No history of Ngarange is complete without a conversation with its 91-year-old unofficial guardian, retired Kgosi Tshosa Tsheko. Mmegi Staff Writer, ZOLANI KRAAI recently met with him in the northwestern settlement
NGARANGE: Tsheko, one of the oldest surviving tribesmen in the village, still looks physically strong although he uses a cane to steady himself as he strolls around.
Still energetic, Tsheko narrates how his parents and other elders from the nearby cattle posts in the Mohembo West region, came together to settle in what is now known as Ngarange.
Ngarange sits northwest of Mohembo, along the Okavango River and near the Namibian border. So still is life here that between 2001 and 2011, according to the national censuses conducted during the period, the population rose by only 40, from 948 to 988!
According to the Kgosi, in decades past, some Mambukushu clans from the Namibian side of the Okavango Delta, migrated into Botswana, to escape the German-led genocide of the area. Between 24,000 and 100,000 Ovaherero, Ovambanderu, Nama and members of other indigenous Namibian tribes died in the early 1900s in what is now referred to as one of the first genocides of the 20th century.
Historical records indicate that between 1,000 and 1,500 members of the indigenous tribesmen escaped into Botswana (then Bechuanaland), across the desert, whereupon the Germans ordered that the desert “be sealed” and water wells poisoned to block their return.
“A very prominent tribal leader called Sabaramba from an area called Ngarange in Namibia, traversed the harsh wet shrub conditions outside the Delta into Botswana,” Tsheko recalls.
Fearing for his life and that of his clan members, Tsheko says Sabaramba headed north towards Botswana until the group arrived in what is now Ngarange.
“They used horses and cattle and some traveled by foot but they managed to arrive here, where they found some Basarwa, lived together in the area, and eventually settled along the river banks.
“Actually, they became successful in terms of cattle-rearing though human and wildlife conflict became an issue quite often, and this is still the case even today.”
Elders from the nearby cattle posts engaged Sabaramba and together an unrecognised settlement was established whose aim was to help protect each other and their livestock.
“They brought together their livestock, erected home shelters and over time meetings were convened to discuss the development of the settlement into a village. That was in the early 1980s,” Tsheko recalls.
Villagers then approached the Okavango Sub-District Council to lobby for the establishment of a primary school in their area.
“There was a bit of resistance from the officials then, especially those from the Social and Community Development department, as they said our numbers were far low to be recognised as a village.”
That left only one option. Embracing the spirit of boipelego, villagers pledged to build their own school. In those years, Tsheko was elected chair of the Village Development Committee (VDC) and he pursued negotiations for the school’s construction.
In 1984, Tsheko says the Council finally bought into the idea and a three-block school was built and officially opened in 1985. The area’s current legislator, Bagalatia Aron was among pupils at Ngarange Primary School, before he moved to Seronga, Tsheko says proudly.
The school is a source of pride for Ngarange, an achievement that anchors the village’s efforts to boost quality of life and opportunities for residents. A 2010 national poverty mapping report estimated that 441 villagers in Ngarange could be categorised as “poor”, meaning they earned less than P880 per month, an amount that captures the cost of a basket of goods and services that would satisfy the monthly necessary and adequate requirements of a household in Botswana.
Through the school, villagers hoped lives will be transformed and children will be better able to latch onto the various opportunities offered in the economy.
In 1986, Tsheko was appointed headman of arbitration and subsequently headman of records in 1986. The appointment, he says, motivated him as he pushed to ensure that Ngarange Primary School was continuously upgraded and the welfare of teachers and pupils addressed.
The efforts have borne fruit, making the primary school the main avenue for success for Ngarange’s children. Since 1984, the primary school has been receiving full time aid from the government and last year the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) came on board.
In recent years, the school has been experiencing poor results and assessment have shown that this is mainly the result of lack of appropriate teaching aids, equipment and stationery.
The BPC has taken a decision to adopt the school for three years and in the coming weeks the Corporation will donate school uniforms for the needy students and install speedy internet. The Corporation will also boost education and literacy by refurbishing and restocking the school’s library and also providing stationery for all children.
Tsheko holds the unique vantage point of being able to see the evolution of Ngarange from a settlement of genocide survivors, to a thriving village of young, hopeful Batswana.
“I am 91 years old and I thank God for guiding me to witness this wonderful gesture from BPC. I can’t wait to see next year’s improved results.”