Thursday, March 4, 2021

Residents sidelined when Okavango Delta was listed as world heritage site

Batswana living along the Okavango Delta, who also earn their living from the natural resource, live in perpetual fear of being removed from their ancestral land; it emerged at the House of Chiefs (Ntlo Ya Dikgosi) last week.

The House of Chiefs also learnt that the Bayei and Bambukhushu, who are the predominant tribes occupying the Okavango wetlands, were not consulted when a decision was made to list the delta as a United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site. Worse, the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism did not inform them after the listing, or even appraise them on the benefits of such a development. This was revealed by Kgosi Tjazako Munduu, traditional leader of Okavango, during a meeting of the House of Chiefs last week.

However, Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Botlogile Tshireletso played down the allegation this week, saying: “The Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism engaged in broad based consultation of all key stakeholders in the district. First of all the four sitting Members of Parliament were consulted.”

She added that the North West District Council was consulted four times and a workshop held to sensitize them on the listing.

“Separate consultations were held with the media and civil society. There were also regional workshops in Angola, Botswana and Namibia,” said Tshireletso.

However, she did not state whether the ordinary people who live in the delta were consulted. Once again, Kgosi Tjazako Munduu maintained that his people were never consulted about the benefits associated with the listing.

“Even in her response the Minister admitted to the fact the residents were not consulted,” he said during a side interview. “The Okavango Delta is a source of income for the Bayei and Bambukushu. They also rely on the delta for medicinal and cultural purposes.”

He added that some of the natural ornaments obtained from the delta are usually worn and used by the Bayei and Bambukushu traditional dancers. He further said there is need for further consultation as the people of Okavango live in perpetual fear of being evicted from the delta.

“They don’t know what’s going on and there are rumors that they will be evicted after the listing to make way for wildlife. It has happened before you know,” he said.

The Okavango Delta was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in June last year, in a move that many said will boost Botswana’s tourism and complement efforts at conservation.

“Other benefits are with respect to assistance in the prudent and beneficial use of the Delta to main sustainability. An action plan is being developed to facilitate participation and beneficiation of communities on the site,” said Tshireletso.

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