Renowned nature filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert used to be the darlings of the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Nature Resources.
Their awe-striking wildlife documentaries and fine art photography were a permanent display at the ministry’s waiting area and around the Government enclave. But now, there is no love lost between the two. Government is seeking to chase out the Jouberts following fallout during the hunting ban saga.
Multiple sources from Government enclave recently disclosed that the wildlife ministry was asked by Office of the President to present the status report on Joubert’s operations in Botswana. Sources says the report was to be used to look for possibilities of kicking him out of the tourism business because of his strong criticism of Government with regards to the handling of the hunting.
During the height of the hunting ban debate, after the Cabinet sub-committee tasked with reviewing the ban presented its findings to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Dereck came out gun blazing against the recommendations. The Great Plains boss, coined it ‘blood law’.
“At first, I thought it was a cruel April Fools’ Day announcement, but no one is laughing today. I have given this white paper a name and if it passes I believe it should be called ‘Botswana’s Blood Law’,” wrote Dereck in a widely publicised statement.
Dereck did not just strongly criticise the proposed recommendations, he further called on to the international community to ‘act’.
“We will be voicing our opinion against this, as strongly as we can. I will be doing that personally, as the CEO of this company, our foundation, and as large investors in Botswana. Great Plains Conservation will be doing the same,” he publicly announced in February.
“Our pledge to you, industry partners and guests, is that we will do whatever we can to engage legally and respectfully to make sure this ‘Blood Law’ is not passed in Botswana.”
President Masisi responded to the criticism when addressing the media at his residence in Gaborone in March.
Masisi said, “It really startled me that people sit in the comfort of their homes and lecture us about the management of species they don’t have and admire from a distance and in their admiration they fail to appreciate that we are also species. They talk as if we are trees! To them we are just living in a big zoo and they are its keepers”.
This was a veiled counterpunch to Joubert who, despite his citizen status, when he is not filming lives at his mansion in Bryanston, Johannesburg.
Masisi said, “In fact I can smell it, it is a racism onslaught on us. Some of them are the biggest beneficiaries of our own generosity when we give them part of our land to own concession and that land could have been to a Motswana or adding economic value to us.”
Under former president Ian Khama’s administration, the Jouberts were untouchable ‘made-men’ in the tourism industry. The Jouberts were the most powerful conservationists mainly because of their political connections and their National Geographic fame. Joubert had a direct access to the then president Khama because they were bosom friends and business partners. Khama owns significant shares in the Linyanti Explorations (Pty) Ltd trading as Great Plains together with the Jouberts.
The raging vicious Masisi-Khama war did not help the situation as Office of the President took the Joubert’s strong remarks as an extended attack from Khama’s camp. During the press conference announcing the lifting of the hunting suspension, minister Kitso Mokaila did
“I can assure you, that we would not renew their contracts,” stated Mokaila.
The minister stated that photographic tourism is a model that does not work for Batswana, adding that they need a model that will involve the people in participating in enterprises. He even took swipe at operators that their supposed giving back to the community is in form of soccer balls and sweets during Christmas Day.
Last month, after the Jouberts were awarded accolades by The Lions Club for “outstanding Humanitarian work”, government officials criticised the move saying “giving people soccer balls and sweets for Christmas should not be hailed as “outstanding Humanitarian work”.
Mmegi’s investigations on Joubert operations have uncovered that they operate from two concessions, namely NG16 and NG23.
NG16 is held by the Linyanti Explorations (Pty) Ltd and has four tourist camps being Selinda, Zarafa, Motswiri and Explorer. The current lease is from 2010 and will expire at the end of 2025.
NG23 concession is held by the Okavango Community Trust (OCT) which represents five villages in the Okavango Panhandle and was sublet to Banoxi (Pty) Ltd a company owned by Dereck’s Duba Holdings and other partners. The concession has two camps Duba Plains and Duba Explorations Camp. Interestingly, the head lease for this concession expired in 2014. OCT had signed a sub-lease that had a duration exceeding that of the head lease and this led to the operator seeking a legal redress for breach of contract.
Government has however not yet renewed the head lease. It is the only window to kick out the Joubert. The move will however harm the Community trust more because they will lose income from their lessee. The lease stands at P1.2million with an escalation of 10% per annum. Chairperson of OCT, Moyei Molathegi says their Trust is the “most community successful trust in Botswana”. OCT is based in Seronga and employs 52 people.
When explaining his lease statuses Joubert said to Mmegi: “The original lease was a combined one with NG22 NG23 being a sub lease to Michelleti Bates that was wholly owned by Wilderness Safaris. We purchased NG23 operating company from Wilderness Safaris and paid a pro rata to beds lease fee until such time the lease could be divided and allocated to the two properties. Government has been delayed in issuing the less leases to OCT but I understand that these will now come through as two leases. Either way our, arrangement is with OCT and theirs is with Gov on a fairly standard operator landowner basis”.
Interestingly, Molathegi is not aware that Wilderness Safari has sold. Derek de la Harpe, Commercial Director for Wilderness Safaris confirmed the sale saying, “That business was sold in 2009, and your questions should be referred to Great Plains or the Okavango Community Trust. Wilderness is neither involved at present, nor able therefore to speak more to it.”
Last week, Dereck said his only worry with his operations in Botswana is with regards to the lifting of hunting ban because it has led to a drop in bookings. He further said he does not support those lobbying for tourists to boycott Botswana. “The boycott will hurt my business. How can I support such a move?”