Ko Seronga rouses a forgotten village

Seronga boat station
Seronga boat station

Seronga, an almost forgotten large village in the Okavango Eastern Panhandle, is coming alive after locals highlighted it with a viral song that got everyone singing along. Mmegi Staffer THALEFANG CHARLES travels to the village to gauge the impact of what Ko Seronga has done for Seronga

Sometime in April this year, Seronga had its moment of fame that came through a song. It began when young Seronga homeboys, while on a nostalgic trip, came together and crafted a song titled Ko Seronga that went viral before it was even released.

Ko Seronga is a song by Thato Kavinja, who trades as Koolkat. It immediately brought fresh expressions on airplay and made fans want to travel to Seronga. The song induced a great sense of pride as the remote village was on everyone’s lips following the song. In the 2011 population census, Seronga had a population of 3,716 making it the largest village in Okavango Eastern Panhandle and fourth-largest in Ngamiland West (Nokaneng to Gudikwa).

The village is located in the most beautiful part of the Okavango Delta. It is at Seronga where the Okavango River enters the flat plains and begins to spread into the Okavango Delta. The picturesque Nqoga River has been a subject of many nature photographers with its images having graced glossy magazines and hanging on walls around the globe. It is next to Seronga.

The village offers some of the most beautiful arrivals in the country, but only if you are flying. The Seronga airstrip is located in the heart of the village and before landing one is rewarded with a beautiful riverscape that will have you believing you are landing in paradise.

Another impressive arrival is by water. The Okavango River curves and twists around Seronga and your boat will take a small turn-off out of the Okavango River main channel through a narrow path in between the tall reeds. The path will open up as you approach the village and take you to the Seronga Boat Station next to the BDF Camp and Police Station. The boat station offers stunning sunsets that will make one immediately consider relocation to Seronga. But the road arrival is totally uninspiring. From travelling about 100km of badly corrugated gravel road from Mohembo, Seronga seems a desolate and sad place to live. Arriving by road, all you can see are small mud huts with reed courtyards covered in dust.

Despite being the biggest village in the Okavango Eastern Panhandle, colloquially called Overseas, Seronga is a hard place to live. For humans, it is the total opposite of the beauty and abundance of life in the adjacent river.

In the few years since the village community lodge, Mbiroba Camp, died and was looted, there was not even a single accommodation facility located at Seronga. Visitors used to stay at lodges located over 20km away. There is no clothing shop. An elderly villager summed it up by saying, “Mo Seronga le hao bata best (vest) kana underwear o tshwanetse go ya Shakawe”. Clothes are sold on the streets by vendors along the dusty road.

But from April when Koolkat made Botswana sing about his village, there have been at least two guesthouses that have been opened in Seronga. One of the owners of the new guesthouses, Noah Kebathokile of New View Luxury Inn, said he identified a dire need for accommodation in Seronga and invested in the area. Kebathokile said Seronga has great potential for a thriving business.

“There is a lot of money here. From supplying building materials, hardware or even opening a general dealer,” said the young entrepreneur.

He said although the bad roads to Seronga quickly wore out the vehicles, the village has ‘good money’.

But there are Seronga natives that have long believed in their village like Tumelo Kehaletse who runs Marks Bar. Kehaletse, a professional guide at Royal Wilderness is one of the locals that have always been very proud of their village, long before Koolkat’s song. He is a well-known local who actively runs the entertainment economy of the village.

He claims that his joint is the best bar in the whole Eastern Okavango Panhandle, from Mohembo East to Gudigwa. This is because Marks Bar has a great personality. Before COVID-19, when entertainment was legal, Marks was the only bar that did not limit itself to the constraints of remote village service. It was at Marks that you could find a surprising variety of drinks, from beers, ciders to clear spirits, good whiskeys and gins as well as wines. The pub, which is located right on the village’s east gate, played great music and hosted music festivals. It was the heartbeat of the village vibe.

Kehaletse said he heard ‘Ko Seronga’ long before it came out. “Those boys [artists who made the song], I know them. As a matter of fact, we had that song for months before it went viral,” he said. “It gives me so much pride that they uplifted the village with a song. The whole country loves the song and the people love it. This is very good for us,” Kehaletse said.  The man wishes that the song could have arrived when the coronavirus ended so that he could freely host big concerts at the bar. But he said he cannot wait to welcome visitors to Seronga post-COVID-19.

Almost everyone in the village knows the song. When I asked one young man, seated by the Qamuku bus stop if he has heard the song, he quickly pulled out his phone and played it for yours truly as he explained the lyrics. He even offered to take me to the river to demonstrate what it means when they say, “go domina dithapi!”

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