The war between fishermen and law enforcement officers that has been quietly brewing at Lake Ngami has now reached a boiling point. Local fishermen who are driven into financial ruin complain of unfair practice from patrol team which consists of police, wildlife and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) as they accuse some of them (law enforcers) of engaging in the lucrative business of illegal fishing. Fishermen have decried that some of the patrol team members who do routine inspections at the lake break the law by not following the procedures when arresting them.
A local fisherman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some law enforcement officers are using the patrols to take fish from them and use it for personal gain. “We have observed this. At first we thought that they are going to burn the fish but they are selling it just like us,” he decried. He there are times where the patrol team would not charge fishermen even if they were caught on the spot with fish and instead would ask them to load their fish stock into police vans. They will then be told to run for their lives or else face being arrested and charged. “When they caught us on the spot with fish they told us to carry our fish into their car and run for ourselves so that they don’t open a case against us. After doing this they would take the fish for their own personal use,” he said with anger in his voice.
He said the law enforcers only report the matter to the police when fishermen refuse with their fish. They end up being beaten and tortured, with their fishing equipment such as dugout canoes and fishing nets destroyed. He said he was driven by unemployment into illegal fishing practices, saying it is a lucrative business. “There are many civil servants in this business but you will never find them arrested. It only us who are paying the heavy price,” he decried. The Ngamiland Regional Wildlife Officer, Timmy Blackbeard, refuted allegations that some law enforcement officers were involved in illegal fishing by taking the loot from the fishermen for their use. He confirmed that at times the patrol team would not charge fishermen but take their fish and warn them. “They are lot of fishermen who have been charged and sometimes we just take their fish and burn it and tell them to vacate the lake,” Blackbeard charged.
He also admitted that they are experiencing some challenges to control illegal fishing as fishers has adopted tactics of reminiscent of pirates as they hide in the water during the day and fish at the night. The chairman of Lake Ngami Fishermen Association Loago Mokunki said it is an open secret that high profile members are engaged in illegal fishing and nothing is being done. He regretted that some members of his associations have been brutally abused by police officers. He also indicated that he has reported the matter of brutality against fishermen by the police to the Member of Parliament Thato Kwerepe but he has not given them any response.