Having grown up in a Botswana where people harvested rainwater and saved it use in the dry season, the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso, can’t understand why the same is not being done today.
“Rainwater is going to waste. Even in villages where residents have tin-roofed houses, rainwater is still not harvested,” she said.
The minister was referring to a pre-independence contraption of a past when there was no primary water infrastructure like dams, water transfer schemes and treatment plants. Then Batswana communities across the country trapped and stored enough rainwater to see them through dry spells. Tin-roofed houses had a rooftop rainwater harvesting system built into it by the contractor. This is a system of catching rainwater where it falls with the roof serving as the catchment. The rainwater is collected from the roof of the house and stored in a tank.
“We can teach members of the public to collect rainwater in tanks like happened in the past. When I was growing up, my uncle’s house had a brick reservoir that collected rainwater but when we became independent, people knocked down such structures and connected their homes to the public water supply system,” Tshireletso said.
Letting water go to waste is a concern shared on both sides of the house. Responding to President Ian Khama’s state-of-the-nation address last year, Molepolole North, Mohammad Khan, lamented a business-as-usual mentality that was pervasive among officialdom during a period in which Botswana is experiencing its worst drought in years.
“We talk of national problems – such as the water for instance, and what I have learnt is that we have not said much about resolving the water crisis,” the MP said.
For him personally, it was “sad” to see the Metsimotlhabe River come down in flood because he knew where the water was going.
“When I looked at that water flowing in Metsimotlhabe River, I said ‘Limpopo River’ because that is where that water was going. The Bokaa Dam is just a very small pond. I asked myself as to why this Botswana Democratic Party government failed to make a bigger dam at Bokaa because the biggest river we have in the south of this country is Metsimotlhabe. Millions of cubic litres just pass through that river,” Khan said.
The images that the MP has seen on Google Earth along the river show lush green vegetation on the South African side and a dull grey on the Botswana side. He takes this to mean that in South Africa, water from the river is put to good to use while it goes to waste in Botswana.
However, the issue might not be that simple as MPs imagine. In response to Tshireletso’s query about the Mahalapye River not being dammed, the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila said that a dam cannot be built anywhere. According to him, Dikgathong was the only remaining possible dam site in the country.
“Your dam site ideally should be deep with very little surface area to reduce your evaporation. Just like Nywane Dam. We had hoped we could find another dam site but all indications are that we have exhausted all the dam sites. But what we should not stop doing is looking at how we can harvest water as it passes,” Mokaila said.