Vice President Ian Khama, an environmentalist of some repute, will this week have his ecological credentials put to a new test when he intervenes and presides over an environmental dispute involving residents of Tshwaane in the Kweneng West District on one hand and the Department of Roads and its contractor on the other.
Khama will have to choose between preserving the environment and constructing a road passing through the village.
While villagers say they welcome the road development, they say such a development should be sensitive not only to their environment but also to their habitat and traditional way of life.
The road is constructed with the assistance of a Chinese government loan.
Lately, China has been in the news about immense negative environmental impacts of their projects in Africa.
The country has been criticized for being insensitive to the plight of the environment.
Led by their Chief, Kgosi Onthusitse Sengwane, Tshwaane residents have since last year resisted all attempts by the Chinese road contractor to strip mine a pristine saltpan in the vicinity of their village.
The contractor has been pleading with the villagers to bend as the road passing through their village will bring them the much needed development.
While the Department of Roads has thrown its weight behind the contractor, villagers enjoy the backing of the Department of Wildlife.
The standoff has resulted in construction delays of close to five months.
And, as yet, residents are showing no signs of yielding.
In the meantime, the contractor has expressed worries not just of delays but cost overuns as well. While ferrying the stones from far away places is an option, the costs involved remain an inhibition.
According to the Department of Roads, the standoff between the contractor and Tshwaane residents has resulted in a “progress of 28 percent against the programmed 52 percent” as at April end.
Not only have residents demanded an Environmental Impact Assessment, they have also told the government of their plans to use the saltpan as a site to build a community hotel which will attract tourists in their area and become a source of money for the village developments.
Villagers have also made it clear to government that strip mining the salt pan would bring incidence of poverty and hunger as the pan is a site of wild tubers on which they feed during drought seasons.
In an earlier interview, the spokesperson of the Department of Wildlife, Joel Losike, told The Sunday Standard that, as a department, they are worried about the habitat of the area should the contractor be allowed to mine the stones.
He said once the Tshwaane natural habitat had been destroyed it could never be restored.
Losike also said the area on which the contractor and the Department of Roads wanted to mine the quarry is, in fact, within the wildlife management plan.
The area is one of the country’s richest biodiversity with plenty of flora and fauna, of which the Kgalagadi people have since woven into their life style.
“For example, it has plants which they use as herbs for traditional healing,” said Losike.
Kgosi Sengwane also told The Sunday Standard that his people are totally against the destruction of their sensitive ecological backyard.
He also said the area has been set aside for communal tourism.