Merely half a century post-independence, Botswana has emerged as one of the richest and most promising countries in the African continent, thanks to its diamonds and wildlife reserves.
Botswana is one of the few Sub-Saharan African countries with exemplary political and economic stability. The key for this success are abundant reserves of high-quality diamonds with a unique and equally interesting story to tell. With independence in 1966 from British Bechuanaland, the country started as one of the poorest in the world. Herders and farmers formed the main source of income. So it can be described as a real fortune of coincidence that in the same year, diamonds were discovered, marketed by the newly- formed company Debswana, a joint-venture with a government share of 50 per cent. It may be valued as progressive thinking of Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, to anchor the revenues generated by the diamond business in the constitution as ‘Common property of the citizens of Botswana’, thus founding one of the world’s first Sovereign Wealth Funds in an exemplary manner to create an efficient infrastructure as well as a modern education and healthcare system. Today, at USD 7300, Botswana has the second-highest per capita income in the Southern African region.
The land of the Safaris Safari
Tourism is the second lifeline of Botswana, a tightly controlled and an upmarket destination. The average amount for an overnight stay starts at USD 200 per night per person, including two safaris and full board basis. Most of the lodges have an eco-friendly approach. In comparison to the neighbouring country of South Africa, low volumes of tourists guarantee the guest an optimal private sphere with a rich wildlife experience. The fifteen national parks and private game reserves cover 40 per cent of the landlocked country. Most famous safari destinations are the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with wide range of animals such as lion, leopard, giraffe, hyena, warthog, cheetah and wild dog, situated in the Kalahari Desert followed by Chobe National Park with thorn and grass savannas, housing the largest concentration of African elephants. Mashatu Game Reserve offers large herds of African Elephants, lion, giraffe, ostrich and eland. The private Mokolodi Nature Reserve, merely 10 kilometres south of the capital Gaborone has a national breeding program for the white rhinoceros. Khama Rhino Sanctuary offers another possibility to visit a project in saving the vanishing black and white rhinoceroses. A completely different experience is the Makgadikgadi National Park with vast salt pans. The vegetation is rare, but along the Boteti River, one can see elephants, zebras and hippopotamus. The Moremi Game Reserve with a rich population of crocodiles and hippopotamus is situated on the eastern side of the world’s largest inland Delta or Grassland of the Okavango. Here the 1,600 kilometre long Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough and forms a huge basin in the Kalahari Desert in which every year circa 10 trillion litres of water flood in and get evaporated and absorbed absolutely so that this river fails to flow into any sea or ocean. Then the swamp area of 15,000 sq km swells amazingly to 20,000 sq km during the rainy season from March to August. In 2013, the Okavango Delta was declared as one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Africa” and in 2014 became UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its faunal biodiversity. The two metre deep delta offers one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife with animals such as African bush elephant, lion, African buffalo, hippopotamus, Lechwe, Sitatunga, blue wildebeest, giraffe, Nile crocodile, cheetah, hyena, springbok, Kudu, sable antelope and zebra.
Culture comes from people and food
One of the greatest experiences while on safari is learning about the people of Botswana. Despite a population of merely two million mainly residing in the capital Gaborone and in Francistown, there are five main tribes divided in several sub-tribes. The Batswana or Twana compromises 76 per cent of the country’s population, their language is Setswana and their traditional line of business is cattle breeding. The Shona together with the Ndebele have a share of 13 per cent, who are primarily immigrants from Zimbabwe. The Khoikhoi or Khoi were named by the white colonists as the “Hottentots”, which means “stutterer” or “stammerer” due to their strange clicking sounds in their language. Similar to Khoikhoi in their pronunciation are the San or Bushmen with only 3.4 per cent of Botswana’s inhabitants who are the oldest in southern Africa, since time immemorial. The San are generally nomads with no firm possessions. Their frugal life is fascinating and even inspiring. Despite being excellent indigenous track hunter-gatherer with poison arrows, they only hunt if it is totally necessary for sustenance. Their respect for animals is so high, that they even ask the animal in a kind of apologising song for needing the meat.
Living in the sparse Kalahari Desert, their survival techniques are unique. Water is the most important good in their life in an area that suffers from drought for the most part of the year. They are long distance runners and can suppress hunger and somehow store their drunken water in the body enabling to live without this basic element for a couple of days. However, a San would never let you get thirsty and lost in the desert. He will find unknown fruits and roots that store water or prepare sip wells in damp sand spots with the help of a long hollow grass stern to collect then the water in an empty ostrich egg. A San is even capable of sniffing water holes from long distances. Additionally, in the unavailability of matches and firelighters, a San produces, with rapid rubbing of sticks together for 10 minutes, fire for a proper cooking flame. Their staple food are “veltcost”, i.e., more than 100 highly nutritious wild food plants. Most important on the menu are Mongogo nuts, Tsama melons, different berries and roots. If crops fail, the san do not worry and turn to eat roasted locusts, beautiful multi coloured Mopane worms and other insects that are not just a local delicacy but rich in protein. Numerous plants are also used as medicines to treat wounds and illnesses like fever, headache, stomach ache and snake bites. There are even healing ceremonies in which a healer burns plants to invoke rain.
A proper way to experience the culture of Botswana is through the traditional cuisine. The national dish here is called Seswaa or meat – sometimes a little bit fat – from grassfed beef, goat or lamb, prepared as a stew with onion and pepper in a Potjie and cooked for about two hours, so that the meat is shredded and pounded. A Potjie is a traditional pot originally used by the Voortrekkers (Boer or Dutch settlers), the pioneers who moved from 1830 onwards from the Cape Colony to the inner parts of southern Africa. On their journey with many hardships, while travelling in four-wheeled ox-wagons, their food comprised of growled maize and hunted animals. Until today the staple food in the region is still a coarse flour made from maize, a thick “pupp”, called mealie-meal, often enriched with Morogo, a dark green leaved wild or African spinach. Mealiemeal that has a long history and tradition can be store without any refrigeration.
Dishes such as oxtail are popular in rural Botswana, often served during festive seasons. However, you will experience delicacies in your cozy lodges, well prepared for the discerning tongue in pleasant surroundings. You may try the traditional mealie-meal over breakfast or ham and bacon would fulfil your appetite for a day out in the wilderness. An excellent choice of South African wines contribute to unforgettable sundowners.
A dinner by the campfire along with Botswanan folk songs and dances where only locally known string instruments are used like Segaba, Setinkone and Segankur, sometimes performed with drums, enhances the experience of the Botswana culture. The lyrics comprise of love stories, family matters and day to day life of the people in the bush.
People of Botswana applause with the word “Pula”. It’s not only the Setswana word for applause, but also the word for “rain” and interestingly, it’s even their national currency!
How to reach
The easiest route into Botswana is via Johannesburg International Airport, from where Air Botswana and South African Airways fly to Gaborone, with connections to and from Durban and Cape Town.
Where to stay
Botswana offers accommodation options from top class hotels, luxury lodges and safari camps, to budget guesthouses and camping grounds. The major tourist areas have a choice of private lodges, safari camps, and public camping sites.