Drought forces DRC's relocation to Daunara

The new Daunara mokoro station. PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
The new Daunara mokoro station. PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

Drought has forced the country’s Mokoro Trails capital, DRC in Boro to relocate to a new river. Once a thriving hotspot for tourists’ gateway into the Okavango Delta, the old DRC is today just a dusty dry riverbed. During a Mmegi tour of NG32, Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES discovers the new DRC in Daunara still intact with its Wild West character

There is a place in Ngamiland called DRC.  It is the Wild West on the frontier of a real wilderness that is the Okavango Delta in the Northwest. DRC is a temporary settlement located at the gate of the Buffalo Fence on the Boro River, just outside Boro village.

This place is said to have gotten its notorious moniker from the lawlessness that reigned in the area. It was likened to the then DRC during the civil strife.

But DRC was not all that bad. As a matter of fact, it was the thriving settlement that fed six villages from the proceeds of booming community tourism on the NG32 Concession.  DRC was the CBD (Central Business District) of Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT).  This was where one of Botswana’s most successful community trusts flourished.

OKMCT operates in six villages namely, Ditshuping, Boro, Xharaxao, Xuoxao, Daunara and Xaxaba.  After the hunting ban, it was at Boro – DRC to be precise – where the trust made its most revenue. 

During its glory days when the Okavango Delta floods were bountiful, every morning DRC woke up to crowds of foreign tourists coming for the inexpensive excursions into the Okavango Delta.

Over 250 OKMCT polers, all women, would wait at the Boro gate to welcome these tourists for the famed Mokoro Trails into the Okavango Delta. These brave women eked a living by poling tourists on small mekoro (dugout canoes) made of fibreglass through the hippo waterways. It is a dangerous job, but for tourists it is the ultimate adventure.

Local men would later join the entourages for some bushwalk safaris, where tourists would learn about the mysteries of the Okavango Delta.

In the evenings after all the tourists left Boro, the locals would converge at DRC for some epic nights of celebrations and dealings. That is when DRC really came alive. Loaded, from the day’s proceeds and good tips, the locals always partied at DRC’s 24-hour shebeens where they downed quarts of beers, danced and gambled until the morning.

At the height of former president Ian Khama’s restrictive anti-alcohol policies, DRC never complied. The excessive drinking continued unabated.

The place became a refuge for the wild and free where many adopted a carefree attitude that was chiefly fuelled by extreme alcohol and drug abuse. People from Maun seeking freedom from Khama’s drinking curfew used to go to DRC for some all-night partying and debauchery in the wilderness.

It was at DRC’s dirty watering holes that some of the ghastly stories of lawlessness emerged.  The only law enforcement agency close by was the BDF Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) camp situated in the thickets near Boro village.

The violence, mostly common assaults, forced the APUs to start policing the shebeens because the nearest station was far out in Maun.

Then came the drought that dried Boro and sent the DRC economy crashing. As the river dried up, there was no more water to do the Mokoro Trails. The animals migrated to waterholes further into the Okavango Delta, which meant even bushwalk safaris was not yielding any appealing sightings for tourists. That is when everyone left.

Today DRC is nothing but a void of dust-land. Members of the OKMCT from all the six villages have migrated further north to the village of Daunara. The Santandiba River at Daunara did not dry and all the tourist activities were never disturbed. Even this year’s elusive floodwaters arrived in August. The lagoon near Daunara is the new Mokoro Trails capital and the polers have moved in.

During a tour of NG32 Concession with the OKMCT, the trust manager Seikaneng Moepedi said they allocated their members a temporary camping space outside the Buffalo fence near Daunara gate. There are now hundreds of campers spread around Mopane trees with small tents.

Under one of these Mopane trees, behind a makeshift windshield made from old tarpaulin, men and women were playing cards. It was the local casino and gambling underway. Lots of pula notes were thrown down as bets before one player started shuffling the cards. Moments later, there were winners celebrating while losers stood with long defeated faces.

Casino spot was next to the shebeen. One local told us that the shebeen is always stocked up. A Black Label quart is the popular drink but there were ciders too.

Around the camp are mostly women – young and old. Most polers complain of a long wait to get guests as there are now many polers stationed at Daunara.

Fifty-seven-year-old Kesolofetse Sabokwa, who is one of the Boro women, said life is really tough for old timers at Daunara. She is a poler and a weaver. While she awaits her turn to get a chance to transport tourists into the Delta, Sabokwa weaves beautiful baskets from palm trees and plastic.

She hopes to sell her crafts but there is no shop at Daunara that the tourists can buy her products from.  Daunara camp, just like DRC or even staff villages at exclusive camps, is off-limits to tourists, for obvious reasons. Sabokwa complains that, as older women, they are no longer allowed to use their sons or partners to pole for them in the river.  “This river has dangerous animals and our bodies are no longer agile to react to dangers so it is really a risk for us old women,” she said.

Ezekiel Keogotsitse, 36, originally from Xharaxau, but lived in Boro and now moved to Daunara also spoke of the tough life at the new location. He said there is no borehole nearby so they are just drinking unsafe river water. There are also no ablutions in the area and so the people face many health risks.

Keogotsitse said Daunara used to be lawless before the soldiers came to setup camp near by. “Before the soldiers, this place was really bad. Guys used to drink and then harass everyone. They used to tear-up people’s tents and pick fights with people,” he said.

The BDF APUs brought relative order to Daunara and violence has subsided. But life is still wild and free just like it used to be at the old DRC in Boro.

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