Saturday, January 16, 2021

‘Tsodilo Hills not damaged by fire’

The National Museum has released a status report, on the veld fires that were reported by the media to have ravaged Tsodilo and Gcwihaba since the first Friday of October. The reports stated that Botswana’s only heritage site located in the North West District, Tsodilo Hills, had caught fire. The reports later added that Gcwihaba caves, which are located in North West Kgalagadi, had also been scorched by veld fire.

Tsodilo Hills was declared as a World Heritage site in 2001 following Botswana’s signing of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) convention on the protection of World Heritage Sites, and the Acting Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, Moses Nkgowe, said at a press conference held last Thursday that they were concerned because “what Botswana media writes, is put into the international arena and would deflect tourists who would have otherwise wanted to come specifically to see the sites.”

Nkgowe said the reports were ‘out of hand’ and a matter of national concern as the veld fires had not made as much damage as they had been reported to have.

Gaogake Phorano, who is the director of the National Museum, which also manages the country’s monuments, went on to give a report on the extent of the veld fires. He recounted that on the 4th of October, he heard that there was fire around Tsodilo and was in contact with Tsodilo Heritage Site Manager, Sewelo Fane.

“On the 12th we went to Tsodilo to assess the extent of the damages ourselves,” Phorano said.
On the 13 and 14 of October, a team comprising of Phorano, the Regional Monument Officer for the North West Region, Gertrude Matswiri, and National Museum’s Public Relations officer, Nakiso Kubanji, went to investigate and from these investigations, Phorano said, “There were veld fires around the site, but contrary to local media reports, the hills and rock paintings in Tsodilo have not been affected buy fire.”

The status report says that the fire spread over and across the Nxamasere and Chukumuchu road, jumped through the frontal and southern fence of the Tsodilo Cores Zone at a very high speed. It states that the Male hill was not affected as the fire coursed north westerly behind the hills then spread towards the Female and Child Hills but is was confined to the lower areas of the hills.

Phorano expressed concern that though the media had reported erroneously that the Gcwihaba caves were on fire, they, in fact, can ascertain that the caves were not under any threat from veld fires. “The caves are surrounded by desert sand with no vegetation, and thus could not in any way catch fire.”

The report states that fire was reported to have been burning around the area but did not encroach into the caves. Phorano added that Gcwihaba was listed in the UNESCO tentative list of sites that will be considered for nomination as world heritage sites in the future. Incorrect reports such as these will work against nomination, as press clippings are used as evidence, Phorano said.

Phorano concluded by saying that the Museum shall not decree on what journalists write but encourage them to write honestly.

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