Cape-based freelance motoring journalist, RICHARD WILEY, recently visited Kenya and the Meru National Park, to find out first-hand, exactly what drives the conservation partnership between the Born Free Foundation and Land Rover. Here’s his story about a venture which he described as “truly inspirational.”
There’s an awful lot more to being a good car manufacturer than simply designing and assembling cars and meeting emissions and safety standards. In reality, the car is the end product of a multitude of endeavours, not least of which is that essential component commonly described as “corporate social responsibility.”
Putting something back into the community in which a company thrives is the cornerstone of this philosophy and in my experience, none does it better than UK-based Land Rover.
This company of course operates way beyond the confines of local communities because its footprint is found in every corner of the globe and that is why Land Rover has been an active supporter of far-reaching ventures such as the Red Cross and the Born Free Foundation with which it formed a Conservation Partnership as far back as 2002.
Along with a select few journalists from the UK, USA, South Africa and Kenya, I recently received an invitation from Land Rover to experience first-hand how the company dovetails with the Born Free Foundation in the protection of wildlife in Kenya and more specifically, in the Meru National Park some 300 km north east of Nairobi.
The Born Free Foundation was created in 1984 by actors and wildlife campaigners Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna who starred in the film Born Free which was based on the life of Elsa the lioness who was cared for as an orphan by George and Joy Adamson and subsequently released into the wild.
Virginia continues her close involvement with the Foundation in the role of Trustee while her son Will has taken over the reins as an active and deeply involved President leading the charitable Foundation’s drive to protect wildlife species through the preservation of the increasingly pressurised environment in which they exist.
In simple terms, the pressure is sourced in expanding human populations and their need for land and by ruthless poaching, a situation which has received close attention from the Born Free Foundation in its quest to enlighten societies as to how humans and wild animals can successfully co-exist.
Indeed, this very aspect has been addressed in the southern game parks of Kenya where the Foundation, in collaboration with Land Rover, has been instrumental in establishing secure bomas to protect the livestock belonging to the local population from the attentions of errant lions.
The Land Rover involvement is not something recent though as the connection goes right back to the 1950s when George Adamson roamed the wilds of Kenya in various Land Rovers used to assist his work in preserving and protecting the wild lion population.
As a follow-up to the aforementioned 2002 partnership, Land Rover signed a new contract with Born Free in November 2013, extending its partnership into the provision of vehicles to assist field workers in reaching far-flung areas not just in Kenya but in Southern Asia and in South Africa. Logistical support has also been stepped-up as we were to find out in our extraordinary journey through the Meru Conservation Area and surrounding lands.
After a 50-minute journey by air from Wilson Airfield on the outskirts of ever-expanding Nairobi, we landed at a hot and dusty airstrip in Meru to be greeted by members of the Land Rover Experience team based in Johannesburg and by senior personnel from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Also on hand were no fewer than seven Land Rovers, all bedecked in the colours of the Born Free Foundation. Two of these were black Defender 110 models donated by Land Rover and five were 2014 Discovery 3.0SD V6 models, painted in sparkling white and, amazingly, fitted with Gauteng number plates.
Land Rover sub-Sahara Africa had certainly gone beyond the call of duty in providing us with such plush and effective transport to roam the African wilds but this act alone attests to the importance Land Rover places on its joint conservation efforts with Born Free.
Our accommodation for two nights was at the simply stunning Elsas’s Kopje. This is an award-winning lodge discretely integrated into Mughwango Hill, playground of Elsa the lioness in the 50s and situated within metres of the Adamson’s original camp and just a kilometre or so from the spot where parts from George Adamson’s Series 2 Land Rover provide an emotional reminder of the enlightened conservation work undertaken so long ago.
Here we met the softly spoken yet deeply committed Virginia McKenna who along with her eldest son, Will, has done so much to perpetuate George Adamson’s legacy. The pair were to be our constant companions on our two day adventure which brought home to all of us how the Born Free Foundation and the Kenya Wildlife Service has reversed the negative effects of bandit and poaching activity which nearly brought the Meru wilderness to its knees.
A progressive re-stocking policy combined with the efforts of the KWS and the Born Free Foundation has ensured that visitors to the Park are rewarded with regular sightings of game, big and small, albeit that the poaching threat is still far too prevalent as we were to witness in person.
Indeed, after a visit to Elsa’s grave which is situated right alongside the river and former campsite where she romped with her human carers and subsequently roamed as a rehabilitated wild lion more than 50 years ago, we visited the Meru base camp of the KWS.
Here, we learned a lot more about the threat to wildlife and to flora and fauna in the region and how Project Lion Rover has been implemented to assist in defeating the powers of evil.
When it became apparent that the KWS team was in need of equipment to help the staff carry out their duties, Land Rover responded by supplying tents, laptops, binoculars, cameras, cold weather clothing and hand-held GPS devices.
De-snaring is a critical element of the protection process and to demonstrate just how effective the Born Free field team has become, we were taken to an area within visual range of our lodge where “active” snares had been found.
In the company of armed KWS personnel who told us that angry buffalo rather than snarling lions were their biggest problem in the bush, we trekked through savannah grassland and widely dispersed trees to find the de-snaring team had located no fewer than five wire snares in a confined area. Worse still, one of these snares had ended the life of a small giraffe which had been caught by its neck and left to meet a grizzly end.
This intensive activity is on-going and is important not just for saving the lives of wild animals but for retaining what I would term the balance of nature. As antelope would appear to be the primary but not sole target of the snares, a further reduction in their population could cause lions to revert to attacking the livestock of the thousands of people who live in areas bordering the National Park.
Accordingly, the Born Free Foundation has implemented schemes to try and resolve potential human/animal conflict areas while taking steps to educate the thousands of school children resident in the bordering areas on matters relating to conservation and wildlife preservation.
No fewer than 13 running rivers fed from nearby mountains, are the lifeblood of the Meru Conservation area and these are under threat from habitat losses and from deliberate diversion of existing water courses. Of particular importance is the incredible 4139ha Ngaya Forest area which falls under the auspices of the Kenya Forest Service with whom the Born Free Foundation closely co-operates.
The safeguarding of the towering trees and dense vegetation which borders on habitated land that in turn borders on the Park, is absolutely crucial to the survival of that Park, and Born Free with the help of Land Rover, is in the vanguard of spreading the word and providing practical assistance in realising sustainability.
Reaching remote parts has always taxed man’s ingenuity and this applies in particular to traversing far-flung game parks. In our case, we were encouraged to sample the Born Free Land Rover Defenders as well as the more modern and altogether more luxurious Discovery models.
Boarding the Defender was something of a time warp as I spent many of my younger days at the wheel of a Series 2A Landie. The basics are unchanged which means ruggedness predominates. The steering is low-geared and rather vague, the turning circle is other-worldly and the clutch and gearshift are endowed with a firm, deliberate action.
But the point is that the Defender is totally at home in the outdoors, particularly as it is equipped with permanent 4WD with low ratio on tap and with a 2.2 diesel motor that provides 90% of its meaty 360Nm maximum torque output from just 2 200 rpm.
That means it’s entirely possible to meander along appalling surfaces with a high gear engaged just as it’s possible to tackle 45 degree ascents and crest deep ditches secure in the knowledge that 250mm of ground clearance will allow safe passage.
It was entirely appropriate to be traversing the self-same terrain that George and Joy Adamson did 50 years ago in a near-identical icon of the off-road motoring world, but I feel certain George and Elsa too, would delight in the comforts of the latest Discovery, albeit that the soft leather seat facings and a lion’s claws would not exactly be compatible!
With all the luxuries of a modern executive car and all the practicalities of 4WD and Terrain Response, the 7-seat Discovery is the ultimate all-rounder. Serene is the one word that encapsulates the ultra-smooth 8-speed auto box and the 3.0 TD V6 that transfers up to 520Nm to the wheels.
It’s hard to believe that something so smart can be so capable but when the mere push of a button provides massively increased ground clearance courtesy of air suspension and processors distribute torque according to specific conditions, even the uninitiated can make comfortable progress.
And on that subject, the latest sat nav system proved infallible, providing 100% accurate mapping and voice guidance even in the most remote parts of the Meru!
Amazing, but for me not quite as amazing as the simply outstanding conservation work being done by the Born Free Foundation with the comprehensive backing of Land Rover. Without commitments such as this, the truth is we would have no parks at all to drive through.
Having made his debut appearance in a singing competition, My Star, from 2010 till 2015, Star Phalane has been constantly and effortlessly reaching for the stars.
Who can forget Star’s dance moves and stage presence? Without faltering, he was one of the few contestants one can’t remember to forget, even to this date.
He stood out in his own right, but even with that being the case, he was shamefully kicked out of the Top 10 of the singing contest. He never clinched the grand prize, but that wasn’t much of a big deal because, failure can be a blessing in disguise if more effort is put to it and you have the right mind set.
It is fortunate that the young lad is tenacious and is alive to the fact that every cloud has a silver lining, had it not been for this, we’d not be here celebrating his fighting spirit.
Star has, against all the odds stacked up against him, managed to get his act together and focused his eyes on the ball. Now a jack of all trades, Star has bragging rights to being fashion designer, entrepreneur, MC, choreographer and a singer. He is a force to reckon with, and his works speaks to the versatile creative he is. He doesn’t bite off more than he can actually chew nevertheless.
In an exclusive interview with Weekendlife this week, Star revealed that he is a self-taught fashion designer even though there is a small crop of well-established designers he learns few flairs and elegances from. This form of learning doesn’t cost an arm and a leg unlike enrolling for fashion and design course, we’re not against the lads choice of learning, cause we believe education is not only found in a classroom set up.
“Most fashion designers studied design at school and it is only a small portion including myself that are self-taught. I believe it goes back to individual talents that people are born with. It was upon me to develop and bank on this talent. I leave room for learning from others though, it works in my favour.”
Star’s designs had many prominent public figures salivating and day dreaming about wearing one of his creations. The likes of Annah Mokgethi; Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, socialites such as Vincent Matthys as well as rapper; Baxon, have all line up around the corner to be seen in Star’s creations.
With all the success the young talent has and all the famous and high ranking people after his talent, Star is humble and down to earth. It is probably for this reason that the universe is giving back to the lad tenfold especially after being knocked down so many times in the past. Star doesn’t look down on others nor does that mean he thinks any less of him and the God given talents he has.
“I don’t think my designs are different. I am the one who’s different in a special way and obviously that doesn’t mean I’m better than any other fashion designer. I can also let the cat out of the bag on how to produce better designs. One ought to network and be consistent on their work. This means being able to survive against all odds, it’s a pandemic year and designers should be able to tell a story through their designs,” Star said.
It is not so common in Botswana to find male fashion designs. Stereotypes labelled fashion designing to be female’s hobby if not business. But there are ways to express authenticity and what life has to offer. It can be on paper (sketch), on clothes (designing) or on record (melodic). Star is amongst few male designers resolute to stamp out these pigeon-holes.
Above and beyond fashion designing, Star is also a singer and choreographer. He is not as right as rain, but he definitely leaves a mark once on stage. His incredible moves can be traced back to Mophato Dance Theatre. This dance assemble is the country’s first Afro-fusion and Contemporary dance company, that has been selling Botswana through dance.
The group has performed in New York, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Ivory Coast, Canada and Japan. Currently a lead dancer and singer with the group, Star is also the company’s costume designer.
“I started off as a professional Latin dancer and a street dancer. Eventually, I was employed by Mophato and subsequently became a member. That was a dream come true. So with time I starred as a lead singer in most of the musical plays the group participated in. It was magical and really motivated me to see a dance group appreciating my skills. I explored my creativity and loving each and every bits.”
Like riding a bicycle, Star never forgot how to sing. Just recently, he was announced as a finalist on the revamped My African Dream singing competition. He told Weekendlife that it wasn’t really smooth sailing as he was against the best talents, but having weathered the storms, the competition was a learning experience. Star is currently working on an Extended Play (EP). We look forward to the rising star in Star.
The month of June marks a time of celebration and reflection for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning. These terms are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
This year, LGBTQ+ allies and corporate companies joined in the celebration and developed new initiatives to support the vulnerable group. On the 1st of June 2021, Botswana’s diamond mining company, Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB), launched a new project dubbed the Real You Network.
This is a platform that creates a safe, inclusive, supportive and welcoming workplace for LGBTQ+ employees to allow them to bring their whole selves to work every day and work to their full potential.
The company stresses and prides its self in coming up with projects that make it the best place for people to thrive in their truest selves, something that is in their inclusion and diversity calendar.
When speaking during the virtual launch of Real You Network, DTCB Senior Human Resources Manager, Stella Moetse said “we will reach success when the talent that we have here in the glass house represents all the different people we have in our society, especially the minorities; and these are people living with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ and not only having them, but in positions of influence and decision making. This will be the true measure of inclusion.”
In September 2017, De beers announced a three-year partnership with United Nations Women; an arm of the United Nations dedicated to Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls.
As part of this partnership, the group committed to taking a holistic and long term approach to promoting gender equality within the business and communities. DTCB says, the commitment in its group has gone beyond gender to create an inclusive workplace for all.
“Because of this commitment to promote and support an inclusive workplace, DTCB which is part of the De Beers group resolved to be inclusive in its approach. As a result, we have elevated inclusion and diversity to Board level reporting. We promote awareness through training our employees on identified inclusion and diversity topics such as anti-bullying and harassment, unconscious bias and inclusive hiring.”
Moetse applauded and appreciated the role that advocacy groups for LGBTQ+ play in pursuit of their rights in society, indicating that it is not an easy task for them to given societal orientations. “It is commendable however, how they are constantly challenging us to break down any preconceptions, removing structural and societal barriers and biases.”
Technical Services Senior Manager, Prudence Mabua, shared the same sentiments, saying that LGBTQ+ persons face obstacles when it comes to accessing many of their rights, including their right to social protection.
The Real You Network, will allow for an environment of openness and promote a culture of a fully inclusive network open to all colleagues regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, she said.
“Through events such as this one, our vision is to continue creating platforms that allow for employees and individuals to share lived experiences as this is key in increasing understanding, tolerance and acceptance,” Mabua highlighted.
“There is significant ignorance and resistance to the reality of the existence of LGBTQ+ community in Botswana. While people may not have the intention to be homophobic, the language they use is often offensive. This increases the fear of coming out as people are scared of being subjected to judgement and discrimination.”
Uncovering the main objectives of the Real You Network, Mabua stressed that the platform will enable DTCB to be visible in its consciousness of LGBTQ+ matters and allegiance of the community, hold conversations to sensitize its workforce on LGBTQ+ inclusion and challenge policies and procedures as well as attracting and retaining qualified people of the LGBTQ+ community.
Further, the Network will focus on sustainability and accountability, by achieving continuity by treating inclusion and diversity as a culture not events. It will also focus on acceptance of diversity and ensuring zero discrimination culture within the organization.
Meanwhile, a study conducted in 2020 by Asher and Lyric indicates that most African countries still criminalize and stigmatize LGBTQ+ practices. These countries are anti-homosexuality and protection of LGBTQ+ person’s rights is minimal.
Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Maldives, Uganda, Iran, West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Yemen, UAE, Qatar, Jamaica, Oman, Malawi, Malaysia as well as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria are some of the countries of the world which criminalizes homosexuality. Nigeria is the only country in the world with cruel treatment of LGBTQ+ persons.
In Nigeria, homosexuality receives up to 14 years in prison, and at most times the death penalty. In some of these countries, discussions of LGBTQ+ rights and gender expression are criminalized, flogging can occur for cross dressing, and homosexual intercourse receives 6 months to 3 years in prison.
Pro-LGBTQ+ organizations are sometimes barred, imitating the opposite sex can result in prison time and buggery receives up to 10 years in prison and hard labour.
Nonetheless, there are other countries (mostly from the West) which promote and protect the LGBTQ+ community. These countries legalized same-sex marriages, protect the community against discrimination, criminalizes LGBTQ+ violence, implement transgender legal identity laws and are safe places for LGBTQ+ persons to live in.
These are: Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, Portugal, Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, Uruguay, Norway, France, Iceland, Denmark, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Austria, Finland, Ireland and the United States.
Botswana once had a story love affair with the world’s biggest premium beauty pageant, Miss Universe. This was in 1999 when Botswana’s first representative at Miss Universe, Mpule Kwelagobe, effortlessly snatched the title.
It was every contestant’s beautiful dream to wear the crown, but winning at first entry was implausible if not magical. Kwelagobe made the country contented, and history was made. Taking a closure significant look at her performance at the Miss Universe held at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, Kwelagobe battled it out on and off stage with 84 contestants and showed them dust. She was in the Top 5 spot with South Africa, Venezuela, Philippines and Spain. There are countries which snatch the Miss Universe title every year.
Miss Universe 2019 was a South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi. Mpule Kwelagobe scorecard looked pretty remarkable. She scored 9.05 out of 10 on her interviews, 9.18 swimsuit, 9.36 evening gown, semi-final average 9.19 and 9.48 on the Top 5 question. These results were good enough to earn her the crown.
However, over the years (since the crowning of Mpule Kwelagobe), Botswana has been fading away from participating at the Miss Universe. Between 2002 and 2003, the country did not participate in Miss Universe but in 2004, the country sent a winning title of Miss Universe Botswana to Ecuador, Miss Universe 2004.
In 2010, Mos Syde Worldwide Entertainment Group: an international entertainment and fashion company domiciled in Botswana took over the Miss Universe Botswana pageant after a six-year absence. Tirelo Ramasedi was crowned Miss Universe Botswana 2010, and represented the country in Las Vegas on August 23. As it is right now, Ramasedi is the only former Miss Universe queen still keen in having her name shine out there: she works closely on projects aimed at empowering women and young girls.
Sadly so, 2013 was the last time Botswana participated in Miss Universe. After five years of not participating at Miss Universe pageant, the first Miss Universe Botswana Mpule Kwelagobe took over the franchise. The winner selection of Miss Universe Botswana 2019 was to remark Botswana to Miss Universe 2019, however, was cancelled.
2019 marked another possible six years since Botswana lacked participation in Miss Universe. This drastic zero participation in this premium beauty competition paved way for our neighbours South Africa to sail smoothly at the competition. Zozibini Tunzi became an instant global queen and everyone’s favourite after displaying intelligence, poise and taking up space to be crowned Miss Universe 2019.
The pageant was not held in 2020 due to COVID-19. This will be the third time in the history of the competition in which the event will be held after the calendar year has ended: this previously occurred during Miss Universe 2014 and Miss Universe 2016 (in which Botswana was not participating).
Miss Universe Organization announced early this year that the competition would be held on May 16 2021, at Seminole Hard rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, United States. Zozibini Tunzi will crown her successor at this competition.
Botswana, will not be participating at the Miss Universe 2020, again. The weakening Miss Universe Botswana has been attributed to by internal fights within the organization. But why participate at Miss Universe?
The Miss Universe Organization is a global, inclusive organization that celebrates women of all cultures and backgrounds and empowers them to realize their goals through experiences that build self-confidence and create opportunities for success.
Women participate annually to affect positive change personally, professionally and philanthropically as inspirational leaders and role models. The delegates and titleholders that have participated in the MUO system are able to cultivate their personal, professional and philanthropic goals. These women are forward thinking and motivated not just talk about change, but to initiate it.
Prominent beauty pageants analyst in Botswana Morekolodi Smith took Weekendlife in an exclusive interview that it has been so many years of absence from participating at Miss Universe, and this shows that Botswana lacks consistency and commitment.
“The franchise holders fail to host a national pageant. I think they should hand over the license to Miss Botswana Organization because it hosts the pageant annually. Then the winner gets to participate in both Miss World and Miss Universe. They can maybe crown two representatives. Botswana has faded away from Miss Universe platform and fans have forgotten about it,” he said in an interview on Thursday.