A storm has erupted over the government’s decision to hand Johan Calitz, a South African wildife trophy hunter and associate of Bostwana’s former environment and wildlife minister Kitso Mokaila, the exclusive right to hunt in a wildlife-rich area of northern Botswana.
The flashpoint is a directive from the permanent secretary in the ministry of wildlife, Oduetse Koboto, earlier this year ordering the Mababe Community Development Trust, near Maun, to work with Calitz’s company, African Field Sports (AFS).
Koboto was appointed by Mokaila when the latter was environment minister last year. He has since left the portfolio. The ministry’s directive prompted complaints from the Mababe village chief, Kgosimontle Kebuelemang, that the community had gained nothing from a previous engagement with Calitz.
In addition, a rival operator has challenged the ministry’s decision in the Gaborone High Court. In its papers, Safari Partners argues that other communities have disposed of their animals by auction or open tender, and that the unique favouring of AFS in Mababe should be reversed.
It is alleged that Calitz paid for Mokaila and two board members of the Mababe trust to travel to Reno in the United States to attend a conference of the hunting organisation Safari Club International, as well as another meeting in Dallas, Texas, at which the Mababe hunting quota was discussed.
Mokaila’s predecessor in the environment portfolio, Tshekedi Khama, told INK that Mokaila had introduced Calitz to him while he was minister and that he knew they were working together.
According to the South African non-profit organisation, Conservation Action Trust, Calitz had his licence suspended in 2001 because of the allegedly unlawful conduct of his company during a buffalo hunt. The details of the offence are not known.
He declined to answer any questions when approached by the INK Centre for Investigative Journalism. The current controversy follows last year’s decision by Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi to lift a five-year ban on hunting imposed by former president Ian Khama in 2015, on grounds that local communities are not reaping any benefit.
Under the new system a community is given a quota of animals that it can sell to hunting operations. Under an environment ministry directive of March 2, the Mababe community trust was told to issue African Field Sports ten licences to hunt a total of 94 animals, including 20 elephants.
In a letter seen by INK, permanent secretary Koboto said: “The … hunting quota is available to Mababe … to utilise on behalf of the community but [it] will be working with the team identified by Ministry to engage African Field Sports to ensure that the community gets a fair and market value for the quota.”
Questions have been raised about Calitz’s relationship with certain board members of the Mababe trust, particularly its chairperson, Itumeleng Mogodu. In November last year Mogodu and another board member, Mmokoki Ditirwa, signed a memorandum of understanding with Calitz giving AFS exclusive rights to the 2020 hunting quota.
According to Chief Kebuelemang, this constituted a violation of the Mababe community’s deed of trust because the memorandum was signed without the community’s consent.
Under the MOU, AFS will pay the community about US$1 500 for an elephant. A 2020 price list from Johan Calitz Safaris, an AFS subsidiary, shows it sells a single elephant for $70 000 – excluding fees and taxes – to trophy hunters.
According to Kebuelemang, who is also a board member of the trust, Mogodu appointed Mokaila a “consultant” to the community. Kebuelemang also said that Calitz paid for Mokaila, Mogodu and Ditirwa to travel to the US in January this year.
The four had attended Safari Club International’s annual convention in Reno, Nevada, where the honour of “best legislator” was bestowed on President Masisi. Kebuelemang said the four also travelled to another meeting in Dallas, Texas, to “discuss, among other things, the award of the Mababe hunting quota”.
Mokaila declined numerous requests for comment, urging INK to “write whatever you want”. Calitz said through his secretary that he would not respond to media questions relating to Mababe.
But in an interview, Tshekedi Khama said he is not surprised that Mababe has become “a portal for self-enrichment”. He said Mokaila introduced him to Calitz in 2016 when he was minister of tourism, adding: “I knew that he was working with Calitz.”
Kebuelemang told INK that the community and other hunting operations preferred an open tender or auction in the allocation of hunting licences. He said he suspects the government was arm-twisted by “politicians who previously opposed hunting and are now assisting trophy hunters to identify local markets”.
He said that during the hunting ban, Calitz held a license on the Mababe community’s quota which expired in January last year. The South African also had a lease agreement with the community including a joint venture to run other businesses such as safari camps and a lodge.
However, the community had seen no benefit from these. When the Khama administration imposed the hunting ban Calitz had disappeared from Mababe village. “We only see this man when the hunting ban was lifted, and the manner in which he is coming back is worrying,” Kebuelemang said.
Sources in the wildlife and national parks department, who asked to remain anonymous said Mokaila had overlooked qualified and experienced officers when he appointed Koboto director of wildlife. In 2015 the new environment minister, Tshekedi Khama, sacked him because “I didn’t think he was the right person”.
Koboto was returned as deputy permanent secretary in 2019 after Masisi appointed Mokaila environment minister. Koboto refused to comment. Asked about her relationship with Mokaila, Mogodu confirmed that he is a consultant to the community who has helped them navigate the complex sale of elephants to trophy hunters. She said the US trip was necessary, as it benefited the community to acquire knowledge about hunting.
Mogodu confirmed that the community trust has another joint venture with Calitz in Mogotho Lodge. It is a business partnership in which the community has a shareholding in the lodge. Asked about allegations that she had violated the Mababe deed of trust, Mogodu said the board is empowered to make decisions without consulting the community.
She added that the community needs to continue working with Calitz’s AFS to create more employment, and accused Kebuelemang of fronting for other business interests. She did not elaborate. In his letter to the Mababe Community Development Trust, Koboto warned that the trust would have to be investigated in connection with alleged corruption.
He did not provide details. However, the Mababe community trust’s book of accounts, which INK has seen, shows that the trust has debts amounting to P3.7-million and that 21 of its employees, who work at the Dizhana campsite and Mogotho Lodge, in the Okavango Delta had not been paid salaries for three years.
The trust has a 10% stake in the lodge. The book of accounts shows that the trust is “marred with issues of poor governance.” It also indicates that the trust has not paid P4-million in taxes it has owed since 2017. The revenue service reduced the liability to P970 000, but was still unable to recoup the money.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.
In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.
â€śBotswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,â€ť says Dr. Kwape. He wouldnâ€™t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.
â€śWe will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,â€ś he said.
However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the â€śGovernment of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.â€ť
Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.
â€śSADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,â€ť the statement says.
Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.
Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.
State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.
The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceasedâ€™s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.
Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrateâ€™s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.
â€śThe third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,â€ť Ookeditse said.
However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.
Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.
â€śYesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,â€ť said the State prosecutor.
While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.
He told the court that on the 12thÂ of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.
According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Astonâ€™s children) are staying.
â€śThato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,â€ť said Zhalamonto.
Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.
â€śI have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,â€ť Zhalamonto told the court.
He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.
â€śPhillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mallâ€ť the Investigation Officer told the court.
He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the â€śunknown callerâ€ť and the route of the cell number.
Furthermore, the fourth accused,Â Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.
Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6thÂ of next month
Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.
Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.
To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.
â€śWe spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine â€“ that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,â€ť said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.
Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herderâ€™s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.
“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,â€ť said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).