MAUN: Nkeletsang 'Ralph' Moshupa from Jao Flats in the Okavango was on Saturday crowned the 'Okavango Delta’s fastest Poler' after winning the inaugural Nkashi Classic mokoro race.
Moshupa, 44, finished the 1.6km race in the shortest time of 13 minutes and 40 seconds. He beat 20-year-old Lasty Kedisa by a second after the young man did a time of 13 minutes and 41 seconds.
Grace Thaba, 26, became the fastest woman with a time of 16 minutes and 29 seconds. Seetsane ‘Sea Company’ Boitumelo aged 56 won the veteran category with a competitive time of 14 minutes and 37 seconds.
The race, which was organised by the Botswana Wild Bird Trust, in partnership with Botswana Tourism was hosted at Okavango River Lodge in Matlapaneng. The competition was in the form of an individual time trial where each poler was racing along a set route on the Thamalakane River between Okavango River Lodge and Cresta Maun, carrying one passenger.
There were 60 competitors who battled it out through the river for the grand prize. The winner, Moshupa, walked away with a brand new mokoro made from fiberglass and hampers. He said he has been poling mokoro as far back as he could remember.
Every Jao Flats man has to learn how to drive a mokoro because it is an island. Moshupa is a professional Poler who has been with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project expeditions in Botswana, Angola and Namibia.
Speaking on behalf of the organisers Koketso Mookodi, the director for Botswana Wild Bird Trust said the event is aimed at “celebrating the traditional transportation of the Okavango Delta”. She said Nkashi Classic (Nkashi refers to a pole used by the poler to steer mokoro) is a non-profit community based initiative that they hope to bring the people together.
“We are planning to have the event annually and next we would like to make it bigger and better. We are thinking of having regional heats in various villages along the Okavango Delta and have a grand finale in Maun,” said Mookodi.
The organisers also said they would like to introduce a longer race based on the feedback they received from the polers. They said most polers wanted an endurance test than a fast short distance race.
Botswana Wild Bird Trust does the operations for the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP). NGOWP has been conducting annual biodiversity surveys in the Okavango Delta using mekoro.
The NGOWP team of researchers has crossed the Delta for nine years conducting scientific surveys. They have also travelled the entire stretch of Cutio River, still using mekoro, from its source in the Angolan highlands through to Namibia to where the water ends at Lake Xau on the mouth of the Boteti River near Mopipi.