From a recent sojourn in the Kgalagadi desert, Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES grows fascinated with the dead rivers of the ‘place of great thirst’
I first met the Kgalagadi through an old Setswana saying: “O motelele jaaka tsela ya Kgalagadi”. This has always made me curious about the length of the Kgalagadi roads. But I had long ticked off from my bucket list a road trip through the long lonely Kgalagadi roads. In my past travels in Kgalagadi, I had seen many picturesque sunsets on the Trans Kalahari Highway, watched amazing clouds forming and thunder strikes on the way.
I had stood on that scenic long straight stretch of road near Omaweneno – a place they affectionately call Zero.
But all along in my travels I had taken little notice of the dry rivers of Kgalagadi.
Kgalagadi rivers look more like valleys than rivers. They are all dry and almost never flow.
Reportedly some last flooded over a 100 years ago.
From Tsabong heading down to Bokspits, the Trans Molopo Highway was built inside the Molopo River bed.
The beautiful road with gorgeous curves around smooth sand dunes, enters the Molopo River at Gakhibana village in a most scenic way. It was there that government made a placard that was supposed to have been unveiled by former president Ian Khama.
But Khama never made it, apparently because his aircraft could not land at the small airstrip during the unveiling ceremony.
The road then follows the Molopo River all the way to Bokspits. Molopo River rises east of Mafikeng in North-West province of South Africa and flows generally west skirting Botswana for about 1,000 km to join the Orange River near the border with Namibia. It is one of the few big rivers in Botswana that flows in a westerly direction. Most parts of the river form the border between Botswana and South Africa. The people of Kgalagadi say they have never seen it flooded. It is reported that the last time the Molopo River along the Botswana side flooded was over 100 years ago.
At the foot end of Botswana in Bokspits, Molopo River meets with another dead river, Nossob. Bokspits is located at this confluence of two dormant rivers. The tarred Trans Molopo Highway also ends at this meeting of dead rivers and the road to Struizendam all the way to Two Rivers on the gate of Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park is gravel.
At the confluence of Nossob and Auob Rivers is a place called Two Rivers or Twee Rivieren in Afrikaans. The place is the main entrance of Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park, which is the first transfrontier Peace Park in Africa.
The Nossob River that dissects the park is an official borderline between Botswana and South Africa, but does not have a fence unlike outside the park. There are only concrete stumps erected along the riverbed engraved ‘RSA’ for Republic of South Africa and ‘RB’ for Republic of Botswana on each respective side.
According to tourist guides in the park, the entire park is completely unfenced, to allow for wildlife to move freely along their ancient migration routes for them to survive the desert.
This year the area has experienced one of its driest seasons ever. The tourist guides at Rooiputs, which is located along Nossob River and 25 kilometres from Two Rivers, say they have not received any significant rainfall in the last 13 months.
Looking at the fact that these are the last months of the current rain season and no rainfall has fallen at most parts of Kgalagadi, the area might be staring at one of its worst droughts ever. But they called it Kgalagadi – land of great thirst - for a reason. It is also the land of great survivors.
Most of the wildlife has migrated to where there are green pastures. The guides say from their observations most of the antelopes, including gemsboks and springboks have since left and the predators too have followed them.
There are boreholes dug along both Auob and Nossob Rivers for wildlife and these normally offer great wildlife sightings, especially in dry winters. The guides say when the Kgalagadi pans dry up elsewhere in the park, the wildlife will return to the dormant rivers for water from the boreholes.
This means that the Kgalagadi’s dormant rivers are the lifeline to the Kgalagadi, even during the harshest droughts.
There is yet hope.
Thalefang Charles was a guest of BTC and stayed at Rooiputs Lodge.