Having notched up almost 100 years as a National Monument and as Botswana’s only World Heritage Site, the rock paintings at Tsodilo Hills potentially have endless tomorrows of high-value tourism. As a World Heritage Site, Tsodilo is - in terms of cultural and historical significance, ranked alongside tourism money-spinners like the Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Pyramids in Egypt, Robben Island in South Africa and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican which is believed to be the burial place of St. Peter, one of Jesus Christ’s disciples and the first Roman Catholic Church Pope.
Giddy at the prospect of unlocking the potential that this status promises, those who drew up the Tsodilo Project Sustainability Plan articulate a glorious and fulsome vision for how the project would look like in full bloom. Besides the viewing of the rock art, the Plan recommends a raft of tourist attractions like mokoro (canoe) safaris, hiking trails, bush walks and traditional San houses. According to the Implementation Schedule of the Plan, a consultant should have drawn up an inventory of Tsodilo attractions by November this year. When all is said and done, it is hoped that the windfall from this tourist venture would seep into every nook and cranny of Tsodilo. The project has so far managed to generate income for families indigenous to the area. The direct benefit comes from collecting camping fees and acting as tour guides to the visiting tourists.
With the P10 million that it has donated to the Tsodilo project, the Diamond Trust, a 50-50 corporate social investment venture between Debswana Diamond Company and De Beers Botswana Holdings, has begun to unlock this potential. However, there is recognition on everyone’s part that the first task to tackle is to burnish Tsodilo’s credentials as a tourist destination.
“The publicity might interest organisations like the United Nations who may offer assistance. The money donated by the Diamond Trust is obviously not enough for realising the full potential of the project,” said Mrs. Kanaimba-Senai who is the Debswana Group Manager, Publicity and Corporate Communications.
Defining the unique cultural identity of Tsodilo would be part of the matrix because, as Mrs. Monica Selelo from the Department of Arts and Culture explained, this identity has currently not been properly defined. In response to this, Mr. Mokomo revealed that the project implementers have established a working relationship with the University of Botswana’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledge as part of effort to close this gap.
While essentially a good thing, turning Tsodilo into a cash cow also presents the challenge of ensuring that the cow stays healthy enough to produce bucketfuls of good milk. Mr. Phetolo Ame, a guide at Tsodilo Hills, said that there are communities of faith that hold all-night worship services at the rock-art sites and leave the rocks slicked with candle wax and open-air fires burning. Mr. Keotshephile Mphusu from the Botswana Tourism Organisation cautioned that care should taken that the “irreversible damage” that happened at places like Drakensberg Park (Ukhahlamba) in South Africa which features the largest concentration of cave art in Sub-Saharan Africa, does not recur at Tsodilo Hills.
Ultimately, the project’s success would largely depend on diamond-hard determination on the part of all stakeholders, especially the Tsodilo community who necessarily have to take a front-and-centre role and be the ones doing the heavy lifting.
Diamond Trust member and Debswana’s Corporate Citizenship Manager, Mr. Barulaganye Mogotsi, stated that it was important for the community to remain emotionally invested in the project and ride off the economic opportunity it presents.
“As individuals associated with the project and as the Diamond Trust, we may not be with you tomorrow. This project is yours and you should do all you can to ensure it succeeds,” he said.