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Botswana

As Botswana celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence, Rajan Datar explores the southern African state with a tiny population.


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Not much fun if you're travelling, unless, that is, to the Travel Show.

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It has gone from being one of the poorest countries

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in the world to relative prosperity today, and has a reputation

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as a beacon of responsible tourism.

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The Republic of Botswana has been on quite a journey in its 50

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years of independence.

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And I am on a personal mission to explore how people here have

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shared this land with such a diversity of wildlife

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for millennia.

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And if tourism can help maintain that delicate balance.

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The big day, the 50th anniversary, draws ever nearer, and rehearsals

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are well underway.

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Half a century of independence is a big deal for the people

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of Botswana, who have seen their country overcome

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some major hurdles.

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We had few schools.

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The only schools that were there were run by missionaries.

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It has been a journey where one could say

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we were starting from nothing.

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And there have been some serious crises.

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At one point, the country had the world's highest rate

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of HIV infection.

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But sensible treatment and prevention programmes mean

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that the worst is over.

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When one talks of the 50th celebrations of this country,

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and when one looks back, you just say, you know,

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there is a lot that as a nation we really need to celebrate.

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Inside the barracks, the military band are feeling their way

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through a traditional favourite.

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But let's see how they cope with a more cavalier interpretation.

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Do you want to have a go?

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Yeah!

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Let's try.

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I am just waving my hands in the air, and look

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at what is happening.

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Music!

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The power is going to my head.

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I have got a sneaking suspicion they are actually

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ignoring my inspired baton gesturing.

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But hey, happily for them, I won't be in charge on the big day.

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With just a few hundred thousand residents, the capital,

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Gabarone, in the south-eastern of the country, does not really fit

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the stereotype of a bustling noisy African city.

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Can I try your hat?

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What do you think?

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Beautiful.

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Come on!

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But right now, the market is doing a good trade in Bot50 paraphernalia.

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In fact, for some people, the party has started early.

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As an international trader, diamonds have been Botswana's best

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friend throughout most of its independence.

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Huge discoveries propelled it to becoming the world's largest

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supplier, and it's the industry's global hub today.

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Botswana has come a long way in 50 years.

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And thanks to the wealth accrued through diamond reserves,

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they have got free education, free health care, it is even classed

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as a middle income country.

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But in Botswana, diamonds are not for ever.

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And tourism is trying to fill the gap.

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Botswana is about the size of France.

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Yet with only around 2 million people, it's one of the world's most

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sparsely populated countries, on a par with Australia and

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Mongolia.

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And the truth is, you don't really come to Botswana for the urban vibe.

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I am keen to explore the country's world renowned wildlife,

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so across the Tropic of Capricorn I drive, north.

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Botswana boasts more African elephants per square mile

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than any other country in the world.

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And it's a glorious sight.

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But there is another big beast that has had a much rougher passage

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in the last few decades.

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The rhinoceros.

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At one point, thanks to poaching, there were only four rhinos left

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in the entire country.

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Khama is a sanctuary dedicated to ensuring their future survival.

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With nine rhinos brought in from South Africa in the late

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1980s, a breeding programme began, and we are now tracking one

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of the success stories of that programme.

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So the wind is blowing that side, so we have to go downwind.

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Rhinos have got a good sense of smell, that is how they detect

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whatever is around them in the environment.

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We have two be downwind so that they don't smell us.

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It's fascinating because he has explained to me that you can tell

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the rhinos don't feel threatened because they are

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moving quite slowly.

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You can tell they are moving slowly by their footprints,

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and there is one rhino here, and one rhino over there.

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That offers us some luck that we will get close to them

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because they don't feel threatened.

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Let's cross our fingers.

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We've just spotted them.

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Yes!

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Wow.

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OK, we are going to take a bit of a risk.

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My guide has been as close as ten metres to a rhino before,

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without them sensing that he's there, so let's try that now.

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It may be best if only Mike comes.

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It's hard to grasp that one of this planet's great survivors,

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such a dignified, shy beast is under threat because of man's vanity.

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200 rhinos have been successfully bred here,

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and today around 75 reside in the Khama sanctuary.

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But this is not the end of the story.

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Other neighbouring countries are now sending rhino into Botswana

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as a protected haven from poachers.

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I travelled northwest to Chief's Island to see how

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successful this project is, in the company of the most committed

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advocate of wildlife conservation I have ever met.

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Beautiful creature.

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Beautiful, beautiful creature.

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Of course I'm biased!

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It looks to me, and I need a better view, there are thorns in the way

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here, but we are looking at a mother and a calf.

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That calf was born in Botswana.

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The mother has met a bull here and she has bred that calf.

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So that in itself is a success.

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That excites me, that should excite anyone

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who is interested in conservation.

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Today, rhino horns are highly valued for their supposed medicinal

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and ornamental properties, especially in Asia.

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The latest round of poaching is a massive threat

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because of technologies, GPS units, satellite telephones that

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are being used by the modern syndicates, you know?

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So the modern guys are a distinct threat for us.

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Between the two rhinos in front of us, he estimates

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there is a market value of 120,000 US dollars worth

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of illegal rhino horn.

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It is an international effort, but the threat comes

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from continents away.

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They use neighbouring states as sort of clearing stations,

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so this effort to look after these rhinos, prevent poaching,

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has to be international by description.

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It is not an effort that can be carried out in Botswana alone.

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And conservation is Botswana's main focus these days.

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The mantra for tourism is high-quality, low impact.

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In other words, discouraging mass tourism in favour of more expensive,

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but also more responsible camps.

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The latest trend in that is mobile safari -

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essentially pop-up sites that prevent local wildlife becoming too

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habituated to human presence.

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OK, so the first thing we are going to do is to build my bedroom.

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En suite, no less!

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And it is all in that box?

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Yes, let's go and make it.

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Friends of mine will tell you I am not a natural camper,

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and I think I am about to prove them right.

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What am I doing wrong?

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Here we go.

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Argh!

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I am feeling a bit dizzy.

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Oops!

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The whole thing has collapsed again.

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But out of chaos comes comfort.

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Do you know what?

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I have never been in this situation before, with wildlife roaming free.

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In fact, I can hear a lion just over there.

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No rangers, no guns, no Wi-Fi coverage, no mobile phone

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coverage, and I'm just about to go to bed in

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a tent by myself.

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LION ROARS.

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TENT ZIPS UP.

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SNORING.

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It is about three o'clock in the morning and I have just woken

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up, I have been woken up by something, a noise outside.

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I slept quite well but now my mind is beginning to race and I'm

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thinking that if I put my head through the entrance of the tent

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there will be a lion or an elephant just there.

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Up until then, I slept quite well.

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It is a nice set up here.

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The only real stirring I have heard are the sounds of the night

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from my colleague in the tent down there.

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Sunrise, and a spectacular journey across the mighty Kalahari,

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a desert that covers some 80% of the country.

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Now this is what I really imagine when I think of desert.

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Vast, stark, dry flat stretches of landscape and so dusty

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when the sand is whipped up by a car or the wind.

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And there are perils to driving through this terrain.

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Here we have the hazards of driving a 2-wheel drive car in the middle

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of this heavy thick sand.

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This car was stuck and we will try to help rescue her.

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Does that help?

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Probably not.

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I don't know if this will make any difference.

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Handbrake on!

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Put the handbrake on!

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I don't know what is happening now.

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Will you pull this by yourself now?

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This is the strongest man in Africa.

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Yes, I am very confident...

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Ooh, he has done it.

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Success!

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50 years makes Botswana quite a young country.

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But what the anniversary conceals is that here in the Kalahari desert

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you have one of the oldest communities on the planet,

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maintaining the same traditions for tens of thousands of years.

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And this is where it all began, the Tsodilo Hills in the far

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north-west of the country are the spiritual and ancestral home

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of many communities of Bush, or San, people.

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They left a remarkable legacy.

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This area here has been occupied by people continuously for 100,000

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years and people have left their artistic expressions

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in the form of rock art.

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People believe this is the abode of our ancestors.

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Not just hills or rock art, but the abode of the souls

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and ancestral spirits and that is why this site is very

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important and on the World Heritage lists.

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By their very lifestyle, the nomadic San tribes have touched

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many parts of what is Botswana today and I am interested in finding out

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how they are coping with the modern world, where they are not allowed

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to hunt and have lost land and access to natural resources.

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So I am heading to a town close to the Namibian border,

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Ghanzi.

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Settlements like these were created as part of a controversial

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government relocation programme, designed to integrate the San people

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into mainstream society.

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People like Bulanda.

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Is this where you live and sleep?

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This is a far cry from the nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle

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of her forefathers.

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Four times a year they moved to different areas and when the seasons

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change they move to another area.

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They were very sensitive to movement of animals.

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The living conditions here are a good illustration

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of the sometimes uneasy mix of traditional and contemporary.

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You can see the traditional pot here.

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In the olden days our forefathers were using traditional sticks

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for making fire and now we buy matches from the shops and instead

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of pots and plates we use ostrich egg shell as a plate and for storing

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water and medicinal use.

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For many San people the transition to this way of life has been

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difficult but Bulanda has forged a career for herself as a beader,

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using Indigenous skills.

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My business has grown tremendously.

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I have been invited to attend trade fairs in different countries.

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I have been to America, to Europe.

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I think our community needs to change their lifestyle.

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Relocation has meant that many of the ancient San traditions,

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language and culture have come under threat and not just in Botswana.

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Bulanda took me to a festival held outside Ghanzi.

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Naro language is very old but it is dying.

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Not many people speak it now?

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That's right.

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Can you teach me how do the click sound?

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BULANDA SPEAKS NARO.

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RAJAN TRIES TO MIMIC TONGUE CLICKS

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At this festival, different tribes from all over southern Africa gather

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to promote and celebrate endangered cultural practices.

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Later in the evening, a spiritual healing dance is performed.

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In the olden days, these were only performed when someone was sick.

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Moving around, touching the patient asking the evil spirits to move out.

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This festival is under the banner of 50th anniversary celebrations,

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but Bulanda is sceptical about it having real meaning

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for her community.

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It doesn't make sense to me.

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The San people have not changed for 50 years.

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The lives of people are going down, down every day.

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There is poverty, unemployment.

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This is not really a thing to celebrate.

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The San people are only a small minority of the people of Botswana

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but they are highly symbolic.

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It may need more than a healing ritual like this

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to remedy the situation.

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One solution is to involve more San people in tourism.

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It has been successfully achieved by other communities in schemes

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in the Okavango Delta in the north.

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These traditional canoes, mokoro, used to be carved from tree trunks

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but for ecological reasons are now fashioned from fibreglass.

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We are off.

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Nice and smooth.

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No sign of crocodiles which is good news.

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Richard learned the technique of poleing from his father

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at the age of nine.

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The mokoro tradition goes back for centuries.

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In the olden days they go out using mokoro for fishing,

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for hunting and for gathering wild berries.

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In the old days there were several villages that lived on islands.

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When they visited each other they used mokoro as transport.

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Do you think you will always stay here?

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I will say yes because this is where I originated.

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I asked my friends to come and meet me here in this paradise.

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The boat is wonderfully smooth.

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I have not felt threatened at all.

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I may feel threatened if there was a crocodile

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or a hippopotamus coming this way but at the moment,

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I feel safe.

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It has been an epic journey criss-crossing Botswana.

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It has been an epic journey criss-crossing Botswana.

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Eight plane trips and some hard slogs driving more than 3000

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kilometres over rough terrain.

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It is not necessarily a cheap place for travelling.

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Sometimes it feels exclusive.

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The future of Botswana for the next 50 years and beyond lies

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in all of its inhabitants peacefully sharing in the unique resources

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of this extraordinary land.

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Good morning.

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