Early in April, this year, I covered an event at the Shashe Dam, where former president Ian Khama launched the ‘Shashe Dam Tourism Development Project’. The former president, at this occasion, was accompanied by his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama, who had graced the event in his capacity as minister of Environmental Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, and as clearly anything to do with tourism fell under this ministry. On this occasion, the former president unveiled a plaque fixed to a tripod rock structure, with a pot of clay resting on it, marking the official commemoration of this project. I later wrote an article for this very publication (The Patriot on Sunday Newspaper), about this ostentatious event that had occurred on the shore of the Shashe Dam. The article was titled ‘Shashe Dam Tourism Takes Off.’
Fast forward to August – Myself and a group of friends decided to treat ourselves to an out of town excursion, to relieve ourselves of the day to day ‘hustle and bustle’ and constant grind of the city. We decided to make a trip to Dikgatlong Dam, which is of close enough proximity to Francistown to execute a to and from day journey, with enough time to take in the sights and sounds of the natural environs of the Dam. Dikgatlong Dam is a large water body situated near the village of Robelela, plus or minus seventy kilometers outside Francistown.
Myself and seven other friends, to avoid disappointment started making official arrangements to ascertain access to the dam, especially the gated entrance, which is the gate way to the most scenic part of the dam, as it is the access point to the dam wall, that atop one can view the intake tower which protrudes mystically out of the water. The gated entrance also offers the more aesthetically pleasing views, as trees which are out growing from the bank and into the dam do not block one’s view, thus allowing the eyes to stretch to the horizon, taking in the beautiful surroundings. Our friend who we had designated to handle the official pre-requisites of entering the dam in its entirety, took the first step of officially gaining access to the dam, which was to approach the Water Utilities Corporation (W.U.C), offices in Francistown, as Dikgatlong dam fell under their jurisdiction. This is where signs of our dream excursion beginning to turn into a bureaucratic ‘nightmare’ began to manifest.
Firstly, one of our entourage, a very close friend to myself and the rest of the group was denied access to the dam – his only ‘sin’, that he was a foreigner. No further justification was given by the W.U.C officials, except that if we wished to continue on our ‘adventure’ to Dikgatlhong dam, it would have to be without our East African brother, or else no permission would be given to any of our party to venture forth to the fairly new, second largest dam in Botswana that set back the government coffers a construction cost of USD 300million dollars. We had no choice but to make our comrade ‘collateral damage’ in our quest to visit Dikgatlong dam, and hoped our friend would not see our exclusion of him as a form of xenophobia, by us, and the W.U.C policy that discriminates visitors to their dam on the basis of them being a non – Motswana. I personally pondered if my friend had been a British national, would he have been denied access to the reservoir, which ironically had the purpose of attracting tourists from outside of our borders to it, once facilities are developed, getting this notion from the launch of the ‘Tourism Development Project’, with these very sentiments strongly echoed by Khama in his speech, emphasizing the significance and plans to develop dams into tourist attractions. The first process included furnishing the Water Utilities Office with certified copies of our O’mangs.
The next step, after paying collectively P125, for a ‘Fishing at Dikgatlong Dam with 5 Others’ permit, which would have been more had our unfortunate foreigner friend not been excluded by the unexplained bureaucracy, was for our designated organizer of access to the dam to go to the Department of Wildlife & National Parks, to pay another amount of money for ‘Recreational Fishing’ authorization license. After going through all these channels we were of the assumption that we had ‘jumped all the bureaucratic hoops’ and that it would be smooth sailing from here on, without any hiccups to our plans to see the dam – little did we know how wrong we were. Day of departure, all our picnicking apparatus and braai gear, as well as food and refreshments were packed into our vehicles and we took off on what we all thought would be a wonderful trip, where we’d see for ourselves one of Northern Botswana’s manmade wonders. Traveling for just over an hour, on tar and off road combined, where at one point we could see into Zimbabwe, only separated from our neighbour by a fence and the Shashe river. We finally get to the dam, which is clearly fenced off with high wire, and move to the engine house which has several workers on duty. We felt it was a mere formality to present our permit and license, but we were in for a ‘rude shock.’
An official from the village has to be called to come and engage us, and from the sense of what I felt was more ‘red tape’, the sight of a speeding W.U.C bakkie being driven by someone who clearly enjoys a company car whose ‘wear and tear’ he is not responsible for. From the bakkie, jumps out a man who addresses himself as Mr. Machacha- as he seems to be in a hurry, he spews out some formal rhetoric he has clearly said to a lot of people and he delivers it with the glee and arrogance of someone who has the power of turning away a party that has come so far to view Dikgatlong dam. He speeds of with the same haste he appeared with, having executed his mandate of shattering our ’dreams’ to view Dikgatlong dam from the coveted gated and fenced off entry point. Our only option was to drive right round the dam, to a place left open for village residents to water their cattle – not as beautiful as what we had anticipated but at least we did see Dikgatlong dam.
The ‘Tourism Dam Development Project’ was, one may assume, a development the Khama brothers were passionate about, as the former presidents purported interests in Wilderness Safari’s and him also ‘conveniently’ placing his brother at the vanguard of the Tourism portfolio by making him minister of Environment Conservation and Tourism, blatantly practicing nepotism, as well as overlooking much more highly qualified people, indicates a great interest in nature that runs deeper than profit. From the launch of the ‘Shashe Dam Tourism Development project’, promises of economic activity which will allow citizens to benefit from dams around Botswana being tourist attractions. Tshekedi Khama, at the commissioning of the ‘Dam Development project’ heaped accolades on his older brother for leading the way in promoting tourism, emphasizing how the dams being turned into tourist attractions will generate revenue and create jobs. Considering our experience at Dikgatlong dam it is sad that not a single semblance of what the Khama duo echoed at Shashe dam seems to be taking place, but rather they are actually being closed up, locked and made inaccessible to the general local population. One may not help but wonder if developing dams for tourist attraction is not reserved for their Caucasian cronies as seems to be the case in the Okavango Delta.