HONOURABLE PHILDA NANI KERENG,
MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT, NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION AND TOURISM DELIVERED A CAPTIVATING AND EXPOSITORY SPEECH YESTERDAY AT TSODILO, BOTSWANA THAT DRAWS A GLOBAL ATTENTION TO THE DESTINATION – TSODILO WORLD HERITAGE SITE WHERE HER MINISTRY HAS ACHIEVED SO MUCH IN THE AREAS OF EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEIR CITIZENS. MOST ESPECIALLY TO AFRICANS WHO SHOULD LOOK INWARD FOR THEIR TOURISM ADVENTURES PARTICULARLY AMIDST THE INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL BANS AND RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED ON THE CONTINENT, CALLING FOR A RESCIND AND GREAT INITIATIVES FOR DOMESTIC, REGIONAL AND CONTINENTAL TOURISM TO FLOURISH IN THE FACE OF CURRENT REALITIES WITHIN TOURISM SPACE. The Speech:
Good afternoon, today I feel extremely honoured to be celebrating this magnanimous event that marks 20 years since UNESCO listed the Tsodilo as a World Heritage Site. This festivity adds additional impetus to our marketing efforts as we internationally promote Botswana as a destination of choice and Africa’s best tourism brand.
Director of Ceremonies, allow me the joy of sharing that the UNESCO 1972 World Heritage Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was ratified by Botswana on 23 November 1999 is an important international instrument that is used to conserve this beautiful, God-given national treasure.
Tsodilo Hills were first declared a National Monument in 1927 and later inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list on 13 December 2001 in Helsinki. Tsodilo Hills thus became the first World Heritage Site for Botswana to be inscribed in the premier UNESCO list thanks to more than 4500 rock paintings which are a masterpiece of human creative genius and values associated with ancient successive human occupation for the past 100 000 years. This, ladies and gentlemen, is history worthy of celebration!
Director of ceremonies, the World Heritage Convention does not undermine the traditional framework that protected the monument for generations before. Protection methods were mainly administered through taboos (meila) and intense acknowledgement that Tsodilo Hills are a source of life for the local communities. Both the Hambukushu and the Joánsi believe that Tsodilo Hills are the cradle of humankind; that the first human being was lowered on top of the Tsodilo Hills. Those of you who will be taken to the Female Hill will be shown evidence of such – seeing is believing!
Director of ceremonies, there are notable developments and initiatives worth noting, that have taken place at Tsodilo hills in the past 20 years. The listing of Tsodilo as a World Heritage Site was preceded by the construction of Tsodilo National Museum infrastructure in front of us. These developments included an interpretation centre, site office, ablutions, two staff houses, a gatehouse and the gallery that we will visit later. Another key milestone development was the fencing of the core zone that measures 48 000 hectares.
Another strategic development within the 20 years has been the gravelling of the Nxmasere-Chukumuchu road that passes through Tsodilo village. Prior to this development, it took more than 3 hours to traverse about 40kms between Nxamasere and Tsodilo. The road was sandy, bumpy and could only be accessed through four-wheel drive vehicles. Today it takes less than one hour to cover the same distance. Numbers of tourists have exponentially increased; smaller cars can access the site. This is an important development as roads are the first step towards other developments.
The Tsodilo Community Development Trust was formed in 2006. The Community Trust has its members from both the Ju’Hoansi and Hambukushu ethnic groups that are found in Tsodilo. The Tsodilo Management Authority (TMA) Board was made of two founding entities being the Botswana National Museum and Monuments and Tsodilo Community Development Trust, four (4) representatives from the Tsodilo Reference Group (TAC), and the local District Administration, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, and community based organizations.
Director of Ceremonies, at the time of the listing in 2001, there was already a sitting donation of Ten Million Pula from Harry Oppenheimer of the DeBeers Group of Companies that motivated alignment of management systems and through Tsodilo Management Authority, several infrastructural development projects were realized. Amongst these are the development of two community camp sites, a community gatehouse by the entrance, a craft centre, porta cabin offices, three staff houses of which two are bachelor pads and a two bedroomed house. Furthermore, TMA constructed two boreholes which supply the community and Trust campsites with clean water.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have noted with appreciation that the Trust has consistently managed to employ about six permanent employees which includes a Site Manager and support staff. Furthermore, the Trust supervises freelance community guides who earn income from touring visitors on trails. The Trust also realizes proceeds from gate entrance fees and lodging at campsites. In addition, Tsodilo community members earn a living through producing and selling curios to visiting tourists. I urge all of you here today to also support our local curio sellers in that regard.
The Tsodilo World Heritage Site is manned by 13 permanent employees under the Department of National Museum and Monuments, majority of whom are residents of Tsodilo village. The Department has also engaged a local security company that has employed 10 officers, nine of whom are residents of Tsodilo village. An estimated figure of 40 people directly earn a living from services and facilities offered by the Tsodilo World Heritage Site. This demonstrates, in no small measure, how the listing of Tsodilo as a World Heritage property is worth celebrating today.
Ladies and gentlemen, as per UNESCO acknowledgement and guidance, Site Management is a multiple-actor participatory action where all the actors make a contribution at the table. In that vein some other notable developments include the installation of Botswana Telecommunications tower which enabled BTC cellular connection to be accessible to communities by bridging the digital gap. Botswana Regulatory Authority is currently rolling out a project that will improve network connectivity in the Ngamiland District. Tsodilo World Heritage Site is one of the benefeciaries of this noble gesture. The UNESCO Operational Guidelines further guide that a site must have an instrument that guides management and conservation of the Site. As a result, The Tsodilo Core Area Management Plan was developed and completed in 2009.
Director of Ceremonies, It is also worthy to note that the Government of Botswana has also been complying with the UNESCO conservation and management tool – the Periodic Reporting. The exercise is done every six years and Botswana is one of the African countries that have achieved a 100% submission of the 3rd Periodic Report for African Countries in 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen, Tsodilo World Heritage Site also faces challenges worth mentioning; – the rampant fire outbreaks, causes of which can be natural or otherwise is primary. However, with the assistance of the Australian Government, two capacity building workshops focusing on community guides were held. Also, the Tsodilo Enclave Bush Fire Risk Management Strategy (TEBFRMS) was developed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Ngamiland Sustainable Land Management (NSLM) Project in partnership with the Department of Forestry and Range Resources (DFRR), Department of National Museum and Monuments (DNMM) as well as Tsodilo Community Development Trust (TCDT).
Director of ceremonies, I cannot resist the urge to appreciate UNDP for sponsoring the Tsodilo Heritage Challenge Walk which we held this morning with the support of Botswana’s renowned field athlete, Ms Amantle Montsho. The challenge project was conceptualized in 2018 between the DNMM and Tsodilo Community Development Trust. The initiative showed successful future projections after running for two conservative years. When it started in 2018, it attracted 200 walkers. In 2019, it grew by 100 percent as it attracted 400 walkers who brought economic hope for the residents of Okavango Sub-District with Tsodilo Community Trust campsites fully booked.
UNDP played an important role in the development and launch of the Tsodilo-Nxauxau heritage trail that links Tsodilo and Gcwihaba heritage sites. UNDP also bought camping and fire-fighting equipment that capacitated Tsodilo Trust to independently provide convenient accommodation to tourists and handling bush fire risks that threaten the natural integrity of the heritage resource annually.
As I conclude, Director of Ceremonies, I would like to pay homage and thank all of our developmental partners who have made this 20-year journey much more bearable. These partners include among other, Tsodilo Community Development Trust, the North West District Council, UNESCO, IUCN, UNDP, SGP, KAZA, Birdlife Botswana and Debswana Diamond Trust. I wish to particularly thank the leadership of African World Heritage Fund for taking a decision to conduct a ten-day Entrepreneurship Capacity training at Shakawe ten days ago. My special thanks go to the Chief Walker, Ms Amantle Montsho whose presence made this day very special.