Elephant hunting saga divides community (Botswana)

Mar 13, 2020 | News

By Francinah Baaitse Mmana, The Voice

The alleged involvement of former minister responsible for wildlife and national parks in the sale of a hunting concession of twenty elephants in Mababe village has mothballed into a community dispute.

News that some members of the community development Trust worked in cahoots with the former Minister, Kitso Mokaila, to sell the hunting agreement to African Field Sport, owned by a certain Johan Calitz, at a giveaway price of around P1.5 Million and without the mandate of the community, is tearing a once peaceful community apart.

“Mokaila is actively involved in the disposal of the hunting quota, which was allocated to Basarwa community of Mababe. We were shocked to see him posing for pictures with some board members and Mr Calitz in America where our elephants were being auctioned without our knowledge. Upon further investigations we were told that he was actually there as a consultant for Mr Calitz,” explained Mababe chief, Kgosi Kgosimontle Kebuelemang in an interview this week.

Apparently Mokaila, including Mababe community development Trust board chairperson, Itumeleng Mogodu, board member Kutlwano Russell and Calitz were spotted at Reno’s 2020 Sci Hunters convention, booth 752 early this month, where the hunting quota deal was allegedly struck.

Already Mababe community which was given the largest quota (with 20 out of forty-five in the country), has lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism and a task team has been appointed to look into the matter.

“We are still reeling in shock and we can only cry out against these suspicious turn of events. What we are making out is that Mokaila very well prepared for his exit and pulled strings through the appointments he made in the ministry. Maybe that is why even when we were at the headquarters they called behind our backs to inform the board chairperson about our visit and ridiculed us!”

Kebuelemang added that this whole saga has divided his community and he is hoping it will be resolved soon, “On the side of morafe, you have to understand that board members are members of our community and enjoy the protection and support of their families, however when an evil thing like this is perpetrated against us, it does not matter how many people are for it, it can never make it right.”

This matter has even reached the Office of the President (OP), according to Kebuelemang, who was part of a Mababe delegation that brought the complaint against the alleged maladministration of the hunting quota to the ministry.

A few weeks later President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced the appointment of Mokaila as new Botswana ambassador to the USA.

On the 16th January Mababe Trust held its annual general meeting where the issue of the quota was brought forth.

According to the area councillor who doubles as the North West District’s Chairperson, Kebadiretse Ntsogotho, the only mandate given to the board at that meeting was to flight adverts for expression of interest to allow for interested individuals and companies to tender for the quota.

“Nobody sanctioned them to go to America to sell our elephants. No such resolution was taken and it therefore makes their agreement with Calitz null and void.”

Mababe community are of the view that Mokaila sold them off to the man who abandoned them soon after the hunting ban of 2014. Information reaching Okavango Voice suggests that Caltiz for many years, worked well with Mababe community through his safari camps when he was a leased concessioneer, through Africa Field Sports.

Occasionally Caltiz would send a medical doctor, and every ploughing season released a tractor to plough every field in Mababe at no cost.

Further he had allegedly promised to surrender Mababe camp to the community, but abandoned it and the idea when former president Seretse Khama Ian Khama announced hunting ban in 2014 and the camp has since dilapidated.

According to one board member who preferred anonymity, the company further neglected paying for rental of his leased land which accumulated to around half a million Pula and only paid the money recently following the lift of the hunting ban and most likely in preparation of the hunting season which will begin this coming winter.

“What comes as a concern is that Mokaila used to speak highly against these things, but today he is seemingly the one at the fore and trying to violate all rules in order to benefit from community resources. Instead of protecting our resources, he is the one trying to take advantage of us. He knows all the processes and therefore he cannot claim ignorance on this matter. He knows the board processes and he ought to have known that he is in the wrong to act outside board resolution,” added Ntsogotho.

In clarifying the matter, Mokaila has denied the allegations and explained that he sat at the negotiation table on the side of Mababe Trust as they had asked him to “assist them,” on how best the Trust can gain from Calitz.

“I am sure you are aware there was a task force put in place to investigate the goings on in Mababe. I am sure their findings will bring clarity to the suspicions. I issued no contract for anybody and I am considering legal action against the kgosi and the councillor for their grossly unfounded allegations,” Mokaila has stated.

Who is Fooling Who?

Nonetheless, it seems even before the USA trip which the Trust members confirmed was paid for by Calitz, talks had started between board members and African Field Sport. In fact the two board members US visas were processed through the cover of the said company.

Meanwhile the task force is said to have concluded its findings and submitted the report to Vice President Slumber Tsogwane and it is expected to report back to the community anytime from now.

However, the Mababe kgosi is said to be not so innocent as counter claims which are likely to appear from the report are that he used to personally benefit hundreds of thousands of pula from hunting deals. He has as well denied the claim and dismissed it as an expected mudslinging campaign against those seeking to expose corruption in a desperate move to discredit them before the community and thus cause confusion as to who is really to be trusted.

The board chairperson could only state that, “The task force has done its investigations and the matter has been settled. The community has spoken and has concluded that the agreement with Caltiz must go ahead. So there is nothing more to discuss with the media. It has been settled.”

The other board member, Russell confirmed that indeed the board has taken a discretion to sell the hunting quota to Calitz but have not yet consulted the community about it.

In fact, together with several other members of the board who invited Okavango Voice to Calitz’s place last week Wednesday evening to clarify the matter, they said no money has been agreed upon in terms of the elephant sales but could not discuss the content of the agreement which they said was confidential.

“Mokaila was not paid a single penny. He offered to help out. In fact we had asked him to help because he seems to understand these things better. Caltiz had taught us how to auction the elephants and it is a great thing that we had learnt from him!”

The board suggested that since Calitz has been working with Mababe community since 2000 they decided to extend his contract again, The contract ended last month and is expected to be extended very soon, “We are not sure as to how long the extension will be, but he has been getting six months extensions,” stated Russell.

The board insisted that it is not true that Calitz has ever abandoned them and that Mababe camp was handed to the community and it is the community that destroyed it.

“He has always supported us, even when he was not hunting he still paid his rentals, except for 2017/2018, because of understandable reasons. He had communicated that with the board and that has also been paid.”

In turn the board counter accused those in kgosi’s faction of harbouring ill intentions for the community.

They said there are other safari companies who are pushing this agenda from the sidelines as they had hoped to topple Calitz through auction.

The government issued a hunting quota of 272 animals in 2020. Foreign hunters will be allowed to hunt 202 elephants and seventy is reserved for Batswana and a reserve prize of 10 elephants goes at around P2 million pula, hence the outcry on an alleged P1.5 million deal for 20 elephants in Mababe.

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