It snakes through villages, farms and cattleposts until it eventually meets the Shashe River before both rivers disappear into the Limpopo River.
To reach Francistown, the Tati River passes through several villages, some of which are Mapoka, Nlapkhwane, Mosojane, Malambakwena, Masunga, Letsholathebe, Masingwaneng and Themashanga.
In the Bukalanga region, including the villages mentioned above, the Tati River is known by its Ikalanga variant, Dati, which is the name of a particular traditional trap.
For some inexplicable reason, the Tati River has, in its wake, influenced the naming of more political demarcations, commercial enterprises and items of infrastructure than any single natural resource in the Francistown region and perhaps beyond.
The Tati East Constituency, Tati West Constituency, Tatitown ward, Tati Company, Tati River Lodge, Tati Hotel, Tati Tower Lodge, Tati Nickel, Tati Landboard, Tati Bridge, Tatitown Primary School, Tatitown Post Office, Tatitown Police, Tatitown Customary Court and Tatisiding all derive their names from this beautiful water channel.
Perhaps to reduce competition for attention, the Tati River swallows the Ntshe River before it leaves Francistown. One of the formal benefits of the Tati River is the building of the Ntimbale and the Dikgatlhong dams on it. Between them, these dams supply dozens of villages with clean drinking water.
Like other rivers the world over, besides lending beauty to the terrain that it traverses, the Tati River has played a spiritual, social and commercial role for those who have interacted with it for hundreds of years. People of different religious persuasions who are usually mystical, have from time immemorial, regarded rivers and possessing some spiritual forces, which can be evoked for the benefit of us mortals.
Like the biblical River Jordan in which Jesus was baptised, the Tati River has been used by different religious denominations for outdoor baptism.
Traditional doctors and African churches have used the Tati River waters for their clients needing ritual purification. Further, sand from this river has been used to treat patients for different physical ailments or to keep evil spirits at bay. Rivers, as water channels, are natural flood defences. A world without rivers would prone to constant floods.
The Tati River is important for its recreational value. Those who are tired of indoor life take a stroll on the river and relish the refreshing and serene feeling of nature provided by the river with its lash vegetation and the presence of birds singing and all manner of other creatures.
Most individual farms along the Tati have got campsites. Woodlands is one of the several campsites along the Tati River. There is informal tourism going on at the two dams, built on the Tati River. A number of people enjoy 'sand bathing' on the Tati River especially in winter while others enjoy sitting in the shades of the canopy of the over-hanging and evergreen vegetation especially in summer.
It is common for people to have a picnic, a party or photo session on the river. For the children of the communities co-existing with the Tati River, the river is everything from a football pitch to a swimming pool albeit with turbid and contaminated water. Most football teams in Francistown as well as other athletes sometimes train on the river so as to achieve the desired fitness and endurance during competitions. Criminals, according to the station commander of Tatitown Police Station, Tebogo Madisa, use the Tati River for various crimes such as hiding stolen goods or attacking people, taking advantage of the fact that rivers are isolated places.
The riparian communities of the Tati River have used it for river draw-offs such as drawing water from the river for domestic purposes such as drinking especially in the past when the water was relatively free from chemical pollution.
While riparian farmers of the Tati River in the rural areas still water their cattle in it, the majority use formal water points and boreholes built by government. When Francistown was still a small settlement with more cattle than people, livestock keepers watered their animals in the river taking advantage of the surface water during the rainy season or by digging wells in the river during the rather too frequent spells of droughts or dry seasons.
The cattle dung at the watering points was very important for women as they mixed it with pit sand to plaster the floors of their mud huts.
Although some people still bath or wash their clothes in the river, the outbreak of cholera in recent years has dictated that caution be exercised, with more and more people making a deliberate effort not to come
into contact with the water.
People in the catchment areas of the Tati River use it for other agricultural pursuits such as livestock rearing and irrigation especially in favour of horticulture, taking advantage of the cheaply available water and the fertile alluvial soil on the bank of the river. Despite the evident importance of the Tati River, there is no guarantee that the numerous benefits derived from it and which many may be taken for granted will continue to be enjoyed. Rapid urbanisation and the failure by city authorities to provide amenities consistent with the increase of urban population and industrialisation are presenting formidable challenges to the river. The shortage of public toilets means people relieve themselves in the river. It should be mentioned however that some people do it not because of lack of public toilets but due to lack of understanding on the dangers of pollution to the environment.
The growth of new plants resulting from the dumping of organic material in the river in the form of builders' rubble and other domestic waste material, has the potentially adverse effect of causing floods due to the reduced holding capacity of the river.
Digging in the river could alter the direction of the river with the potential to cause floods as well. Both industrial oil and chemical pollution are a major challenge to the Tati River. Used oil from workshops and chemicals from car washers as well as the use of DDT to kill mosquitoes or other chemicals to cull quellia birds inevitably find their way into the river. The toxic nature of these substances distorts the ecosystem because they kill a lot of organisms.
The single biggest threat to the Tati River is the incidence of sand mining which activity is carried out by individuals for domestic use as well as by construction companies. While individuals normally harvest small quantities sand for their own use, the availability of the market makes it possible for individuals to take truck or wheel burrow loads of sand from the river for the market. Besides serving as a natural sieve for water, sand reduces the rate of water vapor.
There is evidence of complete depletion of river sand in the Tati River, especially in the stretch of the river between Monarch and the Blocks causing a total degradation of the environment.
The removal of the all-important sand from the riverbed does not only result in turbid water but has caused the water table in the Tati River and its environs to drop. One of the adverse consequences of this has been the drying up of almost all the old boreholes in and around Francistown, according to Charles Byron.
A riverbed denuded of sand causes water to flow very fast and this could cause floods.
While certain requirements such as the presentation to the Mines Department of an environmental impact assessment to stipulate, among other things, the quantity, envisaged damage to the environment and, above all, the intended measures to be taken to mitigate the damage, conservationists such as Byron feel strongly that there is need for more stringent regulations to save the Tati River from total ruin.
The Proceedings of The International Workshop On Environmental Geology In Semi-Arid Environments held in Selebi Phikwe in November 2004, edited by H. Vogel and C. Chilume, an observation is made that, "The current practice of licensing should be reconciled because its main objective is taxation rather than regulation not taking into account annual replenishment rates".
The report, referring specifically to sand harvesting in Francistown, proceeds as follows," A key observation of the present study is that sand is being extracted at rates significantly greater than the rates of natural replenishment". Another concern of this report is the evidence of leaked petrol and engine oil on the river from the trucks as they load the sand.
In conclusion, the report recommends that as an alternative to people collecting sand from the riverbed and destabilising the environment in the process, recycled concrete rubble could be used.
The large amounts of riversand at the Shashe Delta is another alternative. With the use of the railway line, these sand dunes at the Shashe Dam could be distributed for the benefit of the sand users.
Despite the many attempts and failures to enlist the support of the powers that be to support him and people of like mind in their endeavours to save the Tati River from becoming an environmental trap, Byron remains hopeful that the much needed political support will one day come.