Myths and legends on why Okavango Delta is drying up

BLAMED. Mohembo construction bridge PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
BLAMED. Mohembo construction bridge PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES

Ahead of the scientific data on why the Okavango Delta is drying up, this is what some of the people of the various settlements in Ngamiland believe about why their rivers are emptier this year. They spoke to Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES

SERONGA: The Okavango Delta is experiencing its driest spell in recent history. The annual flood from Angola that is the lifeline of the Okavango Delta came very late this year – and with the weakest push. It is doubtful that the water will reach Thamalakane River this year. On the eastern panhandle, the water went only up to Gonutsoga and it was two months late.

Greg Flaxman from Jumbo Junction in Gonutsoga says the water only reached the area in April. It was two months late as it usually arrives around January and February. The water on the Boro River, which has the quickest flow of water to Maun, is still far out. Last week it was reported to be passing Jao Camp and considering the distance and floodplains that have to be filled up, it is very unlikely that the water will reach Thamalakane River this year.

From the taxi conversations, engagements in the pubs and stores around Maun to village gossip under Jackalberry trees at Eretsha on the eastern panhandle where the flood failed to arrive, the low water situation has become a trending topic. There are now myths and legends around why the water is not arriving. Most people believe that the current water situation is actually manmade and there are plenty of rumours flying around.


Masisi has not paid the water bill to the Angolans

The biggest rumour traded by many people around Ngamiland is that Angola has blocked the water. The Okavango Delta gets most of its waters from the rainfall in Angola. The Okavango River is fed by the Cubango and Cuito rivers. So people believe that there is some deliberate diversion of the water done by the Angolans. The rumour goes on to say that the water has been blocked because President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government is refusing to pay a water bill to the Angolan government. In some remote areas like Eretsha, the low water has become political ammunition, as some politicians vying for votes are promising to “to open the taps and bring back the river to life”.

Most people do not really know what is happening in the upper catchment area of the Okavango River basin. Only four Batswana have travelled the entire length of the river basin from the Cuito source lake on the Angolan highlands to Lake Xau in Makgadikgadi Pans. Gobonamang Kgetho, Leilamang Kgetho, Thopo Reito all from Seronga together with Tumeletso Water Setlabosha from Jao are the only river ambassadors who know what is happening in the upper catchment of the Okavango river basin.

These polers travelled with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness (NGOWP) in 2015 when there was plenty of water and they have since joined a number of expeditions in Angola.

Gobonamang says he always deals with questions from his community members who believe that Angola is diverting the water. Project leader of the NGOWP, Dr Steve Boyes has dismissed the Angola blame rumours saying the current water situation has nothing to do with any development on the rivers.


Mohembo Bridge blocked the water

There are people, mostly in Maun, who say the water is not reaching Thamalakane River (in Maun) because it has been blocked by the construction of a bridge over the Okavango River at Mohembo. But the people on the eastern panhandle, who are patiently waiting for the bridge to be complete, know that this not the truth.


Elephants are drinking all the water

Some of the people are even blaming high populations of elephants for drying the water. In the eastern panhandle elephants are everywhere.

They have degraded grazing lands and destroyed properties, killed people and are even blamed for drinking all the waters in the rivers. “There are so many elephants here and the community thinks their population has contributed to the lessening of the water,” says Mokopo Tebogo from Seronga.


God’s punishment

Historical accounts show that most African societies view natural disasters as punishment from the Maker. Even today some people believe that the drying of the river is a punishment from God. Fisherman in Maun, Omponye Mareje, whose source of trade is drying up with the water, says the current situation is because of “God’s punishment”. Mareje says that people have been doing bad things in the river like “throwing church uniforms into the river” and God is angry.

Next week Mmegi will focus on the scientific views on why the Delta is drying.

*This report was made possible by Mmegi with special thanks to the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project.

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