A massive thunderbolt recently hit Leobo-la-Kgotla at Hatsalatladi creating cracks on the wall and shuttering light bulbs in a bizarre and ironic occurrence at a village with a name that literally means ‘crack of thunder’ – (le-hatsa-la-tladi).
Many residents believe the thunderbolt that hit the kgotla was “sent as ammunition to eliminate the incumbent” in the raging Bogosi feud – the bolt struck right at the spot where the Kgosi normally sits.
But soon the village noticed more vicious cracks on the ground that are threatening to eliminate the entire Hatsalatladi. The village is now literally tearing apart with some bizarre ground fissures threatening to sink into the ground.
According to Hatsalatladi old-timers, the village, which is located about 30km from Molepolole along the Old North Road, has been cracking since time immemorial. One of the village headmen, Kgosi Inaletsile Gabanamhi, who was holding fort for Kgosi Saki Gabanamotse, said his elders told him that there has always been a major crack on the western side of the village along the road.
“Our elders said when they settled here, there was a long trench-like crack extending from areas around Letlhakeng all the way to here. They believed it was ‘lehatsa la tladi’ and that is how the name of the village came about,” narrated Kgosi Gabanamhi.
Back then the village was just a modest cattlepost for Bakwena who were attracted by the plentiful surface water in the area. A century later, Hatsalatladi is now a decent village with a population of about 800, according to the 2011 Population Census. The village has modern infrastructure including a primary school, clinic, library, Community Hall, Agriculture offices and tarred road leading up to the kgotla.
The residents too have built themselves modern concrete brick houses and many are still under construction. But almost every concrete brick structure at Hatsalatladi is cracking up. Local government had to demolish two classrooms blocks at the primary school after their cracks became a hazard for the pupils.
For years, some villagers said they regarded the cracking as a “normal unfortunate natural occurrence due to the poor soils” in the area. Many were not really worried until 2017. The severity of the cracking became real in the aftermath of the storms that came out of the disastrous 2017 Tropical Cyclone Dineo which downgraded as it moved further inland. During the Dineo floods, some of the relatively new houses closer to Kgolomadue Lake, in the northern end of the village, were flooded. And that is when it dawned on the new settlers that they had been allocated residential plots on a dormant lakebed.
Alfred Makoro Seane, an old timer who claims his grandfather was the first settler in the area, said the flooding of some houses was mainly due to negligence by the Land Board as they failed to consult elders during their allocation.
“It was surprising that despite my extensive knowledge of the area, I was not included during the planning of the extension of the village. So the Land Board allocated plots on the riverbed, something I could have advised against,” Seane said.
Another elder Keadirile Koloti, 86, who
As Koloti stares hopelessly at her falling houses, the authorities are still to explain to her and hundreds others in the village what is really happening to their home village. Last week Friday, as a long convoy of state 4x4 vehicles went through the village inspecting the cracks, some villagers could not hide their frustrations as they shouted at the convoy saying, “Owaii, le tshamikisa petrol ya puso” (You are wasting government fuel). There is widespread disappointment that officials are not acting quick enough to diagnose the problem and suggest solutions.
The Botswana Geo-Science Institute (BGI) said they inspected the area in 2016 but still do not have a hypothesis let alone a diagnosis of the situation. Koketso Botepe, manager of Applied Geo-Science at BG, said they have only done a “reconnaissance investigation, which looked into, ‘What is there?’”
The next stage, he said, is to now investigate the causes of the cracks.
Botepe said they do not have a common hypothesis yet explaining: “It could be soil, water, earth tremors, tectonic issues, or fossil rivers. It could also be due to boreholes over-pumping water. We have to carry out a number of geophysics, geotechnical, geo-hydrological, hydro-geological investigations.”
BGI is teaming up with the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) and the University of Botswana (UB) to provide a scientific answer to what is really happening for Kweneng District Council and Kweneng Land Board, which will enable better decisions on land use.
On the other hand, the Hatsalatladi cracks have brought some scientific excitement to young local geo-scientists. A youthful Geo Physics lecturer at BIUST, Dr Ame Selepeng, who was part of the leading team that went to inspect the fissures with his four Masters students, promised a geo-scientific research with a relatively reasonable timeframe.
“These are exciting times for us as scientists. I promise a solution to the residents of Hatsalatladi. We have started doing tests today and from here we are going to meet with other scientists present to come up with a solution,” Selepeng said last week Friday.
Most of the researchers who have observed the fissures are doubtful about the future of Hatsalatladi as a village. Although the area councillor, Kolana Kolana, has been trying to counsel residents by asking them to remain calm through the viciously widening cracks, many are already noticing that Hatsalatladi could soon be written off as habitable area.
“Ke botlhodi,” one woman summed up the bizarre Kgotla thunder strike. If Hatsalatladi is eventually relocated, she will be vindicated.