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.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.