Indigenous leadership

Ronald Ntsogotho

Sweet life of the river-a chat with Khwai native

At 30 years of age, Ronald Ntsogotho, has accomplished more than many peers in his community of Khwai, a small settlement with a population of about 800 people.

Situated outside Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango delta, Khwai is a prime land rich in wildlife, and pristine flora and fauna, made even more lively by a vibrant community.

In this candid interview with The Voice Journalist, FRANCINAH BAAITSE, Ntsogotho tells us about life in the wilderness, survival of the river people, growing up swimming with crocodiles and hippos and how her grandmother would cut meat from a dead animal while lions were still tearing it up.

Further Ntsogotho shares his vision for his village.

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Q: Thank you for your time and congratulations on your new appointment as Khwai Development Trust Chairman. Briefly tell us about what your job entails?

Thank you.

It is the first time I get to be interviewed and so I am really happy and honoured.

In short I am the ambassador of the Trust, an overseer of implementation of policies, decision making and I work hand in hand with other board members, Trust members and stakeholders such TAC (Technical Advisory Committee) and whatever I do is guided by the Trust’s constitution.

I shape the vision and mission of the Trust as a front runner.

That is what I do on daily basis.

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Q: What’s the mission of the Trust?

To improve livelihoods of our community; social balance in terms of earning, living standards and access to health facilities, those are the things we want to ensure every member of the Trust attains.

We are happy and appreciate that the government of Botswana considered us when introducing the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) policy in the late 90s as it affords us the chance to transform our livelihood through sustainable natural resource management within NG 18 and NG 19.

Without it there won’t be the realised care as it is now.

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Q; What can you tell us about the community you represent?

My community is made up of quite an enchanting people, very lively to be with, so much informed, I applaud them at this stage because they come from afar with this tradition (Indigenous knowledge) and transformation happens when they are there.

Regarding the dream of CBNRM, you will realise that we are among the first to be established back in 2000, so the members are reasonably empowered in terms of knowledge sharing and they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge; how you could manage the resources, sustain them and improve your life based on what you have on the ground.

Q: So how is their lifestyle compared to the nomadic old days?

Now their lifestyle is shifted as you know traditionally nomadic, they now live totally different from how they lived in the past, right now their income is solely on the Trust other than that there are other social welfare programmes such as Ipelegeng and others but their knowledge and talents are their sole backbone of how they earn their income, I say this based on statistics on employment and activities that earn them income.

The core mandates of Khwai Trust is also the Joint Venture Partnership (JVP) that we have with a much established Safari operator, that takes care of employment activities and traditional groups within our village.

Both our elders and youth entertain tourists or guests at the camps.

Because of our collaboration with JVP.

Through the frequency on their trips, they make a reasonable earnings from that.

Another source of income is thatch grass.

People go into the bush, camp and harvest grass, then come back and sell it to big lodges.

Q: How about baskets, have they stopped weaving?

Yes they do baskets.

Let me take you a little bit backwards, by the time the Trust was founded the people were so unaware of so many developments.

Those are the periods when my people, my community members earned their income based on basket weaving.

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The current bank account of Khwai Development Trust was opened through the basket weaving group account.

They are the ones who came up with the idea of grouping themselves and opening a bank account for them to manage their finances.

That is when the Trust was formed and it took over the bank account for the smooth running of the Trust.

They left their money in that account even today they never demanded it.

That is the selfless spirit of this community.

Q: Indeed it is. Tell me about the clinic project. For some time now the Trust had pledged its building in Khwai for government to turn into a village clinic. How far are you with the project?

I will like to always praise our government, it has so much in its hands and therefore cannot give us everything in one go so the dream of turning the Khwai offices into a village clinic is still there and we are working with district Health Management Team and the Council to help us fast track the project.

Q: When should we expect the project to come alive?

It will take time but we are hopeful that we are at a stage where the Local Authority has inspected the building and recommended where it has to be renovated.

We have the plan , it is ready, so it is a matter of renovation and the government has already shown interest in assisting in this regard.

Q: Very often the community itself gets divided over the running of the Trust, plotting against each other and ousting the board before the end of its term. You are elected after the former board was toppled through a motion of no confidence, so how are things now?

There are changes in place of course.

The village was divided, the two groups were pulling into opposite directions but at the moment things have gone back to normal.

I work hand in hand with the previous board as well as the manager.

The reason there are conflicts every now and then is due to limited resources, but we are working on that and not to rely on tourism alone but come up with economic diversification projects for our members.

Q: What are the main projects you are working on at the moment?

We are behind with financial audits but we are hoping we will be done with it this week.

But some of the projects we will prioritise are the clinic, streets lights and toilets.

Street lights because of the problem of animals especially hippos which roam the village at night.

People who started this trust are getting old and some don’t have anyone else to take care of them so we need street lights to help them see better at night.

The government, through destitute housing programme built pitlatrines but because we are more informed we know underground water in our village is closer to the surface so we prefer water system toilets to avoid water contamination and that is what we will be building.

The other priority is the clinic because health is very important for any community and havng to drive to Maun from Khwai to access health care is quite a long distance and on gravel road at that.

This is to save lives of our people.

Even now, since covid we have taken the burden that if any one from our community fails to get prescribed medication from government clinics or hospital we take them to private facilities to get that.

Q: Impressive. Tell us about your dream and as a young boy growing up in Khwai?

I want to see myself to be able to dream for the community.

I was born and raised in Khwai, I grew up under the sound of roaring lions and under the shadows of these giant acacia trees.

Indigenous leadership
CONQUERING: Ronald Ntsogotho

I am a reserved person and I like challenging myself with challenging situations, as you are aware when I took over leadership of the Trust, the village was divided and I had that big responsibility to ensure that people live in peace with one another.

When I grew up I looked at every elder in the village as my parent.

To this day I still engage everyone in that manner.

Q You must have plenty of childhood memories in this village then?

Back then it was really good, we didn’t know about KFC or Debonairs back then.

All we knew about was the jungle.

I didn’t know swimming pools though we had safaris all around us, what I knew was the river.

Those are the moments I will cherish up to the present day because we swam quite a long distance, just being kids.

We will encounter hippos and big crocodiles along the river and we will scare them off.

Whether the water was deep or not we swam with our eyes open.

If you look into my eyes, they are not perfectly white, and that is the results of me swimming from a young age.

We swam very long distances and when we got thirsty we dived deeper to drink cooler and clearer water in the same river we swam in.

Q:Is this the reason you are called the river people?

Absolutely.

Khwai is a Sesarwa name, Khwa means branch and I means broken, so Khwai is Broken-Branch.

If you look at the wilderness around Khwai or when approaching the village you will find a lot of broken branches because we sit in the corridor of elephants.

Basarwa people were nomadic hunters and gatherers and the first people to settle here were initially living inside where today is Moremi Game Reserve.

My grandmother and my mother stayed in there before establishing Khwai, but were kicked out when the fence of the reserve was erected.

At the time our parents did not care about education but here was this guy who was our role model and took us to school, the only one who owned a car in our village.

But life was easier then, food was plentiful and we drank honey for dessert.

I have lived in the bush and have seen my grandmother with my own eyes cutting chunks of meat from a dead buffalo when lions were eating the same carcass from the opposite side.

Q: Kindly tell us about this guy who took you to school?

I am counted among the luckiest guys around because it was by luck and the love of our former councillor Cocks Dipuo (May His Soul Rest in Peace) that I ended up in school.

He is the only one who had a television set, so he would often bring it with him from Maun, then used a generator to play it at his tuckshop and then we would gather there to watch it.

This is the guy who took us by force from our grandmother and drove us in his car to Mababe so we can start school.

My brother was older than me then but we started primary school at the same time. And I excelled in my studies and have since graduated from tertiary and here I am a chairman of the village’s Trust.

I am still studying part time towards a degree because I just can’t stop learning.

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