Botswana has over 2,500 such sites, of which more than 100 have been gazetted. The National Monuments and Relics Act of 2001 ensures that the sites are adequately protected. Most are free to visit, and some have full time guides. Continuing the series of articles, MIKE and JEREMY BROOK* cover Bokaa Dam, Phakalane Ponds and Matsieng Rock Engravings, all within an hour’s drive, north of Gaborone.
Situated in the Kgatleng District, about 30 kilometres north of Gaborone on the road to Francistown, Bokaa Dam was constructed in 1990 by damming the Metsimotlhabe River just south of Bokaa village.
The body of open water stretches for some six kilometres or more and is over 0.5 kilometres in width at its maximum.
The catchment area is about 3,570 square kilometres and the birding area covers 6.2 square kilometres.
There is a picnic spot for weekend visitors on the southern shore. Being shallow and rich in nutrients, this Dam attracts large numbers of water birds: 78 species are recorded here, among them 10 species of herons and egrets, 16 species of ducks and geese and 24 species of waders.
The reservoir is home to many water birds, notably an important population of southern pochard. Significant numbers of great crested grebe have also been observed. Sometimes it is home to small numbers of pink-backed pelican. Between 1991 and 1995, counts of waterfowls peaked at about 4,000 individuals. The surrounding acacia trees are excellent for many of the migrant warblers. A variety of water birds can be seen on the dam but this depends to a large extent on the level of the water. The dam supports greater flamingo with fewer lesser flamingos. Black-winged pratincoles can be seen as well as white-backed duck, maccoa duck, grey plover, fulvous duck, South African shelduck, yellow – billed storks, red-knobbed coot and Egyptian geese. The dam is also a popular fishing destination, with bass species, bream and reasonably large catfish, being the most common species.
Situated in the South-East District, just 15 kilometres north-east of Gaborone on the road to Francistown, the Phakalane sewage ponds occupy an area of about one square kilometre. There are four ponds, but not all are filled at any given time. The water is treated effluent from the main Gaborone sewage works and is pumped to nearby Glen Valley farms for irrigation. The sewage lagoons support a wide diversity of visiting waders, wildfowl and other water birds, including both the greater and lesser flamingo. Seventy species of water birds are recorded here; among them 11 species of herons and bitterns, 16 species of ducks and geese, seven rails and 17 species of waders. Although the total numbers of birds present are not exceptionally high, as many as 35 species have been recorded in a season. There are larger numbers of maccoa and southern pochard ducks. Small numbers of some duck breed by the lagoons whilst water birds, notably the African sacred Ibis and the cattle egret roost on dead trees. Other species regularly recorded include black-necked grebe, maccoa, fulvous and white-backed duck, Cape, red-billed and hottentot teal, black crake, purple swamp hen, pygmy goose, lesser moorhen and spotted crake.
The bulrushes at the water’s edge support large numbers of reed warblers. Roosts of migratory barn swallows are also sometimes found.
Matsieng Rock Paintings
The Matsieng Footprints are engraved petroglyphs (carved artwork in rock) found in the Kgatleng District about 35 kilometres north of Gaborone. Matsieng may have once been used as a ritual site for many people due to its role in local folktales.
It shares its name with a character in African origin stories, Matsieng the great hunter. The site contains up to 117 engravings and three natural rock-holes, dating back to the late Stone Age, more than 3,000 years ago. Many of the footprints are human or feline-like in design.
Most of the site is littered with carved footprints, both human and animal, but there are also a few profile depictions of common African animals, such as giraffes. The outlines of footprints were crafted by pecking, a form of engraving, by ancient peoples. Matsieng is located on a flat outcrop of sandstone, which is about 450 million years old. Human footprints on the site are distinguished by their shape, often u- or v-shaped heels with well-defined toes and an average length between 120-290 millimeters – excluding one larger footprint of 340 millimeters. Footprints are rarely found in pairs, only a few are distinctly right or left feet. They create no clear trails to any destination and are often accompanied by big cat-like prints.There are two large water holes which have been eroded in the sandstone due to weathering associated with successive climatic periods, the wetter ones accelerating downward carving of the relatively soft rock. One of the holes is three metres deep and is referred to as the main hole because it retains rainwater longer and has most of the rock engravings around it.
There are multiple origin stories about the creation of Matsieng. The legend of Matsieng is generally the same across many of the local people in the surrounding areas. Oral tradition of the Tswana people depicts Matsieng as a one legged giant, who emerged from a waterhole with his animals. Other traditions depict Matsieng to be two legged, but the rest of the story is the same. He was followed by the San, the Kgalagadi and the Tswana tribes. As the giant and his followers emerged, they left footprints in the soft earth around the waterhole, which hardened over time. Though there are several places that are thought to be the place of Matsieng’s emergence, the archaeological site of Matsieng is most significant, given it holds that same name as the folklore character. No one knows exactly what the Matsieng site was used for in the past, though many believe it served as a ceremonial site for ‘rain-making’. Up until recently, local people used the site. They would bring their animals for a drink from the rainwater collected in the holes. Today it is used as a ritual site, where local people conduct ceremonies to bring the seasonal rains.
*Taken from a new book coming out before Christmas