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The tswii that sustains Maun gatherers

Green veggies: The heartland that births the tswii delicacy
MAUN: Putting bread on the table sometimes brings its share of problems. For the breadwinner danger and risk may lurk in the corners of every choice they make. Forty-four-year-old Lebogang Matebele of Moeti Ward said gathering tswii (waterlily) is a job that she has been doing since 1997.

Risky and dangerous it may be, she has to do it in order to fend for her three children. The hardships of life and being jobless forced her to go into the trade.

Tswii is a delicacy that is indeginous to Maun and its surrounding areas. It looks like a potato when uncooked.

“I had to do something for my children since I could not find proper employment except for the piece jobs that I got but didn’t generate enough money through them,” explained Matebele.

She revealed that they look for tswii at the Delta in the Okavango and Thamalakane rivers from what she called dikhuthi (diggings) found in the river.

She said that they usually go as a group of women into the Delta after contributing money for a hired vehicle.

She added that they sometimes go for days looking for tswii in the river. If they are lucky it takes about two days to fill up a sack.

How dangerous is it at the Delta is a question that Matebele was quick to answer. She said that God is their protector though she admitted they always come across dangerous wild animals like elephants, rhinos and lions.

“We have learnt to place everything in the hands of the Almighty when we go out to gather tswii because we come across dangerous animals.  However, that doesn’t deter our ambitions at all,” she said.

When she goes into the water, Matebele explained that she is never afraid, adding that there is nothing scary about the water.

She explained that as long as she keeps her head above water then she knows she is safe as she can breathe properly doing so.

“The only things that are scary deep in the water are the huge snakes that we come across.  We also meet with crocodiles and you can just imagine how dangerous that can really be,” she said.

She added: “The leaves on top of the river are the ones, which guide me to the root.  When I gather tswii I hold on to the leaves

and those will take her deep to where the tuber is.”

 Since becoming a tswii gatherer, Matebele revealed that she and her group have never had any incidents of drowning. She said many of the women know how to swim and gather tswii easily.

She further said even elephants graze on tswii and they sometimes feel the gatherers are intruders in their territory and become aggressive, but Matebele said that they know how to handle them.

The rhinos, which sometimes are not easily seen in the river, are more dangerous if they have small babies.  She said if they see a human being in the water, they instinctively feel under threat and attack people.

Those who love tswii describe it as the best thing ever in North West region.  It can be cooked with beef, chicken and fish. According to Matebele, cooking tswii can take more than five hours, as it has to be well done after cooking. “If I prepare tswii I don’t add any spices as they destroy the taste altogether. It is just salt and water only. Tswii is cooked with lots of bones because we need the fat from the marrow to make it really tasty,” she added.

She said when she cooks it, she does not add oil because most of the time the meat that she buys has fat and also the marrow produces that.  Unless the meat is lean, then she is forced to add a bit of oil.

She said she does not use steak as the meat has no fat and becomes dry while cooking tswii with it.

She decried lack of support from the government. She said she wishes for regular transport to go into the delta, adding that business is not as lucrative as before.

She added that she sometimes sells tswii with fat cakes or oven baked bread. Matebele said she will continue with the business, as she is able to pay for her children’s school fees and is able to afford clothes and school uniforms.




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