Decades before A-list international celebrities and royalty turned it into a playground, the Okavango Delta was just another obscure part of what the west fondly referred to as the “dark continent.”
As a new book shows, a highly sophisticated international marketing campaign not unlike a military operation and yet to be replicated, is what made the delta the tourist sensation it is today.
At the height of this campaign in the mid-1960s, Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover vehicles vied for the international market by plowing the terrain of the delta. All this came courtesy of the Ngamiland Fauna Conservation Society (NFCS) which had been formed by multi-racial and multi-tribal cast of actors in the Maun area.
This organisation was formed for purposes of establishing the Moremi Game Reserve which, at that particular in time, became the Okavango Delta’s showpiece.
This information is contained in “Chiefs, Hunters and San in the Creation of Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta; Multiracial Interactions and Initiatives, 1956-1979” written by Dr. Maitseo Bolaane, a history lecturer at the University of Botswana.
The book says that following the creation of Moremi Game Reserve in 1963, scientific and educational institutions in the region, the United States and Europe requested the Bechuanaland Protectorate government to collect species. The NFCS had established a global network of supporters and through its South African network, June Kay – the Society’s PRO, was introduced to the Bio-Probe Scientific Field Research Unit in London.
“This organisation discussed the possibility of carrying out a scientific investigation in Moremi, a programme that would result in creating both interest in and support for the reserve. In order to advance their plans, Bio-Probe asked the Secretariat in Mafikeng to assist them with a survey on the possibilities of fish farming in Ngamiland, as well as statistical information from the Department of Veterinary Services on the exports of pelts from Bechuanaland, and information on geological surveys,” the book says.
Money was tight and the NFCS lobbied businesses around the world to help fill its coffers.
“British Petroleum (BP) Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd showed interest in subsidising the making of a film. Total Oil and Anglo American Corporation in Johannesburg were approached for subsidy but they too required full documentation including copies of financial estimates drawn up for the WWF and a report on the current financial position of Moremi. The Okavango Wildlife Society hoped that if Anglo American contributed, other mining houses would follow, however modestly. In 1964, Anglo American donated ┬ú250 to the Johannesburg-based Friends of the Okavango… The Chief Game Warden for the Zululand Reserves, Ian Player, helped in submitting a report on Moremi project to Dr. Werner Schaurte, a German industrialist who had a special interest in rhino and was in charge of the German Appeal for the WWF. The Okavango Wildlife Society approached Datsun, Land Rover Co., Toyota Pet and Willys Jeeps, to supply vehicles for the reserve in return for publicity. By the mid-1960s, Toyota Land Cruisers were beginning to compete with Land Rovers for bush work. A rental car firm also expressed interest and promised to attract international visitors to Moremi,” Bolaane writes.
In 1964, famed British broadcaster, David Attenborough visited Ngamiland to make a film about Moremi for BBC television. Many more film projects were undertaken and the world came to know of the wonders of the entire Okavango Delta.
Half a century later and with supposedly more sophisticated marketing tools, this class act is yet to be replicated with any of Botswana’s tourist attractions.