in particular and not in others and their presence doesn’t affect the commercial viability of a caving tourism project that started during his presidency. He adds that explorers who have gone into the caves have always been aware of the presence of the snakes, took necessary precautions and resultantly, there has never been any hair-raising encounter with the snakes.
“It is similar to trained guides taking tourists on game drives in wildlife areas where there are dangerous animals,” he says. “Provided precautions are followed properly, encounters with bad consequences can be avoided.”
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