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Monday, 5 June 2017

Botswana - a law-abiding refuge of safety

One thing about Botswana that made a deep impression on me, was connected to law enforcement. Yet, somehow this does not seem to be the correct term to use. You see, I never got the impression that law needed to be enforced. The Tswana believe in doing what is right, and almost everyone is willing to work towards maintaining the peace. In short, it boils down to the fact that people respect each other, which includes respecting each other's property. I will use an incident of theft to prove my point, as contrary as this might seem.

Sunset over the Makgoro Pans

I have already shared with you that I have been visiting with friends who own a dairy farm just outside Pitsane, on the South African border, when you enter through the Ramatlabama border control post. One night, the submersible pump was stolen from their borehole. This was huge news in the community, as theft was almost unheard of in this community. The theft was discovered in the early morning hours, and after the milking was done, they went to report the incident to the local police. While we were waiting at the police office, a neighbour phoned to say that he had made a citizens arrest of three youths who wanted to sell him a similar pump. When they could not give ample explanation for where they had found the pump, he concluded that it had to be the stolen one, and promptly took action accordingly. You see, news of the theft had already spread through the community.

The Botswana vista

Before the police could arrive to take charge of the three suspects, two had managed to escape. This proved to be no problem. The community is a small one. People arrived of their own accord to inform the police as to the identity of the two escapees, as well as where their familiar hangouts, homes and family members were. The pump was recovered and the suspects in custody within 8 hours of the discovery of the theft! This is a community taking care of itself, as it should be. I remain as impressed today, as I was back then.

Yet another spectacular sunset

Interestingly the local Kgotla, which is a kind of tribal leader, is the first stop in the legal process for these young perpetrators. The Kgotla holds certain legal powers and serves as a kind of local magistrate, presiding over legal issues in the community. If in doubt, look up your local Kgotla and obtain permission, before undertaking any new ventures in the country. Ladies, a word of caution, it is expected of us to wear dresses or skirts when appearing before the Kgotla. If all else fails, keep a large sarong, or scarf in the vehicle to wrap around your waist.

A vulture perched at the top of a tree

Sadly, this was not the only crime the small community had to deal with during the roughly six weeks that I spent in Botswana. There were two more incidences of crime, one a burglary of business premise after hours, and one a hijacking of a local couple. Both of theses two cases were perpetrated by South Africans who crossed into Botswana illegally and escaped back across the border. The vehicle was recovered in South Africa and the burglars recognized as known South Africans from CCTV footage. Pitsane's close proximity to the border seems to make it a bit of a target for the seemingly insatiable appetite of the criminal element in South Africa. It is a pity. Although, it has to be said that the Botswana police are rather relentless where these are concerned and they do follow these cases up, even across borders. Both cases are still under investigation.

Impressive trees

There is also something to be said for the visible policing in Botswana. There are frequent traffic check points all over the country. As there is a single police force, rather than a segmented one, this means that the police are visible and present, aside from being visible elsewhere as well. There is an interesting fact I should relay while speaking of the traffic check points. It is law to wear safety belts in Botswana, even in the back seats. If you are fined for any traffic violation, the car is impounded at the traffic control point and you have to pay the fine before you will be allowed to remove your car. This may mean that you will have to walk, or catch a lift, to the nearest ATM, but you will not be allowed to proceed in your vehicle before the fine is paid. Keep your driver's license ready; it will be checked at some point. A South African driver's licence is a legal driving permit in Botswana.

Waving grasslands

As there are lots of domesticated animals roaming freely on the Botswana roads, it is essential that one should drive with care. Animals actually have right of way! At dusk, you will see pick-up trucks on the roads, marked Animal Control. These guys chase the animals off the roads and close all gates along the way, to keep the roads clear of animals at night when there is poor visibility. The organisational skills impress!

Quiet dirt roads to travel

Speaking of laws and regulations relating to South African travelers, let's address a couple of issues. You do not need a visa to travel to Botswana, only a valid passport. You will need to fill out a leaflet when passing through border control where you will be required to indicate an address and contact number for where you will reside while in the country. Have this ready. You are also required to indicate serial numbers of laptops, cameras, etc. that you bring into the country. I believe there is a fee to be paid for vehicles entering the country, but as I wasn't traveling in my own vehicle I can't give you more details regarding this. Also, take note of the list of fresh produce that may not enter Botswana from South Africa. They are very strict about this and the lists are updated regularly. You will see lots of confiscated foodstuffs at the border crossings. This is an attempt to keep contamination and plagues out of Botswana.

Every sunset is picturesque

While in Botswana I learned of an interesting incident that I had not heard of while in South Africa. Apparently a well known political youth leader and agitator from South Africa, had crossed into Botswana. He had barely started his inciting rhetoric in this country when the military forces kindly told him to leave, escorted him to the border and told him never to return. Personal freedoms do exist in Botswana, but only in adherence to respecting the rights and freedoms of others as well. Hate speech is not tolerated. Well done, Botswana!

Another Botswana vista

There were a couple more things that came to my attention with regards law and order while I was in the country. Firstly, I became aware of the existence of a large rhino sanctuary at Khama in the Kalahari sandveld. With an increasing number of White Rhino, one would imagine this sanctuary to be a target for poachers. Not so! The sanctuary is located in the center of a military defence force base and as a result enjoys brilliant protection. Again, I am favourably impressed.

Yet another spectacular sunset

Speaking of the military. During the short interval of my two visits to the country, one of the bridges on the main road to Lobatse, washed away as a result of heavy rains. Within 24 hours, the military responded to this crisis by erecting a temporary military bridge in its place while the permanent one is reconstructed. This single lane bridge is manned 24 hours a day.

A very pretty grasshopper, roughly 10 cm in length.

Africa has had to suffer the brunt of many jokes and has been the subjected to many derisive comments concerning third world countries. Botswana stands as a burning beacon of hope. Sure, the country does not have all the amenities one could hope for, or at least not in over-supply, as elsewhere, but as for organizational abilities, it should be considered a leader in its division. This is a country rife with opportunity. It's one I would not hesitate to invest in.

My hiking companion, Bliksem, the Ridge-back

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy the books here:
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