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The Mophane Tree

This week we shift our focus to Botswana’s natural history by looking at the Mophane (Mopane) tree (colophosernum mopane), which has long been an important local food source for both animals and people. It can grow either as a shrub or a tall tree up to 30 metres, depending on soil conditions and water availability.

Wild animals, particularly elephants, enjoy the protein-rich leaves and pods. Elephant pressure has contributed to the stunted appearance of some areas of Mophane scrub. While domestic animals generally find the pungent leaves unpalatable at first, they will feed on them once used to the taste. Mophane leaves are divided in two so that the leaflets resemble butterfly wings. There is a tiny point at the join of the two leaflets which is the remnant of a third, terminal leaflet.

In summer the leaves are fed on by swarms of caterpillars or mopane worms of a specie of emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina). The caterpillars, which are rich in protein and are eaten as a local delicacy, either roasted or dried. The sale of dried mopane worms is thus an important income source for many people, creating a local economy. Mophane trees also support the Gonometa or Wild African Silk Moth (Gonometa postica), whose cocoons are harvested in some areas.

Other traditional uses of the Mophane tree include the making of houses and kraal fences. The bark is used to make twine and for tanning, and the leaves used for healing wounds. The hard, reddish heartwood timber was used to make railway sleepers and as props for mining activities. While the wood is difficult to work because of its hardness it is termite resistant, therefore a popular choice for fence posts and flooring. Mopane are deciduous with autumn and spring colours. Sprays of small, green flowers appear in December and January. These are followed by pods which ripen between April and June and are flat and somewhat kidney-shaped.

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Builders of Botswana

When Britain moved against Batswana commercial hunting

19th October 2020

This week marks the anniversary of the British colonial regime’s imposition of “Proclamation of October 4th, 1892”, which regulated “the granting of permits for the purchase or receipt by natives of ammunition, and providing for the payment or certain fees for the granting of such permit.”

The legislation further provided for the registration of all guns as a requirement for the purchase cartridges, gunpowder, or lead. “Natives”, i.e. indigenous gun owners, were further limited to 100 rounds per annum. Within months of its passage the new law had the dramatic effect of collapsing what had up until then been the still lucrative export of wild ostrich feathers (then in high demand as a luxury good for ladies hats etc.), among other game products, from the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The Bechuanaland Annual Report for 1892-93 thus observed: “The decrease in the native trade in the Protectorate is attributed to restrictions recently placed on the sale of arms and ammunition to natives and consequent loss of two-thirds of the trade in wild ostrich feathers.”

The report further tied the restriction to a decline in imports as well as exports to the territory, noting: “It is observed that the supplies for the natives in the Northern Protectorate have decreased considerably; and there is reason to believe that the restrictions placed upon the sale of arms and ammunition have re-acted prejudicially upon general business. It is reported that many of Khama’s men entertain prejudices against the registration of their guns, without which they are not permitted to purchase cartridges, gunpowder, or lead.

As so few are willing to comply with the requirements of the law, and they are limited to 100 rounds per annum each, the quantity of ammunition procurable by them is insufficient to warrant their starting upon their usual lengthy hunting trips, because, whilst absent from their kraals, (often for several months at a time) they have to depend upon their guns for food. The consequence is that many hunters remain at home now; and, although wild ostriches are very plentiful in the old hunting grounds, only about one-third of the former quantity of feathers is brought to the traders to be exchanged for imported goods.”

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Builders of Botswana

Archie Mogwe

23rd September 2020
Archie-Mogwe

One of our Republic’s surviving founders – Archibald Mooketsa Mogwe – recently celebrated his 99th birthday. A top local civil servant at independence, Mogwe went on to make his mark as a government minister and international statesman.

Born Macheng-o-o-Moswaana near Kanye, to a notable Mongwaketse family of early LMS (UCCSA) converts, like his father and grandfather, the Hon. Mogwe was educated at Tiger Kloof, where he was a star pupil.

Prior to that he had schooled in Molepolole, Macheng and Kanye.

In 1944 he became a teacher at Kanye, subsequently spending a decade as boarding master of Modderpoort School in the Free State as well as Tigerkloof. Upon his return to Bechuanaland Protectorate in late 1950s, he served as an education officer. In the last months of British overrule he was one of only two Batswana promoted to senior

(super-scale) civil service positions. In 1967, he was appointed bySir Seretse Khama as his Permanent Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet.

Mogwe entered politics in 1974 as specially elected MP. He subsequently won a seat in the Southern District, which he held until 1994. As an MP he was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post he held until 1985 when he was appointed as the Minister  of Mineral Resources and Water Affairs, which he led until 1994.

On leaving politics, Mogwe was appointed as Botswana’s ambassador to the United States of America, where he served from 1995 to 1999. In retirement he has been an active farmer and worked closely with Sir Ketumile Masire during the brokering of the Congolese Peace Process in 2000-2003.

At a Presidential ceremony held in his honour last year, Mogwe observed that: “Those of us who worked towards the independence of our country could not have been absolutely certain about what independence would actually mean for us. What we knew was that we wanted to be counted amongst the nations of the world. This we achieved,”

Honourable Mogwe has been awarded Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1965, Presidential Honour of Meritorious Service in 1971, Presidential Honour in 1974 and Golden Jubilee Award in 2016.

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Builders of Botswana

The First Car To Cross Botswana

25th August 2020

The first crossing of Africa by motor vehicle was successfully completed on May 1, 1909 when First Lieutenant Paul Graetz (24/7/1875 – 16/2/1968) and his team arrived in Swakopmund having left Dar es Salaam on August 10, 1907. 

At a time when “Horseless Carriages” were still being dismissed as rich man’s toys many thought Graetz was mad to attempt his journey, one newspaper observing that he might as well drive to the moon.

The over 9,500 kilometre journey included a drive across the then Bechuanaland Protectorate, beginning in Palapye on January 10, 1909 and ending at the modern Namibia border in the vicinity of Charles Hill on March 13, 1909.

At Palapye Graetz was joined by an Australian named Henry Gould. This was after Graetz’s previous four German co-drivers had dropped out. The third member of the crew was also a local African named Wilhelm. The team set out along a route that took them through Serowe (where they were greeted by Kgosi Khama III), Khumaga, Rakops and Ghanzi.

Although the trip across Botswana began with torrential rains by the time the trio reached the Ghanzi farms they had come close to perishing of thirst; Gould in a delusional state having nearly killed himself sipping petrol.

Having set off from Palapye with 800 liters on petrol and 100 liters of oil on board, they found that the additional fuel at their designated Ghanzi region depot had not been sealed properly causing it to have evaporated. This resulted in the car being pulled by oxen into Ghanzi police post, after being rescued by a local farmer.

As reflected in the photo of the team’s departure from Palapye, Graetz is also distinguished for his experimentation with early colour photography. At the end of 1908 Graetz had found himself broke in Johannesburg, but managed to raise money to complete the journey through lectures featuring his groundbreaking colour images of the African interior. He would subsequently film his second, 1911-12, expedition across Africa by motorboat.

Upon completing his journey, Graetz was congratulated by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and the British King Edward VII. The Kaiser subsequently greeted him in Hamburg when he and his car had returned to Germany.

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