Communities of villages surrounding lake Ngami are allegedly up in arms with illegal fishermen who have since invaded the fish rich lake to revive one of the few profitable means of income in the North West region. Fishing was banned at the lake by the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama two years back citing environmental hazards which were posed by the large scale uncontrolled fishing and government’s intentions to empower locals. Although Sehithwa Police station commander Superintendent Elias Malope denies having wind of such clashes, he confirms that his station continue to arrest illegal fishermen at Lake Ngami weekly in large numbers. “I can confirm that the number of illegal fishermen arrested at Lake Ngami is quite high,”said Superintendent Malope.
According to Malope the illegal fishermen are set free after being charged with engaging in fishing activities without a permit and fined P500. Although he denied any knowledge of physical clashes between locals and illegal fishermen, Lake Ngami Community Trust chairman Frisco Gabokakangwe confirmed that communities were concerned and frustrated by the illegal fishing that is taking place in the lake. “We are totally against illegal fishing in the lake and we often report such cases to the police if we come across them,” Gabokakangwe said. Ngami Community Trust was expected to start operating a campsite which was targeted at licensed fishermen in lake Ngami following the yearlong ban, but progress to start developments and operating the camp has since stalled. According to the trust Chair they are only awaiting an Environmental Management Plan from consultants. “They recently informed us that the EMP is currently being examined by the Department Of Environmental Affairs (DEA),” he said.
Gabokakangwe also confirmed that presence of illegal fishermen in the lake is no longer a secret and that they as local communities continue to plead with them to stop depriving them of their local natural resource. “I was in the lake recently with one expert when we came across an illegal fishing camp in one of the small islands in the lake, we peacefully asked the fishermen to leave,” he said. For his part, the chairperson of Lake Ngami Fisher’s Association Loago Mokonki, the ban has brought more harm than good to fellow fishermen. He told this publication that the ban has affected members of his association negatively and despite their cries to government, they have been ignored. “We long wrote a letter to Minister Tshekedi in 2014 requesting for a meeting since the ban was done without consultation, and although he had promised to meet us, we are still waiting, “he said. Mokonki did not refute reports that fishermen including possibly members of his association have invaded the lake and are back fishing, explaining that they were heavily in debt as their source of income was abruptly cut off without any notification. “I do not blame them, most of them are in debts and their only way of paying creditors is by going back to fishing,” he said.
He further bemoaned what he termed gross violation of human rights of fishermen by law enforcement bodies whom he accuse of destroying equipment belonging to members of his association when caught in illegal fishing despite the fact that they are fined as per the law. Last year Khama said his ministry decided to impose the ban as a way of protecting the interests of Batswana and putting more stringent regulatory measures in place. He said it was clear that the situation at Lake Ngami was getting out of hand and needed intervention. Politicians from the North West region has since criticised government for prolonging the fishing ban, saying it was disadvantaging local communities who relied on fishing as a source of income.