The Okavango River has become a knight in shining armour for nine women in Mohembo. As poverty rears its ugly head especially against women and children, these women decided to take a leap of faith and venture into mixed agriculture along the river banks. While there is a social protection intention from the side of government, for the majority of the rural population of Botswana, most policies guiding the fight against poverty lack adaptability and cohesion.
Yes, the Department of Social Services is tasked with improving the socio economic wellbeing of individuals, groups and communities through capacity building and empowerment to enhance their standard of living. To do this, they are guided by a series of policies targeting various groups. According to the Botswana government literature, social welfare policies exists to enhance social functional, integration of the community and provision of safety nets to the marginalized members of the community in a given situation. But in most cases, this has proved to be just a flight of fancy.
Poverty became a heavy cross to bear for these nine women and they are now alive to the idiom, a free lunch is not a foregone conclusion as far as government social protection policies are concerned.
Having realized that they are technically on their own, and that no one is coming to save them (God sent them an angel months later), these nine women drowning in poverty had to save their families, and the Okavango River became their saving grace. The river is probably the largest in the region, therefore water is always flowing. These women calculated that the best form of remedy would be planting crops by the river bank, both for commercial and consumption purposes. They had to eat after all.
Speaking to WeekendPost, Changanu Mokopi, said they were left with no option but to take this direction. She has eight members of the family who look up to her for survival.
“We literally had no means of survival. Hunger was knocking on our doors but we have children to raise, whether we liked it or not, they had only us to run to. This is when we started this project and we water our crops every day without fail. At times, we also provide necessary care, because if we don’t, they will ultimately die and we go back to square one. Because that is not what we want, we have no choice but to come to the river every day.”
These women do not have the necessary equipment to water their crops. Furthermore, they do not have knowledge about modern irrigation systems. They use buckets to feed their plants with water from the river.
Nkhaera Dirunda, who originates from Mohembo East has four children and she was never married. She shared with this publication why they agreed to start planting crops by the Okavango River:
“Maikaelelo e ne ele go leka botshelo gore re tle re kgone go tshela ka fa re tshwanetseng go tshela ka teng. Re batho ba ba tshelang ka temo jannong re ne ra akanya go leka ya merogo gore gongwe matshelo a ka fetoga.”
“We became intentional about changing our way of life, as we wanted better lives for ourselves. We survive on agriculture and we thought of trying kale and spinach as we trust that it will work on our favor and our lives will eventually change for the better.”
She said that what they dreamt of has since taken shape, and they are able to rake some monies to fend their offspring’s. “Re kgonne go rekisa, re kgona go reka phaleche mo lwapeng,” loosely translated “We have since managed to reap something and we are able to buy food.”
Even though the region is conquered by wildlife such as elephants and hippos, which spend most of the time around water sources, Dirunda emphasized that they have not yet encountered clashes with these animals, but they brace themselves for such.
The women have never asked for some kind of assistance from social workers. In Botswana, social workers have been tasked with helping the unfortunate members of the society, the less privileged. Nonetheless, the project is bearing fruit and more women have joined in. currently, the number sits at twelve.
“Rona re batla gore project e atologe, e gole. Re batla go ipona gore golo fa re dira se se tshwanetseng jaaka le setse le re tsenyetsa dilo tse. Re batla go ipoka ka morogo o gore nnyaa re godile.” “We want this project to grow. This will show us that indeed we are doing something worth it and this is why today we have durable drips being installed. We want to pride ourselves in what we do and people would see that we have since grown.”
‘Toro ya rona ke go ipona re rekisa mo dikolong, mo dishopong gape re jese morafe wa rona mo tikologong ya Okavango. Gone jaana fa batho ba batla merogo ba re latela ka kwano ba tla go reka. Ga gona ko re supplyang teng mme one wa rekiwa.”
Dirunda was sharing their ultimate goal and how the business is performing, saying that “We want to sell to schools, shops but importantly, we want to feed our Okavango region. Currently, people come to us to buy as we do not have entities to supply but generally, they are buying in good numbers.”
In realizing the passion that these group of women have towards improving their lives and communities, Irio Irrigation company came to save them. In fact, the company invested resources in making their project much easier.
Founder of Irio Irrigation, Itumeleng Kanotunga said agriculture field work is quite complex, and in Botswana, less women are participating in the agricultural sector. “We don’t see a lot of women taking part in the actual land cultivation so we were really touched when we saw what the Shakawe West Garden women being hands on. Watering almost a quarter of a hectare by buckets shows determination and will power and that’s something we don’t see often.”
She further said they then decided to step in and assist these dedicated women by donating irrigation drip pipes and installing them. “These pipes will not only lighten the work load, but will help them maximize their crop yield. They can focus the bulk of their time caring for the crops and marketing their produce.”
The company also donated hybrid seeds which are resistant to pets and diseases, and altogether, the project raked P42 000 from Irio Irrigation. “We pride ourselves in assisting where we can. We previously built houses in Maokane village and we also sponsored prize giving ceremonies in Gaborone and Mochudi respectively.”
Kanotunga said even though government is doing well in supporting agricultural initiatives that empower citizens, access to land for farming remains a challenge. “Often times those who have the ability to be actively involved are unable to do so because they do not have land. Educating farmers about technologies such as drip irrigation and its importance is crucial, especially farmers in areas such as Shakawe.”
THE STATS ARE DAMNING
Since independence, Botswana finds itself among the top countries of the world with adverse poverty. This is a country that is deemed a diamond rich country, but to this day, majority of Batswana do not know how a diamond looks like.
World Bank (Poverty and Equity Brief 2021) says living conditions have improved for the Botswana people in the last twenty years, and poverty has fallen significantly. The share of the population living below the poverty line for upper-middle income countries such as Botswana declined from 65% to 56% between 2003 and 2010.
However, between 2010 and 2016 the progress with poverty reduction came to a halt and the poverty rate increased to 59%, moderately reversing some of the gain. Lack of employment generation was the main driver behind this reversal.
While Botswana has experienced improvements in shared prosperity, it still faces extremely high inequality. The growth rate of consumption per capita between 2009-10 and 2015-16 for the bottom 40% of the population was o.42% annually, higher than the growth rate of the top 60 percentile.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Bank, accelerated the negative trend with poverty being estimated to have reached 60%, with an increase of 103, 000 people in 2020. Unemployment edged slightly to 24.5% in the quarter ending December 2020, from 22.2% in the same quarter 2019.
Unemployment remaining extremely high is not the only challenge. There is no adequate fresh water, infrastructure is substandard, education has since landed in Intensive Care Unit, the health care system has been in jeopardy, climate change has taken its toll, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), corruption is tremendously in height and cost of living is uneconomical for an ordinary Motswana.
All of these social and economic factors dump an ordinary Motswana in the cold receiving end. It now becomes survival of the fittest: the weak ones barely survive. In most dire incidences, people who migrated to towns for greener pastures were welcomed by drier pastures. To their shock, many learnt that surviving on a loaf of bread is their saving grace.
As the Corona virus ushered in a sudden breakdown of normality around the world, poverty in Botswana spiked. In the village of Mohembo, people still struggle with the demands of modern life. Is it maybe because they are located in the very far end of the country? That’s food for thought.
However, just like the late Nelson Mandela observed, poverty can only be eliminated by the people: it’s a do or die status quo. Poverty is a condition that needs concerted efforts to at least curb if not end, and this is why economically deprived, untaught women in Mohembo have found it fitting to roll up their sleeves and get something done, even if it means struggling at first attempts. After all, it’s better being late than never.
BPC Signs PPA with Sekaname Energy
The Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) has taken a significant step towards diversifying its energy mix by signing a power purchase agreement with Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village. This agreement marks a major milestone for the energy sector in Botswana as the country transitions from a coal-fired power generation system to a new energy mix comprising coal, gas, solar, and wind.
The CEO of BPC, David Kgoboko, explained that the Power Purchase Agreement is for a 6MW coal bed methane proof of concept project to be developed around Mmashoro village. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy in the energy mix. The use of coal bed methane for power generation is an exciting development as it provides a hybrid solution with non-dispatchable sources of generation like solar PV. Without flexible base-load generation, the deployment of non-dispatchable solar PV generation would be limited.
Kgoboko emphasized that BPC is committed to enabling the development of a gas supply industry in Botswana. Sekaname Energy, along with other players in the coal bed methane exploration business, is a key and strategic partner for BPC. The successful development of a gas supply industry will enable the realization of a secure and sustainable energy mix for the country.
The Minister of Minerals & Energy, Lefoko Moagi, expressed his support for the initiative by the private sector to develop a gas industry in Botswana. The country has abundant coal reserves, and the government fully supports the commercial extraction of coal bed methane gas for power generation. The government guarantees that BPC will purchase the generated electricity at reasonable tariffs, providing cash flow to the developers and enabling them to raise equity and debt funding for gas extraction development.
Moagi highlighted the benefits of developing a gas supply industry, including diversified primary energy sources, economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. He commended Sekaname Energy for undertaking a pilot project to prove the commercial viability of extracting coal bed methane for power generation. If successful, this initiative would unlock the potential of a gas production industry in Botswana.
Sekaname Energy CEO, Peter Mmusi, emphasized the multiple uses of natural gas and its potential to uplift Botswana’s economy. In addition to power generation, natural gas can be used for gas-to-liquids, compressed natural gas, and fertilizer production. Mmusi revealed that Sekaname has already invested $57 million in exploration and infrastructure throughout its resource area. The company plans to spend another $10-15 million for the initial 6MW project and aims to invest over $500 million in the future for a 90MW power plant. Sekaname’s goal is to assist BPC in becoming a net exporter of power within the region and to contribute to Botswana’s transition to cleaner energy production.
In conclusion, the power purchase agreement between BPC and Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village is a significant step towards diversifying Botswana’s energy mix. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy. The government’s support for the development of a gas supply industry and the commercial extraction of coal bed methane will bring numerous benefits to the country, including economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. With the potential to become a net exporter of power and a cleaner energy producer, Botswana is poised to make significant strides in its energy sector.
UDC deadlock: Boko, Ndaba, Reatile meet
It is not clear as to when, but before taking a festive break in few weeks’ time UDC leaders would have convened to address the ongoing deadlock surrounding constituency allocation in the negotiations for the 2024 elections. The leaders, Duma Boko of the UDC, Mephato Reggie Reatile of the BPF, and Ndaba Gaolathe of the AP, are expected to meet and discuss critical matters and engage in dialogue regarding the contested constituencies.
The negotiations hit a stalemate when it came to allocating constituencies, prompting the need for the leaders to intervene. Representatives from the UDC, AP, and BPF were tasked with negotiating the allocation, with Dr. Patrick Molotsi and Dr. Philip Bulawa representing the UDC, and Dr. Phenyo Butale and Wynter Mmolotsi representing the AP.
The leaders’ meeting is crucial in resolving the contentious issue of constituency allocation, which has caused tension among UDC members and potential candidates for the 2024 elections. After reaching an agreement, the leaders will engage with the members of each constituency to gauge their opinions and ensure that the decisions made are favored by the rank and file. This approach aims to avoid unnecessary costs and conflicts during the general elections.
One of the main points of contention is the allocation of Molepolole South, which the BNF is adamant about obtaining. In the 2019 elections, the UDC was the runner-up in Molepolole South, securing the second position in seven out of eight wards. Other contested constituencies include Metsimotlhabe, Kgatleng East and West, Mmadinare, Francistown East, Shashe West, Boteti East, and Lerala Maunatlala.
The criteria used for constituency allocation have also become a point of dispute among the UDC member parties. The issue of incumbency is particularly contentious, as the criterion for constituency allocation suggests that current holders of UDC’s council and parliamentary seats should be given priority for re-election without undergoing primary elections. Disadvantaged parties argue that this approach limits democratic competition and hinders the emergence of potentially more capable candidates.
Another disputed criterion is the allocation based on the strength and popularity of a party in specific areas. Parties argue that this is a subjective criterion that leads to disputes and favoritism, as clear metrics for strength and visibility cannot be defined. The BNF, in particular, questions the demands of the new entrants, the BPF and AP, as they lack a traceable track record to support their high expectations.
The unity and cohesion of the UDC are at stake, with the BPF and AP expressing dissatisfaction and considering withdrawing from the negotiations. Therefore, it is crucial for the leaders to expedite their meeting and find a resolution to these disputes.
In the midst of these negotiations, the BNF has already secured 15 constituencies within the UDC coalition. While the negotiations are still ongoing, BNF Chairman Dr. Molotsi revealed that they have traditionally held these constituencies and are expecting to add more to their tally. The constituencies include Gantsi North, Gantsi South, Kgalagadi North, Kgalagadi South, Good Hope – Mmathethe, Kanye North, Kanye South, Lobatse, Molepolole North, Gaborone South, Gaborone North, Gaborone Bonnignton North, Takatokwane, Letlhakeng, and Tlokweng.
The resolution of the contested constituencies will test the ability of the UDC to present a united front in the 2024 National Elections will depend on the decisions made by the three leaders. It is essential for them to demonstrate maturity and astuteness in resolving the constituency allocation deadlock and ensuring the cohesion of the UDC.
Repeat flight-risk suspect pays the piper
In Botswana, the Constitution Section 5 (3) (b) provides that conditions of bail are necessary to ensure that an accused appears at a later date for trial or for proceedings preliminary to trial. These conditions may include restrictions on interfering with state witnesses, the payment of a certain amount, the provision of sureties, the submission of travel documents, reporting to the police regularly, and appearing for all court mentions or proceedings. Failure to abide by these conditions can result in the revocation of bail. Robert Seditseng, a murder accused who has been detained since 2016, is currently facing the consequences of not adhering to his bail conditions – therefore paying the piper.
Despite numerous unsuccessful bail applications over the past five years, Gaborone High Court judge Michael Leburu denied Seditseng bail this week. Seditseng had requested to be set free before his trial starts on April 12th, but his freedom will now depend on the verdict. He is charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Siscah Mutukee, on June 22nd, 2016, in Charleshill.
Judge Leburu ruled that Seditseng is not a candidate for bail due to being a flight risk, as he has previously absconded from court. Defense lawyer David Ndlovu pleaded with the court to consider the time Seditseng has already spent in prison, but Leburu questioned whether there was any guarantee that Seditseng would not abscond again, given that he had done so twice before.
An affidavit from Investigations officer (IO), Constable Kedibonye Botsalo, supports the view that Seditseng is not a suitable candidate for bail due to his tendency to abscond when granted bail. The affidavit explains that Seditseng was initially denied bail by the magistrate court due to ongoing investigations and the possibility of tampering with evidence. However, a concession was later made by the prosecution, and Seditseng was granted conditional bail by the lower court.
The court documents reveal that Seditseng failed to appear before court on March 7th, 2016, without providing any explanation. As a result, a warrant for his arrest was issued. The case proceeded without him on several occasions until he finally appeared before court on July 13th, 2017. On that day, Seditseng’s bail was revoked due to his inability to provide valid reasons for his absences.
On October 4th, 2017, Seditseng was granted bail for the second time. However, he was once again absent from court on October 31st, 2017, without providing any reasons. He continued to be absent from court on five subsequent occasions until his arrest and appearance before court on August 30th, 2018.
During a period of nine months, Seditseng absconded from court without providing any reasons for his actions. This repeated pattern of absconding demonstrates a clear disregard for the bail conditions and raises concerns about his willingness to appear for trial.
Given Seditseng’s history of absconding and the potential risk of him doing so again, Judge Leburu’s decision to deny him bail is justified. The purpose of bail is to ensure the accused’s presence at trial, and Seditseng has repeatedly shown a lack of commitment to fulfilling this obligation. It is crucial to prioritize the safety of the community and the integrity of the justice system by keeping flight-risk suspects like Seditseng in custody until their trial is concluded.
In conclusion, the denial of bail to repeat flight-risk suspect Robert Seditseng is a necessary measure to ensure his appearance at trial. His history of absconding from court and failure to provide valid reasons for his actions demonstrate a disregard for the bail conditions and raise concerns about his willingness to face justice. By denying him bail, the court is prioritizing the safety of the community and upholding the integrity of the justice system.