SERONGA: On August 12, World Elephant Day was commemorated with millions of people around the world busy tweeting and posting images of elephants calling for the protection and saving of earth’s largest mammal on land.
In the east side of the Okavango River panhandle people of more than 15 settlements came together to showcase a community theatre titled Life With Elephants at Mbiroba Trust.
These are communities that have a unique problem that is not experienced anywhere else in the world as they live in an area that elephants outnumber humans.
To tell a story of life with elephants, is Ecoexist, an organisation that works with the communities in the area “to support the lives and livelihoods of people who share space with elephants, while considering the needs of elephants and their habitats”.
The community theatre was directed by the legendary Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi who is an award winning director and playwright from South Africa.
Together with Dr Amanda Stronza from Ecoexist, they travelled throughout 14 villages east of the Okavango River to audition and cast members of the play.
So the 34 artists that were cast included individuals from Mohembo East, Kauxwi, Xakao, Keixa, Tobere, Kaputura, Sekondomboro, Ngarange, Mogotho, Mokgacha, Seronga, Gunotsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa.
“We did it in just weeks,” said Mkhwanazi who described the experience as an ‘interesting lesson’ to work with the communities. He, however, said he wished to have also been part of the script development so that he could add more to the voice of the people “because this is mainly about their life with elephants”.
All the members of the play were natural in their roles and appeared like they were all professional actors. Even the actors with long English monologues performed their roles with minimal hiccups.
Interestingly, Mkhwanazi decided that the dancers and cast would wear black long pants and with matching muscle-top shirts. Tsutsube dancers looked dull and uninteresting in full clothes and the whole thing appeared like it was a rehearsal.
Tsutsube dance is a unique traditional dance by Basarwa that is famously performed by scantily dressed dancers wearing animal skins and accessories made from ostrich shells and other earthly products. Although Mkhwanazi did what is tantamount to an abomination to one of Botswana’s iconic dances, the story of the play was both thought-provoking and educative. It was divided into
The second scene addressing the conflict and challenge of living with elephants was the most emotional.
It depicted stories of an elder who was killed by an elephant while collecting firewood, a family’s crops that was trampled by elephant and touched on the issues of poaching kingpins entering villages with loads of money.
In an area of 8,000 square kilometres with 18,000 elephants and over 16,000 people living along the river, the space is a big issue.
The play tells a story of a young man who had come of age and was looking for land to grow crops and feed his new family in an area that all the prime land was already saturated. The communities grow crops and the elephants come and destroy them and cause a lot of fear and despair in the village.
Later in the play, the solutions for land allocation that will help with the coexistence is shown by reserving some land as elephant corridors.
The farms are fenced with solar-powered electric fences and used cans are hung around.
As the play showcases these researched solutions, interjections from the older members seated around the kgotla in play inform the audience of the misplaced priorities and challenges that come with solutions.
“Nka itseela motakase o ka isa ko motse wame” (I can get that electricity-from the fence- to my house),” was one of the interjections.
On the use of cans, which is fairly an old and traditional method of deterring elephants, one of the funny but thought-provoking interjections was, “ba re supeetsa gore banwa di drink tse dintsi” (they want to show us that they can consume many drinks).
The event, which was free to the public and hosted by Ecoexist, with support from USAID, WWF-Namibia, and The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, was well attended and there were representatives from all villages in the area.
Kgosi Maeze Maeze of Seronga who was a guest of honour, applauded Ecoexist and its partners for the educational endeavours of his communities.