FRANCISTOWN: Watching the course of the once mighty Tati River from where it meets Ntshe River, to its vast spread along its long journey to the Shashe River and ultimately the Limpopo River, can be depressing.
It provides a clear shadow of the once scenic space as the river continues to sorrowfully die.
Legend has it that there is a mysterious snake that used to drag school children into a pool of water that never dries in what used to be a foot bridge that leading to Bluetown and Monarch. From where I stand, I am literally facing southwards along the river that literally snakes its way through the city helping politicians with their requisite demarcations.
Mmegi/The Monitor, lensman and graphic designer, Keoagile Spokes Bonang, who recently joined me in the river in search of his best picture, returned to the office a worried lot.
He is convinced that the Tati River is not dying, “but it is already dead” as it has overgrown with vegetation and thus shrinking very fast. To him, the river is an epitome of pollution. Human activity is now taking its toll on the mighty river that was once the darling of the city with its name adopted everywhere: Businesses, schools, lodges, health clinics and hospitals, properties and others bear the name of this river perhaps, as an appreciation of what the river is to human activities.
Wastewater from the industries and households combined with people who use the river as a natural relief spot continue to worsen pollution. Used plastics, cardboard boxes, discarded beverage cans and bottles are trapped on the thriving vegetation in the river leaving an ugly scene.
Long before water was connected to individual houses, the river sustained families with water for drinking and sand for the construction of mud huts at Bluetown or Mooiplek as the low-income location used to be called and many other low-income locations around the modern Francistown. Literally, Tati River provided livelihood for the people. The river now has lost its attraction and support to many.
Monarch, Bluetown, Area-S, Riverside, Maipaafela, Area-W, Somerset-East, Somerset-West Extension, River view plots, Block-One, Molapo and other locations literally athwart the river as it traverses the city out on its way before it joins Shashe. Tati River is a tributary of the Shashe River, which in turn is a tributary of the Limpopo River.
Tati River originates deep in northeastern Botswana and it passes through many villages in the northeast including Mapoka, Mosojane, Mulambakwena, Nlapkhwane, Masunga, Letsholathebe, Masingwaneng and Themashanga before it finally reaches the city.
The whole space is filthy and strewn with used plastics and beverage cans. It looks like a farming space, as it’s now overgrown with green vegetation, which tends to render the river shallow. Nelson Phitisi, former TAFA, TAFIC and TASC striker, who grew up at Area S, used to join his peers and swim in the then deep waters of the Tati River.
“The water then was deep but we used to swim in the river at a place called the New Bridge as kids from Bluetown, Kgaphamadi and Maipaafela and this was before the advent of Area W,” reminisces Phitisi. They used to be joined by boys and girls from the PWD slum. It was fun.
He still has the beautiful memories of the then Tati River , full of soft sand and without so much vegetation that currently engulfs it.
There were instances when Phitisi and his peers would take advantage of the empty river from the confluence of Ntshe and Tati Rivers and play “beach soccer.”
Now, sorrowfully, the river is dying, ugly and rarely attracts young people to enjoy themselves in a city with limited recreational facilities.“Our children are not going to know about all these things which during our days were common. We used to enjoy ourselves in the river responsibly,” he remembered.
The Maun-born native blames amongst others illegal activity such as sand mining. He thinks people have been illegally harvesting sand for a gain oblivious that in the long term the river will be harmed.
“Every time I pass by the river, I shed a tear because it now seems reversing the damage will be a tall order. It seems nobody cares,” bemoans Phitisi who also goes by the moniker One-Four in football circles.
During his stint at the then Botswana Defence Force (BDF) sponsored TASC, they used to run along the course of the river from along Ntshe River to just behind Marang Hotel, where a BDF vehicle would pick them to the pitch for further training.
Tati River has so many stories experienced by many people. Kopano Thapelo, now deceased, reports show that he once dived from atop the motor bridge into the River just near Bluetown and unfortunately, he didn’t have a safe landing. He reportedly hit a boulder in the river with his spine injuring him permanently
Whist backyard farmers along the course of the Tati River pump water to water their plants, others also benefitted in many ways.
Lovers used to bask in the sun from the cool sand of the river undisturbed whilst churches baptised their new converts in the clean water of the river. All that is history, as the water is polluted and thieves also waylay unsuspecting people along the course of the river and dispossess them of their valuables.
Investigative journalist Ntibinyane Ntibinyane has an experience that he once shared with his readers. As a young scribe knocking off from duty from the Francistown office of the Botswana Guardian, he was attacked by unknown assailants. They dragged him down into the river from up the bridge. After ransacking his pockets for all valuables in his possession, they threatened to kill him, plucking off his dreads.
At Area W, Mmegi/The Monitor scribe, Lebogang Mosikare picks the changing story of the Tati River. To the best of his recollection, the river used to flow heavily and he is worried that with tall reeds in the river, the flow and general beauty of the river has been distorted.
Amongst others, the 38-year-old says as he and his siblings grew up, they used to enjoy the beauty of the river at a close range since their house is just a stone’s throw away.
There were times when they used to watch TAFIC and Great North Tigers players training in the sand of the river before the reeds took over. Residents used to gather wood thrown on the banks on the river especially during rainy seasons, something that simplified lives of many. The river still flows past Area W but its beauty, speed and strength have been altered.
“I think some of the tributaries of the Tati River have been weakened by the construction of the Ntimbale Dam in the northeast. The river is flowing at a small scale and it’s affecting the velocity and energy of water to sweep sand away,” suggests Mosikare who feels that instead the sand has been piling and thereby burying the river.
Flamingoes used to come in large numbers attracting people to gather around Area W to view them.
Now, Mosikare laments that crime is rampant as criminals hide in the thickets of the reeds in the river and terrorise people.
“One of our neighbours was actually killed in the river whilst others were left with injuries after they were attacked whilst coming from night clubs and other areas,” he said reiterating that the area is now a dangerous hide out for criminals.
Former president Ian Khama and some members of the Botswana Defence Force used to boat drive in the river attracting residents of Area W and other locations along the river to marvel at them.
“During dry seasons young motor bike enthusiasts used to ride in the river sand and thereby attracted residents to watch them. We were never short of activity in the river whether dry or rainy seasons,” concluded Mosikare.
District environment coordinator based at the Francistown office of environmental affairs, Phillip Sandawana concedes that they are part of efforts to solve problems bedeviling the Tati River, but solutions have been eluding them. He was also concerned that they were not doing much more so that as a department, they cannot directly solicit for funds to rescue the river that is choking in pollution.
He said rivers are natural resources that he calls wetlands. Unfortunately, for Sandawana and his team in Francistown, “we don’t have direct efforts to rehabilitate the river. Our efforts are limited to joining hands with the community but COVID-19 has unfortunately scuppered our efforts.”
Sandawana said before the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, they had approached the American Embassy working in partnership with the ward development committees with a view to seeking funds towards rehabilitating the river and the environment around it. “We had even approached other stakeholders like the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) to assist with the project proposal. Unfortunately, the project could not meet the deadline because of the lockdown,” bemoaned Sandawana.
As a department responsible for the environment, Sandawana and his team have been keeping an eye on the environment through issues like the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to come up with pertinent mitigations.
They have also been monitoring leakages of sewerage pipes across or near the rivers amongst others and continue to exert pressure on relevant departments to upgrade their systems so that they reduce environmental pollution into the river.
In summation, Sandawana was hopeful that gradually, improvements would be made.