19
summer
2013
arches
A modest crowd of perhaps 30 people
stood waiting in the sun, but it was far from
certain that a meeting was really going to hap-
pen until the chief arrived. Waiting is something
of a vocation in rural Botswana, so the purpose
of this particular waiting was unclear. Chief
Morgan approached and greeted me, “Dumela,
mma,” and I extended my hand, replying
Dumela, rra,” cupping my right elbow in my left
hand as a sign of respect.
When I had first met the chief several weeks
before to ask his permission to come into
Kazungula to do research on the presence of
wildlife in the village, he suggested calling a
kgot-
la
meeting. The
kgotla
is the chief’s compound,
with offices and a public meeting space, where
the community comes together to talk about
important issues. It is also a locus of dispute
resolution.
It’s a conflict that’s all too familiar these days: Human settlements expand, overlapping
animal habitat. Pretty soon there’s a bear at the bird feeder or deer munching on the prize
roses. But what about when the animal weighs 12,000 pounds and comes around night after
night, desperate to eat the food you need for your own survival? Or it steps on and collapses
your well? Or it wanders the lanes near your house, preventing your children from walking
to school? Fences can’t keep it out. Nothing scares it away. You could shoot it, but doing
so pushes a beloved species closer to extinction and reduces a resource your country needs
badly to help generate tourist income.
L
iving with elephants in Botswana
by Rachel DeMotts
the field is disaster
I am going to tell these people they can come
in,” he said, and walked slowly out into the sandy
road, wearing his mesh-and-leather cowboy
hat that looked more Australian Outback than
Botswanan floodplain. In only a few minutes peo-
ple began filing in, mostly women, talking quietly
and settling themselves on plastic chairs near the
front of the concrete-floored meeting room.
After introductions—mine lasting far lon-
ger than anyone else’s, which caused some
amusement—the sub-chief stood. “As we say in
Setswana, the dogs are tightened,” he informed
me, smiling. “We mean, you are welcome here,
and you are safe.” But the discussion that followed
indicated anything but welcome for me or safety
for those in attendance.
Botswana is roughly the size of Texas but
has a population of only about 2 million people.
Much of its land is Kalahari Desert, and most of
its people live in the southeast, in and around
the capital city of Gaborone. The north is a dif-
ferent landscape entirely, sparkling with the lush
wetlands of the Okavango Delta and the flood-
plain of the Chobe River, providing habitat for
a stunning array of wildlife. It is a world-class
safari destination for tourists. The people are
mostly members of minority ethnic groups like
the Subia, Kalanga, Yeyi, Hambukushu, and San,
culturally connected across borders to Namibia,
Zimbabwe, and Zambia, but far from Gaborone
in both kilometers and politics. In a public meet-
ing in a remote village in the Delta a few years
ago, it was suggested that a thousand elephants
be relocated to the area around Gaborone, so
that city dwellers could get a taste of having
wildlife for neighbors.
As Botswana’s elephant population has
nearly tripled in the last 20 years, reports of
Rachel DeMotts