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.
It has gone from being one of the poorest countries
in the world to relative prosperity today, and has a reputation
as a beacon of responsible tourism.
The Republic of Botswana has been on quite a journey in its 50
years of independence.
And I am on a personal mission to explore how people here have
shared this land with such a diversity of wildlife
And if tourism can help maintain that delicate balance.
The big day, the 50th anniversary, draws ever nearer, and rehearsals
are well underway.
Half a century of independence is a big deal for the people
of Botswana, who have seen their country overcome
some major hurdles.
We had few schools.
The only schools that were there were run by missionaries.
It has been a journey where one could say
we were starting from nothing.
And there have been some serious crises.
At one point, the country had the world's highest rate
of HIV infection.
But sensible treatment and prevention programmes mean
that the worst is over.
When one talks of the 50th celebrations of this country,
and when one looks back, you just say, you know,
there is a lot that as a nation we really need to celebrate.
Inside the barracks, the military band are feeling their way
through a traditional favourite.
But let's see how they cope with a more cavalier interpretation.
Do you want to have a go?
I am just waving my hands in the air, and look
at what is happening.
The power is going to my head.
I have got a sneaking suspicion they are actually
ignoring my inspired baton gesturing.
But hey, happily for them, I won't be in charge on the big day.
With just a few hundred thousand residents, the capital,
Gabarone, in the south-eastern of the country, does not really fit
the stereotype of a bustling noisy African city.
Can I try your hat?
What do you think?
But right now, the market is doing a good trade in Bot50 paraphernalia.
In fact, for some people, the party has started early.
As an international trader, diamonds have been Botswana's best
friend throughout most of its independence.
Huge discoveries propelled it to becoming the world's largest
supplier, and it's the industry's global hub today.
Botswana has come a long way in 50 years.
And thanks to the wealth accrued through diamond reserves,
they have got free education, free health care, it is even classed
as a middle income country.
But in Botswana, diamonds are not for ever.
And tourism is trying to fill the gap.
Botswana is about the size of France.
Yet with only around 2 million people, it's one of the world's most
sparsely populated countries, on a par with Australia and
And the truth is, you don't really come to Botswana for the urban vibe.
I am keen to explore the country's world renowned wildlife,
so across the Tropic of Capricorn I drive, north.
Botswana boasts more African elephants per square mile
than any other country in the world.
And it's a glorious sight.
But there is another big beast that has had a much rougher passage
in the last few decades.
At one point, thanks to poaching, there were only four rhinos left
in the entire country.
Khama is a sanctuary dedicated to ensuring their future survival.
With nine rhinos brought in from South Africa in the late
1980s, a breeding programme began, and we are now tracking one
of the success stories of that programme.
So the wind is blowing that side, so we have to go downwind.
Rhinos have got a good sense of smell, that is how they detect
whatever is around them in the environment.
We have two be downwind so that they don't smell us.
It's fascinating because he has explained to me that you can tell
the rhinos don't feel threatened because they are
moving quite slowly.
You can tell they are moving slowly by their footprints,
and there is one rhino here, and one rhino over there.
That offers us some luck that we will get close to them
because they don't feel threatened.
Let's cross our fingers.
We've just spotted them.
OK, we are going to take a bit of a risk.
My guide has been as close as ten metres to a rhino before,
without them sensing that he's there, so let's try that now.
It may be best if only Mike comes.
It's hard to grasp that one of this planet's great survivors,
such a dignified, shy beast is under threat because of man's vanity.
200 rhinos have been successfully bred here,
and today around 75 reside in the Khama sanctuary.
But this is not the end of the story.
Other neighbouring countries are now sending rhino into Botswana
as a protected haven from poachers.
I travelled northwest to Chief's Island to see how
successful this project is, in the company of the most committed
advocate of wildlife conservation I have ever met.
Beautiful, beautiful creature.
Of course I'm biased!
It looks to me, and I need a better view, there are thorns in the way
here, but we are looking at a mother and a calf.
That calf was born in Botswana.
The mother has met a bull here and she has bred that calf.
So that in itself is a success.
That excites me, that should excite anyone
who is interested in conservation.
Today, rhino horns are highly valued for their supposed medicinal
and ornamental properties, especially in Asia.
The latest round of poaching is a massive threat
because of technologies, GPS units, satellite telephones that
are being used by the modern syndicates, you know?
So the modern guys are a distinct threat for us.
Between the two rhinos in front of us, he estimates
there is a market value of 120,000 US dollars worth
of illegal rhino horn.
It is an international effort, but the threat comes
from continents away.
They use neighbouring states as sort of clearing stations,
so this effort to look after these rhinos, prevent poaching,
has to be international by description.
It is not an effort that can be carried out in Botswana alone.
And conservation is Botswana's main focus these days.
The mantra for tourism is high-quality, low impact.
In other words, discouraging mass tourism in favour of more expensive,
but also more responsible camps.
The latest trend in that is mobile safari -
essentially pop-up sites that prevent local wildlife becoming too
habituated to human presence.
OK, so the first thing we are going to do is to build my bedroom.
En suite, no less!
And it is all in that box?
Yes, let's go and make it.
Friends of mine will tell you I am not a natural camper,
and I think I am about to prove them right.
What am I doing wrong?
Here we go.
I am feeling a bit dizzy.
The whole thing has collapsed again.
But out of chaos comes comfort.
Do you know what?
I have never been in this situation before, with wildlife roaming free.
In fact, I can hear a lion just over there.
No rangers, no guns, no Wi-Fi coverage, no mobile phone
coverage, and I'm just about to go to bed in
a tent by myself.
TENT ZIPS UP.
It is about three o'clock in the morning and I have just woken
up, I have been woken up by something, a noise outside.
I slept quite well but now my mind is beginning to race and I'm
thinking that if I put my head through the entrance of the tent
there will be a lion or an elephant just there.
Up until then, I slept quite well.
It is a nice set up here.
The only real stirring I have heard are the sounds of the night
from my colleague in the tent down there.
Sunrise, and a spectacular journey across the mighty Kalahari,
a desert that covers some 80% of the country.
Now this is what I really imagine when I think of desert.
Vast, stark, dry flat stretches of landscape and so dusty
when the sand is whipped up by a car or the wind.
And there are perils to driving through this terrain.
Here we have the hazards of driving a 2-wheel drive car in the middle
of this heavy thick sand.
This car was stuck and we will try to help rescue her.
Does that help?
I don't know if this will make any difference.
Put the handbrake on!
I don't know what is happening now.
Will you pull this by yourself now?
This is the strongest man in Africa.
Yes, I am very confident...
Ooh, he has done it.
50 years makes Botswana quite a young country.
But what the anniversary conceals is that here in the Kalahari desert
you have one of the oldest communities on the planet,
maintaining the same traditions for tens of thousands of years.
And this is where it all began, the Tsodilo Hills in the far
north-west of the country are the spiritual and ancestral home
of many communities of Bush, or San, people.
They left a remarkable legacy.
This area here has been occupied by people continuously for 100,000
years and people have left their artistic expressions
in the form of rock art.
People believe this is the abode of our ancestors.
Not just hills or rock art, but the abode of the souls
and ancestral spirits and that is why this site is very
important and on the World Heritage lists.
By their very lifestyle, the nomadic San tribes have touched
many parts of what is Botswana today and I am interested in finding out
how they are coping with the modern world, where they are not allowed
to hunt and have lost land and access to natural resources.
So I am heading to a town close to the Namibian border,
Settlements like these were created as part of a controversial
government relocation programme, designed to integrate the San people
into mainstream society.
People like Bulanda.
Is this where you live and sleep?
This is a far cry from the nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle
of her forefathers.
Four times a year they moved to different areas and when the seasons
change they move to another area.
They were very sensitive to movement of animals.
The living conditions here are a good illustration
of the sometimes uneasy mix of traditional and contemporary.
You can see the traditional pot here.
In the olden days our forefathers were using traditional sticks
for making fire and now we buy matches from the shops and instead
of pots and plates we use ostrich egg shell as a plate and for storing
water and medicinal use.
For many San people the transition to this way of life has been
difficult but Bulanda has forged a career for herself as a beader,
using Indigenous skills.
My business has grown tremendously.
I have been invited to attend trade fairs in different countries.
I have been to America, to Europe.
I think our community needs to change their lifestyle.
Relocation has meant that many of the ancient San traditions,
language and culture have come under threat and not just in Botswana.
Bulanda took me to a festival held outside Ghanzi.
Naro language is very old but it is dying.
Not many people speak it now?
Can you teach me how do the click sound?
BULANDA SPEAKS NARO.
RAJAN TRIES TO MIMIC TONGUE CLICKS
At this festival, different tribes from all over southern Africa gather
to promote and celebrate endangered cultural practices.
Later in the evening, a spiritual healing dance is performed.
In the olden days, these were only performed when someone was sick.
Moving around, touching the patient asking the evil spirits to move out.
This festival is under the banner of 50th anniversary celebrations,
but Bulanda is sceptical about it having real meaning
for her community.
It doesn't make sense to me.
The San people have not changed for 50 years.
The lives of people are going down, down every day.
There is poverty, unemployment.
This is not really a thing to celebrate.
The San people are only a small minority of the people of Botswana
but they are highly symbolic.
It may need more than a healing ritual like this
to remedy the situation.
One solution is to involve more San people in tourism.
It has been successfully achieved by other communities in schemes
in the Okavango Delta in the north.
These traditional canoes, mokoro, used to be carved from tree trunks
but for ecological reasons are now fashioned from fibreglass.
We are off.
Nice and smooth.
No sign of crocodiles which is good news.
Richard learned the technique of poleing from his father
at the age of nine.
The mokoro tradition goes back for centuries.
In the olden days they go out using mokoro for fishing,
for hunting and for gathering wild berries.
In the old days there were several villages that lived on islands.
When they visited each other they used mokoro as transport.
Do you think you will always stay here?
I will say yes because this is where I originated.
I asked my friends to come and meet me here in this paradise.
The boat is wonderfully smooth.
I have not felt threatened at all.
I may feel threatened if there was a crocodile
or a hippopotamus coming this way but at the moment,
I feel safe.
It has been an epic journey criss-crossing Botswana.
It has been an epic journey criss-crossing Botswana.
Eight plane trips and some hard slogs driving more than 3000
kilometres over rough terrain.
It is not necessarily a cheap place for travelling.
Sometimes it feels exclusive.
The future of Botswana for the next 50 years and beyond lies
in all of its inhabitants peacefully sharing in the unique resources
of this extraordinary land.